Nickel Plated Falcons

Well the big day came. We all waited and ended up getting exactly what we were expecting. We got pretty much what we were expecting with a small surprise here and there. Cut day is a rough day for the Atlanta Falcons, and the entire NFL.

There is a silver lining for this sad day for fans though. After an offseason of watching and waiting and thinking and predicting we get something concrete. We get to see who the Falcons have the most faith in to carry the team to the Promised Land of football. Now this may seem like a small step towards the season to any regular fan, any fan with some salt will tell you this is a huge step. Each player is good at certain things and bad at certain things. Most have a niche, not only within the team, but within the position that they play on the team. So after all the watching and predicting we have built a decent knowledge on every aspect of each player. Sometimes even an unhealthy one………. Anyways, with this one final step towards the season we have a much clearer picture of what the Falcons’ overall schemes will be and maybe an idea or two as to who and how these guys will be used.

That brings me to my beloved defense. Nolan has become quite the figure to analyze. As a fan that enjoys trying to dissect what the coaches might be thinking and why I have found that the Falcons Defensive Coordinator is one tough cookie to crack. He has a seemingly simple scheme but has a great ability to change small aspects of a defense based on his players. Sometimes these small aspects end up being big impacts.

In year two of this Mike Nolan run defense we have a year to build our prognostications off of. As a precursor to the real meat of this article this is what we have. The basics of the Atlanta Falcon, Mike Nolan ran defense:

-Mike Nolan loves his defensive backs

-Mike Nolan believes in turnovers more than sacks

-Mike Nolan is innovative

-Mike Nolan holds one rule above all and that is his players must be versatile

So with these guidelines set in place we can take a look at his players. Here are the Atlanta Falcons defensive players for the 2013-2014 Season as of August 8, 2013:

POS First String Second String Third String
LDE Kroy Biermann Cliff Matthews Malliciah Goodman
DT Jonathan Babineaux Travian Robertson
DT Corey Peters Peria Jerry
RDE Osi Umenyiora Jonathan Massaquoi Stansly Maponga
OLB Sean weatherspoon Joplo Bartu
MLB Akeem Dent
OLB Stephen Nicholas Paul Worrilow
LCB Desmond Trufant Robert McClain
RCB Asante Samuel Robert Alford Dominique Franks
SS William Moore Shann Schillinger Zeke Motta
FS Thomas DeCoud Kemal Ishmael

Now that we have how he works and who he has to work with what should we expect? Well to start it off lets’ take a look at the strongest positions numbers wise. The winners are left defensive end, right defensive end, right cornerback, and strong safety all coming in at being three players deep. That tells us right off the bat that the defensive line and defensive backfield are two areas of importance for the defense this season. The numbers overall go like this:

Defensive Line- 10


Defensive Backs-10

This shows that the defensive line and defensive backs are, once again, of extreme importance. So what are the signs pointing too? The signs are pointing to the roster built for the average 4-3 defense. Well until you take a look at a pretty important position in most 4-3 defensive schemes. That position is the quarterback of the defense, as it has been called throughout time, the middle linebacker. As of right now, there is only one listed on the roster. That is fairly out of the norm for a 4-3 defense.

Now that we have one anomaly on the defense let’s take a look at another, the defensive backs, specifically the strong safety position. The strong safety position in a 4-3 defense is traditionally manned with the starter and then the customary second string backup. So why carry three people?

The answer is what you are already thinking, and that is the Nolan Special the Big Nickel defense. The Big Nickel is a variation of the traditional 4-2-5 defense wherein the defense substitutes the third cornerback on the field, or the Nickel Corner, and brings in a second strong safety and the third safety on the field including the free safety. This defense is built to stop the pass but with the two linebackers and two strong safeties on the field at the time it is also good for stopping the run game. So why state the obvious?

Well last season Mike Nolan ran the 4-2-5 formation in its Big Nickel sub package around 40% of the time, which would make it closer to the base formation. The Atlanta Falcons under the Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith Regime have been traditionally a 4-3 team. Since the addition of Mike Nolan the team has become more of a flex or multiple-front defense. Nolan has brought things like the 3 man front where he uses two defensive tackles and one defensive end. He has brought the traditional 3-4 scheme and also the 3-3-5 on some plays. He calls it like he sees it, and is not afraid to try something new. The Big Nickel seems to have worked out pretty well for him.

There was one glaring hole to our defense last year and that was stopping the run. Hopefully this is remedied this year. Nolan helped bring in two cornerbacks that are known for being decent tackling players, as well as, two safeties that are both strong tacklers during the draft, then helped pick up not one but two good tackling linebackers out of the Undrafted Rookie Free Agents. This defense may look drastically different than the one fielded last year.

Based on the personnel in place after the last round of official cuts this defense is tailor cut for the Big Nickel defense. I would say that this defense is the MOST fit for taking on this sub package and has gone all in on making it work in the NFL.

Now that I have gotten the obvious out of the way I will get to my ill-advised prediction based on the article which you may or may not have read. The 4-2-5 and Big Nickel are traditionally a college defense. The 3-3-5, which Nolan is also known to use with the team, is also a college defense. So is there a 3-3-5 version of the Big Nickel? It would be the obvious question to ask when trying to figure out what is next. Well the answer is yes there is. It is known as the 3-3-5 Stack or 30 Stack defense. It is mainly a college defense and part of the spread defenses which the 4-2-5 is also part of. I predict we see this specific defense at a couple strategically placed times this season. Based on the outcomes we may see it more. If it works out well other teams may catch on and, bear with me here, these types of defense might be the answer to the Read Option teams. One more, quick thing to keep in mind before I end this, Biermann being trained as an OLB means that with the same personnel on the field we can seamlessly transition between Big Nickel and 30 Stack, no personnel change needed, interesting huh?

So am I crazy, or can I take my tinfoil hat off now? I honestly want to know what everybody thinks about the defense in particular.

<em>This FanPost was written by one of The Falcoholic's talented readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Falcoholic.</em>

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