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The biggest problem with last year's defense, according to the coaches, was that the scheme and the teaching was too confusing. They wanted to completely simplify everything so that the defense as a whole will play much faster. AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox quoted new Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan:
You have to get it to the point where, first off, you have to simplify the teaching...You can’t have 10 different words for the same thing and you can’t have words mean absolutely nothing. There has to be that to play fast, so I’d like to think it’s that, but again, it’s a process. There’s some things we play faster than other right now because they’ve done them maybe before, but there’s some new things we need to play fast that, in the process, that’s really our goal through all these OTAs and training camp and minicamp.
Nolan has definitely simplified the defense to where the Falcons can play faster. Multiple members of the secondary should benefit from it. Thomas DeCoud got caught up getting back to his position too many times last year. With simplified calls, he will be in a better position to make an impact.
The names to watch out for are William Moore and Asante Samuel. They play extremely fast in a defense that wants them to fly around the field, They will have a huge impact. The biggest improvement the fans should see is in pass coverage.
Because of that, the big focus will be on third down. Pat Yasinskas of ESPN asked head coach Mike Smith about what the Falcons are trying to focus on this offseason to take the next step on defense:
Defensive scoring over the last four years, we've been one of the top five teams....Third-down efficiency, we've not played it as well as we need to, and that's one of the things that Mike [Nolan] is so strong at...we're going to be more multiple as a defense than what we've been in the past.
The Falcons look poised to make a jump this year. With better third-down defense, the Falcons should improve their scoring defense, and that's all that really matters.