Falcons’ defenders preferring Nolan to VanGorder

Mike Nolan's scheme and the way he's coaching it has paid early dividends. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Nolan's scheme and the way he's coaching it is paying dividends. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

SAN DIEGO — When the Falcons ended last season with another early playoff meltdown, it didn’t matter if anybody else in the organization preached patience and threw daffodils about the franchise’s future, because owner Arthur Blank’s vote would trump them all. Self-made billionaires tend to be results-driven, particularly ones who type emails in a red font. If significant changes weren’t made in personnel, they certainly would be made in scheme and philosophy.

Which is why before you could say, “season-ticket sales,” Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder were gone.

It’s true that both coordinators left for other jobs. But both may have beaten the Falcons to the punch. Mularkey filled Jacksonville’s head coaching vacancy, but his exit probably was cemented when the Falcons’ offense shot blanks in the playoff loss to New York. VanGorder’s future was no better than tenuous when he left for Auburn because some defensive players had started to tune him out.

That’s certainly not an issue now. The Falcons won Monday’s game over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in large part because of Mike Nolan, their new defensive coordinator. His schemes, heavy on nickel and well-disguised coverages and blitzes, fooled one of  the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Most important, the team’s defensive backs have taken to the quieter Nolan after having their ears singed for too many weeks by VanGorder, the screaming sort.

William Moore had an interception and a sack against Peyton Manning. (Jason Getz/AJC)

William Moore had an interception and a sack against Peyton Manning. (Jason Getz/AJC)

To quote safety Thomas DeCoud, who accounted for one of Manning’s interceptions, said: “It just got to the point where we had to pick and choose what to listen to and what not to. You learned to take some things with a grain of salt. Brian was a passionate coach. He wanted his guys to be out there playing tough, strong and perfect football. You can’t fault a man for that. But it was just one of those things where you had to learn how to take your coach for who he was.”

William Moore, who had an interception and a sack of Manning last week, echoed those sentiments, adding: “I was one of the guys he yelled at the most. He also pulled me to the side and would explain things, but he didn’t show that side of him on the field. That’s not a knock on VanGorder. It just the way he coaches. Coach Nolan doesn’t do that. Everybody’s a man. This is just a job. You’ve got a responsibility, and you have a job to do. If you’re not doing it, there’s no reason to yell at you. They’ll just replace you.”

The defense’s performance against Denver (four turnovers, seven points allowed in the first three-plus quarters) would have been impressive even in normal circumstances. But it came against Manning, and after losing cornerback Brent Grimes for the season the week before, and Asante Samuel and Christopher Owens for stretches of the Broncos game. Reserves Robert McClain, inactive in Week 1, and Dominique Franks, both were pressed into full-time duty. McClain had an interception.

DeCoud described Nolan’s scheme as “an offensive approach to defense. Changing the math and making sure the offense is adjusting to us. We’re dictating the pace and tempo, rather than vice versa.”

What’s clear is the confidence they are playing with and how they’ve taken to Nolan. He has them believing in his system, regardless of the circumstances. They also enjoy not being yelled at. VanGorder was revered at Georgia. He didn’t achieve the same level of success as an NFL coordinator, but there hasn’t been an abundance of talent on the Falcons’ defense either, and there also was some question about how much freedom he was given from coach Mike Smith.

Nolan, for what it’s worth, said he used to be more of a screamer.

“I think everybody has to coach in their own style,” he said. “There was a time when I screamed more. I think as we all get older it’s no different than raising your kids and you get frustrated by everything. Then after a while you get … I think when you know how to parent is when you become a grandparent. So, I think coaching is a little bit the same way. As you get older, you say less and let them play more.”

Whatever his methods, they are paying early dividends.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier posts (no charge, because I’m so generous)

Predictions: Dogs win cage match; Falcons upset Chargers

Goodell is in ‘fantasy’ world if he doesn’t believe product being damaged

Video blog: On Braves’ sweep of Nats and what it means

This Braves’ September isn’t anything like the last one

Georgia Tech shows its upside in win — and it’s impressive

Short takes: 3 thoughts on Georgia Tech’s win over Virginia

A Medlen start, a Braves’ win and finally a positive sign

Predictions: Falcons over 666, Tech wins, Pigs faceplant

Loss of Brent Grimes doesn’t have to derail Falcons’ season

Video blog: On Brent Grimes, Falcons’ offense and some early picks

Falcons finally show an offense worthy of their talent

154 comments Add your comment

Greg Mendel

September 21st, 2012
6:25 pm

First, let me say that’s good stuff, Jeff

Greg Mendel

September 21st, 2012
6:26 pm

Second, I can’t stand all this “first!” nonsense.

