When the Falcons went for Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator, many speculated that the defensive coordinator would be a big splash. Others nervously joked that it might be Jack Del Rio.
Well, set that speculation to rest today, because the Atlanta Falcons have hired Mike Nolan, according to multiple sources including Jeff Schultz of the AJC. The former defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins brings almost 20 years of defensive acumen to Atlanta, where he'll be asked to take a middling unit with flashes of brilliance and turn it into something dominant.
That's road he's traveled before. In his very first year as defensive coordinator for the Giants, his defense was seventh against the run and tenth against the pass. In his lone year for the Jets, the team ranked 6th against both the pass and run. His vaunted Ravens defense improved yearly and twice ranked second best against the run in yards per attempt. In the last three years of his career, he guided the Broncos and Dolphins to quality . The Dolphins suffered some setbacks against the pass in 2011, but their run defense was absolutely dominant.
The only bad stretch of his career was in Washington from '97-'99, when he still managed to cajole a quality passing defense out of that team. There have been years where one side of the defense or another has been below average, as well, but by and large Nolan's team have put a quality D on the field time and time again.
What does this hire mean for the Falcons? A lot. Nolan has run both a 4-3 and 3-4 in his career, and changes are good he'll be asked to install a hybrid system in Atlanta. That could very well mean some personnel changes in the defensive front seven. In general, though, the D should be predicated on tighter coverage, a better pass rush and changing up the scheme to confuse opposing offenses. In essence, it ought to be an improvement.
More on that pass rush. Nolan teams love blitzing, to the point where stories like this actually gain traction. The Falcons are going to have to decide quickly whether they have guys who can hack it with Nolan in charge or whether they need to make personnel changes, because they didn't bring this guy in to run Brian Van Gorder's defense.
Finally, don't entirely rule out a wholesale transition to a 3-4, though it would be awfully tough to make the change in a single year. If that's what Nolan wants—and if he thinks guys like Lawrence Sidbury can roll to OLB in a 3-4 and Dimitroff can get this team a huge nose tackle—then it might happen. The secondary would remain more or less unchanged in that scenario, more than likely.
I like this move on more than one level. The Falcons talked about making changes, and simply hiring Nolan ensures the defense will have a vastly different look and feel in 2012. Nolan has an established track record of improving defenses and has a knack for getting huge effort and production out of the players he coaches. He'll also fit in with the current coaching staff nicely, having worked with Smitty in Baltimore and being the kind of intelligent, quiet guy this franchise favors. Above all, he's just a damn good coordinator.
Hell, I'm thrilled. What do you think of Nolan?