Falcons Want a Return to Aggressive Play on Defense, Especially in the Secondary

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterJune 10, 2014

Atlanta Falcons' William Moore talks to reporters following an NFL football organized team activity, Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/Associated Press

The Atlanta Falcons signed safety Dwight Lowery in April during free agency, and they then used their third-round draft pick on safety Dezmen Southward. The two will battle during the course of OTAs, minicamp and training camp to determine who will replace Thomas DeCoud as Atlanta’s free safety.

Lowery was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft by the New York Jets and played three seasons there before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011.

With the Jets, Lowery started 18 games and played in five different spots in the defensive backfield: at cornerback on the left and right side, in the slot, and at both free and strong safety. With the Jaguars, Lowery started 25 games, all at free safety.

Dwight Lowery's Versatility
YearTeamPositionsSnap CountStarts
2008NYJLCB (4 games), RCB (6), SCB (6)75710
2009NYJSS (1), LCB (5), RCB (5), SCB (4)5665
2010NYJFS (9), SS (5), LCB (1), RCB (1), SCB (1)4323
2011JAXFS (13)65511
2012JAXFS (9)5379
2013JAXFS (3)1293
Pro Football Focus

Just like Jacksonville, Atlanta sees Lowery at one particular position. But the Falcons plan to utilize his versatility and hope 2014 is the year they can get back to aggressive play in the secondary. 

“Dwight is more of a free safety than a strong safety," head coach Mike Smith said during OTAs. "He’s played some nickelback, has played some corner. It gives us a lot of flexibility. And again when you have matchups that we have to concern ourselves with, when we’re in our five and six DB packages, it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Lowery hasn’t had a definitive conversation with Smith or defensive coordinator Mike Nolan about what the team has planned for him, exactly. But it’s starting to look like he should get comfortable with playing in the middle of Atlanta’s secondary alongside strong safety William Moore.

"I think they have an idea of playing me at safety," Lowery said about where the team plans to use him, and how versatile he can be. "I’m always going to express the fact that I played all throughout the secondary, in case something were to happen crazy throughout the course of the year. [In that case], it wouldn’t be hard for me to pick up another position in the middle of a game. If I had to go play emergency nickel, that’s something I’m capable of doing."

Lowery might not hit the field as a corner in coverage, but just because he’s not on the outside, don’t think he’s not going to be used as a ball-hawking tool.

One of the best seasons in recent Falcons history at free safety was 2012, when DeCoud picked off six passes and made a Pro Bowl appearance. DeCoud was a tool for Nolan to move around pre-snap and put into situations where he could get his hands on the football. That worked well, as Moore was utilized as a punisher at strong safety, and Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel patrolled the outside at cornerback.

In 2013, the Falcons had to get away from that attacking, aggressive style on defense. Injuries, lack of experience and the team’s inability to stop the run handcuffed Nolan in some of the more unique ways he could manipulate an opposing offense.

Now that Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have a year of experience under their belts, and the Falcons made offseason adjustments to quell opponents’ ability to run the football, Nolan should be able to get aggressive again in the secondary.

And that suits Lowery just fine.

Lowery said this Atlanta defense had an “attacking, offensive mentality” and had the attitude that it wasn’t going to be pushed around in 2014.

"We don’t want to sit back and let the offense dictate what’s going to happen in the course of the game,” said Lowery. “We want to be the dictators, we want to attack, we want to have an impact on the game.”

That philosophy sounds an awful lot like the how the 2012 Atlanta secondary played. And not only did DeCoud play in the Pro Bowl that year, so did Moore after the duo picked off a combined 10 passes.

Lowery said the best part of his game is his coverage ability and “understanding what offenses are trying to do with different formations and different matchups.” He’s played just about everywhere in the secondary and has seen many different types of receivers. And he's already showing off those skills at OTAs.

“Last week he probably had like four interceptions so far," Moore told Daniel Cox of AtlantaFalcons.com. "We’re not shocked, but we are very impressed with how he came in and started out both days.”

That experience will help him in 2014, especially if Nolan is able to let Lowery roam the back of the defense looking for balls to pick off.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand at OTAs in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on June 5, 2014.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of "100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die." Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.