Greg Mendel

September 21st, 2012
6:27 pm

JSS

September 21st, 2012
6:33 pm

Ha ha, these guys are rich! Knew it… Wait till December Jeff Schultz, this has short term written all over it (the smoke and mirrors aspects) like it has everywhere he’s gone… When the video finally gets enough of a knowledge base for the rest of the league to see how far the personnel on hand can go, it is going to be like his previous stops… And then the babble will be what happened?

Delbert D.

September 21st, 2012
6:35 pm

Not a BVG fan. Good luck with the AU Tigers.

Really?

September 21st, 2012
7:26 pm

jss cries herself to sleep a lot.

SCFalcon

September 21st, 2012
7:33 pm

I’m betting that Nolan is not a one trick pony and will adapt the scheme as needed. There is plenty of footage on Nolan’s previous teams and on the talent of the current Falcon players. It didn’t help the Broncos Monday night. The biggest problem last year was predictability. The Chiefs had success on our D in the first half, but at half time Nolan made adjustments then the Falcons took control of the game.

No team has it all in place from year to year, just ask the Saints….. We will ride the train as long as we can. The biggest thing in these first two games is that the back ups are stepping up and filling the gaps.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
7:42 pm

You cry yourself to sleep in December and January…
Spend less time trying to be snarky and look at his history (y’all are suppose to be so big on that)…

He’s been a career .500 second half coordinator (62-62-1). That is not even counting those disaster years in SF. Read it and weep, he may pull a single or two season anomaly like he did in NYG before the league finally figured out his personnel and their limits…

So till then I’ll leave it till his traditional equilibrium period kicks in… Have fun till then, enjoy!

Nolan by the numbers
1993 NYG
Final 8 games
6-2, 1-1 playoffs

1994 NYG
Final 8 games
6-2, no playoffs

1995 NYG
Final 8 games
2-6, no playoffs

1996 NYG
Final 8 games
3-5, no playoffs

1997 NYG
Final 8 games
4-3-1, no playoffs

1998 NYG
Final 8 games
5-3, no playoffs

1999 WAS
Final 8 games
5-3, 1-1 in playoffs

2000 NYJ
FInal 8 games
3-5, no playoffs

2001 BAL (year after Super Bowl win)
Final 8 games
5-3, 1-1 in playoffs

2002 BAL
Final 8 games
4-4, no playoffs

2003 BAL
Final 8 games
5-3, 0-1 in playoffs

2004 BAL
Final 8 games
4-4, no playoffs

2005-2008 SF head coach
Final 8 games
11-20 in SF, no playoffs

2009 DEN
Final 8 games
2-6, no playoffs

2010 MIA
Final 8 games
3-5, no playoffs

2011 MIA
Final 8 games
5-3, no playoffs

Over his career as a coordinator, he’s been 62-62-1 over final 8 games
3-4 in the playoff games

Include his time in SF as a HC, he was 11-20 there. That is 73-82-1

So till then I’ll leave it till his traditional equilibrium period… Have fun till then, enjoy!

Jamaaliver

September 21st, 2012
7:44 pm

Jeff, has Nolan ever coached a defense with an OFFENSE as talented as ours on the other side of the ball? Miami, Denver, San Francisco all had solid defenses but underwhelming offenses.

Do you think having a competent QB and greater offensive talent affect his approach to coaching? Maybe allowing him to be MORE aggressive and gamble more?

Also, admit it, you were about to call Peyton the greatest QB in NFL History weren’t you? =)

SCFalcon

September 21st, 2012
7:50 pm

Excluding the head coach role, he was over .500 in seven of 15 seasons and broke even in two of the others. This is the NFL you know.

How about a deeper analysis next time…..

The Grinch

September 21st, 2012
7:52 pm

If you’re really interested in us “having fun,” that would likely be a lot easier for most/all of us if you’d **** off and go somewhere where people give a damn what you have to say, assuming such a place exists. Anyone here besides JSS disagree with me on that? Let’s take a poll.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
7:57 pm

Not in 2nd halves… That is when “you” generally make “playoffs! 15 years as a coordinator, and only F-O-U-R years of playoff appearances! Yeah, that is some “deep analysis” you pondered there!

Jaded

September 21st, 2012
7:58 pm

I still don’t think it’s a very talented defense, but Nolan seems to have a good idea of how to minimize our weaknesses, which is a hallmark of any good coach. If we had a consistent pass rusher (Abraham is still good but not an every-down guy anymore), I think Nolan could really do some work with this crew.

SCFalcon

September 21st, 2012
7:59 pm

All, is JSS promising that he won’t be back until mid-season? :-)

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

September 21st, 2012
8:01 pm

i like his style. lets go round 2 with Rivers.

