Falcons' offseason notebook

BY foxsports • January 19, 2012

Back in 1981, Mike Nolan was a hard-hitting safety coming out of the University of Oregon. He was invited to the Denver Broncos training camp and nearly made the team.

A few years later, Nolan received a call from Dan Reeves, who had cut him, to see if he would join his coaching staff in Denver.

"I hired Mike to come in and he coached special teams and also he coached the defensive secondary," Reeves said on Tuesday. "Then when I went to New York, I hired him as our defensive coordinator. He was with me a long time."

Despite revamping the secondary and trying to bolster the pass rush by signing defensive end Ray Edwards in free agency, the Falcons struggled to improve their pass defense. Since 2008, they've ranked 21st (2008, 220.4), 28th (2009, 241.9), 22nd (2010, 226.6) and 20th (2011, 236.6).

The Falcons finished sixth against the run (97 yards per game), but had trouble stopping the run in key losses to Houston (162 yards rushing allowed) on Dec. 4, New Orleans (164 yards) on Dec. 26 and the New York Giants (172 yards) on Jan. 8 in the playoffs.

Nolan, unlike VanGorder, is a seasoned pro coordinator. He's been a coordinator in the NFL for 14 seasons. He also was San Francisco's head coach from 2005 to 2008.

The offense struggled when blitzed last season. They didn't have an effective screen or draw game to slow down defenses and had trouble hitting them with deep passes.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith has instructed Dirk Koetter to improve the screen attack.

"I'm a big believer in the screen game and I don't know anything about the issues (with pass protection)," said Koetter, who has 25-years play-calling experience. "Coach Smith has mentioned to me that he would like us to be a better screen team and that's definitely a part of what we'll try to do there."

Wide receiver Roddy White was added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster Wednesday, according to the NFL. White will replace Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is unable to participate because of an injury. White finished the season with 100 catches for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Falcons fired Paul Boudreau as the team's offensive line coach a week after the team was crushed by the New York Giants in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

"We would like to thank Coach Boudreau for his contributions to our team over the past four seasons, and we wish him well in his future endeavors," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith.

Boudreau served four years in the post for the Falcons, who already lost offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to Jacksonville, where he takes over as head coach. Quartebacks coach Bob Bratkowski followed Mularkey to serve as Jaguars offensive coordinator.

His unit was effective in helping the Falcons advance to the playoffs, though some opponents considered Atlanta's linemen "dirty" for their style of play.

Justin Tuck of the Giants called the linemen "dirtbags" prior to the teams' playoff game.

The well-traveled Boudreau has previously worked for the Saints, Lions, Patriots, Dolphins, Panthers, Jaguars and Rams.

Coach Mike Smith said that his offensive most valuable player was quarterback Matt Ryan. His defensive MVP was linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He also had lauded punter Matt Bosher and return man/coverage guy Eric Weems.

Smith stated that Weatherspoon received some attention during the league-wide Pro Bowl voting.

Running back Michael Turner's touches likely will be reduced moving forward. He's led the league in carries in two of the past four seasons and was second in the league with 301 carries in 2011.

Coach Mike Smith said the Falcons did improve on explosive plays, but the players then jumped on top of the dynamite. "We were a more explosive team," Smith said. "Ninth in the (NFL) in creating explosive plays. We had 71 in the regular season. We were more explosive. But was it effective explosiveness? No, it wasn't. We became inconsistent in other areas of the football team. For instance, we'd have an explosive play in certain games, and we didn't capitalize on it when we got down into the red zone. There were numerous examples of that."

Some contend that the Falcons' approach to drafting players of high character has hurt them in the playoffs.

"We know that we need to have that ornery football player on this team," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "We need to make sure that the chemistry is right. We don't want to add five or eight or 10 players on our team that don't (fit) with the rest of the team. To me, there's an art to putting a team together."


QUOTE TO NOTE

"Coaching's in his DNA, with his dad, he's got a sound way of coaching defense. Everybody in coaching knows the x's and o's, there's nothing new there. What Mike does is that the players play hard for him. Making your players believe in the system is so much of the battle." -- Dan Dierdorf, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and CBS color analyst, on new Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.


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