The Falcons welcomed defensive tackle Paul Soliai into the fold this week. Soliai has a high level of familiarity with Atlanta's defensive staff, having played for both defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and new defensive line coach Bryan Cox in the past. Clearly they see something in Soliai that they believe fills a need for the Falcons at that position.
For one thing, in the reported switch to more of a 3-4 base defense, Soliai fills the role of a prototypical nose tackle. At 6'4" and 340 pounds, he is easily the most physically imposing presence on Atlanta's defensive roster at present. But what can we expect from Soliai on the field? Let's see what we can discern from Soliai's performance last season in Miami.
Soliai played 48% of snaps in 15 games at defensive tackle for the Dolphins last season. He was out week three against Atlanta with a knee injury, which continued to plague him week four against the Saints, though he did play. He was still on the injury report throughout week five, although he did practice fully that week, culminating in one of his best games of the season against the Ravens.
Soliai was back on the injury report in week 15 with an ankle injury, and although he was indicated as probable after full participation in practice to end the week, he played just seven snaps that week against the Patriots. He was limited throughout week 16 with the ankle injury but did play.
Soliai's two best games, according to his Pro Football Focus grades, came in week one against Cleveland and week 11 against Miami. Soliai was graded at a +3.4 overall in both games.
Against Cleveland, Soliai had two quarterback hurries, two batted passes, and two tackles, including one tackle for loss. Against the Chargers, Soliai had one quarterback hit, one hurry and four solo tackles. What I like about his effort against the run is that he's really aggressive against blockers and he keeps pretty consistent control of his gap. Another thing that stands out to me is that this is a guy who never seems to quit on a play.
Against Cleveland, Soliai managed to deflect a Brandon Weeden pass when the Browns were in the red zone, poised to score.
But he didn't just bat the pass. He hustled every one of his 340 pounds after that ball. He's pretty quick for a guy his size.
Against San Diego, the play I was most impressed with still resulted in a decent gain, but Soliai transitions pretty seamlessly from rushing the passer to running down a receiver. Again, his speed, relative to his size, is pretty impressive in a game context.
San Diego's John Phillips, a tight end, is the receiver, so he's probably not the fastest guy on the field, but I like Soliai's hustle nonetheless. You see here Soliai's engaged with the blocker.
He's adjusting as he watches the play unfold.
Number 30 doesn't wrap up, and Soliai makes it to the receiver to share in the tackle for a stop.
Soliai also does this sweet kick move as a celebration, which is fun.
If you're still skeptical about the Soliai signing, Daniel Cox at AtlantaFalcons.com shared this gif, which may change your mind.