Tonyb

September 21st, 2012
8:01 pm

Notice how well players are developing under Nolan. Witherspoon is on his way way to the pro bowl, and Decoud is playing like he did two years ago. But the guy that is really standing out is William Moore. For a player noted early in his career as a hard hitting run support safety, he is becoming a ball hawk and outstanding all around player. Under Nolan, I could see him becoming one of the top safeties in all of the NFL. Great coaches bring out the very best in their players, and Nolan is certainly getting the best from this team.

CSP

September 21st, 2012
8:06 pm

@ JSS, always so negative. Your wife must really love that about you!

SCFalcon

September 21st, 2012
8:06 pm

@ Jaded you are correct that the talent on defense is not strong. With the cap, it is tough to get and keep top notch players on boths sides of the ball. Nolan’s job is to make the most of what he has. McClain’s interception looked promising to me. Three picks in the first three drives against Manning, is not bad.

I have a life to get back too. You guys keep JSS company. I would hate to see him/her hurt themselves.

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

September 21st, 2012
8:07 pm

VanGorder will be gone from AU at the end of this year. He doesn’t take order from Pat Dye. He actually booted one of Dye’s boys from his meeting this week. Cheezstraw is at the mercy of Les Miles this week but the problem is Les has teams below him in the polls pushing him to score many points. LSU 41 Barn 13

CSP

September 21st, 2012
8:08 pm

Dude you can spout all the stats and opinion you want. To me it’s blahblahblah. You just always sound like a D*CK. You should get some counseling or adopt a dog…

JSS

September 21st, 2012
8:11 pm

Poor SC, nope you get what you get every year… I’m in Mexico from October 18th to November 4th enjoying the largest city in North America… Of course this fact will hold true, about 6 of my stalkers will come on here and post under my user-name as they do every year… Then another 4 stalkers will come on here everyday and boast about how they’ve run me off or I’m scared, or a coward (along that line)… And right after the week of the Presidential election, I’ll be back to tell you all to KMBA! Like I said, enjoy your first half… Good times!

JSS

September 21st, 2012
8:15 pm

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!!!” See the commas help… Helping you out on your reading comprehension…

Paul in NH

September 21st, 2012
8:16 pm

Some coaches are better in college – some are better in the pros. The kind of rah-rah screaming that may motivate a college player is never going to work on a seasoned professional.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
8:18 pm

Hey Paul, you may have a “stalker” now, sorry about that happening…

Great Falconi

September 21st, 2012
8:25 pm

As long as Nolan is providing the necessary change on defense (creativity), which was obvious to anyone who watched the Falcons play the same tired Cover 2 zones the last few years, then I’m going to back him. VanGorder wouldn’t have fooled Manning. We would have been leaving guys open in short and medium routes all game long. That’s just stupid. You have eleven players on defense. Use them to confuse and attack the offense.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
8:34 pm

CSP, ever heard the term: “Know your audience?” Difference, I actually care about her (the wife-to-be)…

Jeff Schultz

September 21st, 2012
9:07 pm

JSS — As always, thanks for keeping it lively! Haha.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
9:16 pm

@ Jeff Schultz…
Hope the High Holiday brought you peace and the gateway to prosperity and good health… May you (and yours) have an observant Yom Kippur next week…

DeCoud

September 21st, 2012
9:17 pm

JSS is a clown.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
9:22 pm

DeCoud
September 21st, 2012
9:17 pm
“JSS is a clown.”

Ha ha, yeah right… “Self analysis is a heck of a thing (again)…”
http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/cnishared/tools/shared/mediahub/07/23/00/slideshow_1002377828_APTOPIX_Falcons_Report_Foot.jpg

SCFalcon

September 21st, 2012
9:25 pm

JSS you care about her? Then why to do spend so much time on here squaking about a team you don’t even like? Does she not have what it takes to draw you away from all of us?

If she is your “wife to be” I hope you don’t let her read your “mussing” on here. Unless you tell us her name is SeenThisB4! That might explain a lot!

Enjoy Mexico buddy. If you plan to spend all that time in Mexico City, watch your back. Seriously!

JSS

September 21st, 2012
9:40 pm

Ha ha, Dude, there’s a time difference and we have lives where we do what we do professionally and see each and keep the home fires burning… Sad, you guys are like robots, stuck in this vaccum in one way fits everyone dictates…

No worries about the DF (Mexico City), I’ve been to the DF many times and I’m safer there than in most parts of the SE US… Now last year while we living next to Monterrey, that had some interesting military moments, but the people are 95% great…

By the way, She thinks you guys are crazy… All of the psychoanalysis here kept her chuckling for the entire time she was here last Summer and this past July when she went to her first Braves game…

JSS

September 21st, 2012
9:52 pm

And ‘Seen This Before 4′ is a grown man somewhere with his own mind and his own motives… It is sad what you guys have done to one of great formerly non-hostile rivalries in the NFL… I had many a fun ride down to NOLA or when they came here and the fans partied the entire weekend… Win, lose, love or hate… Now, it is just sad…

JSS

September 21st, 2012
9:54 pm

@ Jeff Schultz…
Who is covering East Lake this weekend?

