Fast, attacking and full of swagger. Get ready to have some fun watching the Atlanta Falcons' defense in 2013.
They will be the ideal group of Mike Nolan players: physical, flying around the ball and intense.
Most of all, this defense will be really, really good. It should be a better group than the defense in 2012 that was fifth in the NFL in scoring defense. It should be faster and more opportunistic than a group that last season was fifth in the NFL in interceptions and 13th in the NFL for forced fumbles.
Despite allowing 299 points in 2012, the Falcons allowed the eighth highest total of rushing touchdowns of any team in the league at 16. That's one thing that truly needs to be fixed in the 2013 season, and their draft picks in Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga should help there. In addition to that, the Falcons do have the unlikely possibility of re-signing John Abraham.
Chances John Abraham does NOT re-sign with #Falcons? 95 percent. But, hey, maybe that's on the Tony Gonzalez scale.— Pat Yasinskas (@espn_nfcsouth) May 2, 2013
At cornerback, there will be a massive upgrade when the Falcons add the pair of rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to a group that needed to get better in coverage. Especially in the hole Dunta Robinson left where he was one of the worst first down- and touchdown-allowing corners in the NFL in 2012 (h/t Pro Football Focus).
To improve this defense, let's explore what coach Nolan will have to do in the 2013 season to make the unit even more of his own:
Much like 2012, the Falcons should end up looking like a 4-3 defense with a ton of 3-4 and even nickel looks. The Falcons ran an effective pass defense and will be relying on their new additions to play multiple roles. If Goodman, Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi can provide an additional pass rush that wasn't there in 2013, the Falcons defense should be that much better.
Mike Nolan bases most of what he does out of a nickel package, though. In 2012, the Falcons played their top three cornerbacks for a combined 2,570 snaps. That's not even including the injury replacements. The Falcons will need to get the best talent on the field like they did during the 2012 season with Robert McClain (676) playing more snaps than Akeem Dent (564).
With Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Asante Samuel and McClain, Nolan has four cornerbacks who can easily rotate through the three spots effectively. The Falcons will be able to run more nickel packages and will have a better overall defense in 2013 with more talent. And with talent that truly fits the scheme, style and swagger that Nolan wants, it will only lead to better results all around.
Speed, Attacking Style, and Swagger
Despite losing Robinson, Brent Grimes, Abraham and Mike Peterson, the Falcons were able to upgrade something that was lacking with those players on the field last season—speed.
These players all had talent. But it's no stretch to say that Desmond Trufant has much higher potential and is an instant speed upgrade to Robinson. The same will be said about Robert Alford and the man he is replacing in Grimes. Umenyiora, Goodman, Maponga and Massaquoi will have to team up to replace Abraham with their better speed and agility.
Overall, the Falcons do have a ton more talent and speed on defense this season than they did last year. And while the talent side of the equation is being enhanced by the additions at both defensive end and cornerback, the Falcons need to make sure the attitude upgrades meet up with the talent upgrades to make the defense effective.
And that's where Atlanta truly thrived.
In bringing in Trufant, they brought in someone with the same kind of swagger that Asante Samuel and Sean Weatherspoon have. Of their six picks on defense, five of them were team captains at some point in their college careers. So they brought in not just the confidence needed to win games with defense but the leadership to get there.
And in doing this, they can finally play the attacking style that Coach Nolan wants to play.
Trufant is a lockdown corner who they can play in man on their opponents' best receivers. Samuel, Alford and McClain are a good fit for the zone and man schemes that will lead to a ton of turnovers. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud will reprise their roles as roaming, attacking safeties.
The front seven is what will have the most changes towards a true Nolan style. While it's the same kind of group of guys, the additions of Umenyiora, Goodman and Maponga will help the 3-4 and 4-3 looks. More than that, they will help the Amoeba looks.
Umenyiora, Goodman, Maponga and Massaquoi can play on those short-to-intermediate passing routes and can also blitz. Kroy Biermann is the lynch pin to the evolution of the defense, though. He can play both outside linebacker and end, but when it comes to the Amoeba sets, that's where he shines.
Most of all, this defense will be able to feature the best players on it in their ideal roles. The defensive ends will be rushing the passer. Corey Peters, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will be rotating in a three-man rotation with Goodman joining them on certain sets at defensive tackle.
Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas and Dent will be three linebackers who have a ton of quickness and will be expected to play even faster versus some talented teams this season. The secondary can even play fast and loose like they've needed to.
But overall, the Falcons will finally be able to run a defense that can be not just competitive versus the top teams in the NFL but can make sure they don't allow a pair of teams to come back from 28-0 and 24-14 leads in the playoffs.
The added confidence, leadership, speed and talent will be what makes all the difference in what should be a Super Bowl caliber defense.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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