Ryan Nielsen Named Falcons Defensive Coordinator After Dean Pees Retirement

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 27, 2023

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 26: New Orleans Saints assistant head coach / defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen during a game between the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints on September 26, 2021 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons announced that they have named New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen their new defensive coordinator after ex-DC Dean Pees announced his retirement.

The 43-year-old Nielsen had been with the Saints since 2017. He's served as the team's defensive line coach from 2017 to 2020 before earning a promotion to assistant head coach/defensive line coach in 2021.

Nielsen coached in college from 2005 to 2016 with stops at Ole Miss, Central Connecticut State, UT Martin, Northern Illinois and NC State before making the leap to the NFL.

He also played collegiately at USC from 1997 to 2001, making 30 starts and earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention in 1999.

New Orleans allowed the ninth-fewest points in the NFL despite missing four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore for 10 games because of a lacerated kidney.

The defense was notably exceptional down the stretch, allowing just 10 points in each of its last three games and 13.0 PPG in its last six.

Falcons beat reporter/analyst Tori McElhaney broke down the Saints' defensive front's dominance under Nielsen further.

"The Saints defensive front has been one of the league's best for the last decade. Since Nielsen joined the Saints staff in 2017, New Orleans has recorded 281 sacksโ€”that's the second most in the NFL over that spanโ€”and finished in the top 10 in sacks in five of the last six seasons.

"Also, during Nielsen's time in New Orleans from 2017 to 2020, the Saints put together 55 regular season and postseason games without allowing a 100-yard rusher."

Nielsen interviewed with the Falcons on Tuesday, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, and the job is now officially his as he works with a team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

As McElhaney noted, Nielsen's hire marks a reunion with Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot.

The two worked on the Saints together from 2017 to 2020. Fontenot was the Saints' director of pro scouting (2017-2019) and assistant general manager and vice president of pro personnel (2020) during that span.

Nielsen's hire continues a shake-up on the defensive staff. Per McElhaney, the team parted with defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino and secondary coach Jon Hoke.