After being arguably the biggest weakness of the Atlanta Falcons over the last few seasons, through two games, one thing is clear: This is not the same old Falcons defense.
While it is still early in the season and there are plenty of things left to prove for this young unit, the affect of new defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, is there for the whole world to see.
It started in the second half of the first game against Kansas City. After having a lackluster first half, Nolan and the defense went into the locker room, made adjustments and came out on fire.
The defense shut out Kansas City in the third quarter and gave up a touchdown in the fourth after the game was well out of hand.
They followed that performance with an even better one, last Monday against Peyton Manning. The defense forced four turnovers in the first quarter alone, giving Manning and the Broncos all they could handle and more.
Nolan’s unit even added three sacks to go along with that. The pressure from the defensive line and linebackers forced Manning into multiple mistakes during the game.
“If you don’t let the quarterback set his feet, he might put a little bit more air under the ball and let our DB’s go back there and make plays,” said defensive end Ray Edwards.
It was especially clear on Monday night that this defense was prepared for whatever was thrown at them. From the opening snap, the defense was flying to the ball, especially in the secondary, which is something that wasn’t the case in the past.
“I’d say we’re playing faster,” said linebacker Stephen Nicholas. “Coach is doing some good things. A different scheme also. We’re definitely playing faster.”
The Falcons play a good portion of the elite quarterbacks in the league this season. First it was Matt Cassel, then it was Manning, Sunday it’s Philip Rivers.
Rivers is a sharpshooter who, with the talent he has around him at running back and wide receiver, presents many problems for any defense, but Nolan will have his defense ready.
“You’ve got to stop the run,” said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. “Once you stop the run, you can focus a little bit more on what they’re going to do. They’ll try to go over the top. They’re a team that can go deep.
“They’ve got some great receivers. Some guys that we’ve played against before and some guys that we don’t know much about. But I think they’ve got some players that we have to know where they are.”
Nolan has hands all over this defense, not only from a X’s and O’s standpoint, but from an attitude standpoint. A few of the players were asked to quickly sum up the defense’s new mentality.
Saftey William Moore said “Aggressive.”
Asante Samuel responded with “Mean!”
Nicholas had the most telling summation of Nolan’s defense, one that is built to attack at all times. “Get ‘em.”