Georgiana Bulltiger

September 21st, 2012
9:59 pm

Greg Mendel

Very good stuff, bro.

35th!

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Hillbilly D

September 21st, 2012
11:06 pm

You’ve got a responsibility, and you have a job to do. If you’re not doing it, there’s no reason to yell at you. They’ll just replace you

Sounds like a common sense approach to me.

JSS

September 21st, 2012
11:41 pm

@ Hillbilly…
Yep, but remember, it takes credibility to pull that off… The Mora clan let too many play and never took the other side of that coin seriously… Some players can’t handle freedom… But they should…

StingerSplash

September 21st, 2012
11:48 pm

No one in Statesboro is surprised at all. Good riddance to VanGorder. Auburn soon will have buyer’s remorse.

P B Orr

September 22nd, 2012
12:08 am

Most entertaining! Well written! I wonder when we’ll start seeing MOORE 25 shirts around town?

rm

September 22nd, 2012
12:46 am

@JSS (y’all are suppose to be so big on that)…

What the hell is that suppose to mean?

redcoat

September 22nd, 2012
5:40 am

Have you ever coached JSS?

redcoat

September 22nd, 2012
5:45 am

JSS……..Have you ever played and at what level?

Ted M

September 22nd, 2012
7:23 am

People in general, I think, are giving Peyton Manning too much credit. Not of course for what he did in his career but for what he is right now.

D man

September 22nd, 2012
7:40 am

JSS – one problem with your second half theory, that was not the Falcons and that was not Matty Ice, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Gonzo, etc. these Falcons are a much better team than Nolan had in the past. You can’t judge a team on defense alone. I like the research but it just doesn’t apply here.

jerry

September 22nd, 2012
8:17 am

According to the 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac, the 2009 Broncos had the second-largest improvement in defensive efficiency from the previous season.

2011 Miami Dolphins were 1-7 in 1st 8 games, 5-3 in last 8 games. What drop off?

Nolan improved 2010 Dolphins from 25th to 14th in points allowed.

JSS’s theory: apocryphal, beguiling, bogus, casuistic, concocted, contrary to fact, cooked-up, counterfactual, deceitful, deceiving, delusive, dishonest, distorted, erroneous, ersatz*, fake, fallacious, fanciful, faulty, fictitious, fishy, fraudulent, illusive, imaginary, improper, inaccurate, incorrect, inexact, invalid, lying, mendacious, misleading, misrepresentative, mistaken, off the mark, phony, sham, sophistical, specious, spurious, trumped up, unfounded, unreal, unsound, untrue, untruthful

Ron Zook

September 22nd, 2012
8:50 am

I thought The Gorder was overrated too.

Paddy

September 22nd, 2012
8:50 am

Once the season starts, the fun of football is to just watch it. Not pick it apart. Pre-season analysis is ok. Watching the games for its entertainment value is what I wait all year for. I guess we all enjoy the sport in different ways. Believe I will stick to my game plan and look forward to Sat & Sun. with going and watching the action. This approach may not be for everyone.

Nite Owl

September 22nd, 2012
9:18 am

It doesn’t matter what the Falcons do, haters like JSS are gonna hate.

If we do win in December and January, he’ll say that we won’t do it again next year, and that this year was a fluke. Blah blah blah.

I’m enjoying my Falcons, and win or lose, I’m a fan. It was pretty satisfying to rain on the Peyton Manning parade. Maybe we lose to San Diego, maybe we take care of business. I’ll still support my guys either way.

The real point is that we have become a solid football franchise that’s headed in the right direction and should be relevant as long as Matt Ryan stays upright. The Saints, meanwhile, are a complete train wreck and Drew Brees is starting to look pretty creaky.

Have a nice weekend, Falcons fans.

Answer this

September 22nd, 2012
10:01 am

I just figured this out! JSS is put on the blog to be the voice of negative words. Its like the wrestling, everyone knows he will be here everday (even when he is is Mexico enjoying the life….yea right but you show up on the blog to bash a team you dont like……thats living a fun life….hahahahah) and Schultz I am a little disappointed that you provide encouragement……no one likes this guy but I guess you have to have a bad guy in wrestling so everyone can boo him…he likes that role. If I was on in Mexico I sure as heck could find 1000 things to do instead of post blogs on a website of a team I dont like….just saying! Funny also that good teams adjust to the opponent! Looks like that is what the Falcons are doing….dont matter how many records you can google up (while you in Mexico “having fun” does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?) The fact remains that the guy has impressed and will continue to do so. Get a grip JSS go do something nice with your wife in New Mexico (I said that with a straight face……really I did!)