ATLANTA -- Falcons head coach Mike Smith hinted some changes would be made coming off the bye week although he remained coy about what those adjustments would be.
The one that might have had the biggest impact on Sunday’s game was moving defensive coordinator Mike Nolan from the coaching box down to the field. It’s a concept the Falcons used in the past, but it obviously injected some life into the defense.
Just ask safety William Moore, who came on the blitz and caused a fumble by rookie quarterback Mike Glennon on the Buccaneers’ first drive. It resulted in a 30-yard scoop-and-score by fellow safety Thomas DeCoud that ignited the Falcons in Sunday’s 31-23 win.
"It was definitely good," Moore said of Nolan being on the field. "He let us know during the week that he was going to be out there. He came out there and definitely celebrated with us. That was an extra thing, motivation. We’d love to have him out there every week."
If anything, having Nolan on the sideline helped keep things in order for a defense filled with inexperienced players. He was able to communicate better with rookies such as Desmond Trufant, who, instead of playing outside in the nickel package was moved to cover the slot while fellow rookie Robert Alford played outside with Asante Samuel
"It definitely did (help), just to have somebody else to talk to that’s seeing what’s going on," Trufant said of Nolan being downstairs. "Especially a great mind like Coach. It definitely helped."
There were other tweaks made on defense besides Nolan being on the field and Trufant covering the slot in the nickel package. Nolan dialed up plenty of corner and safety blitzes, including bringing Moore on the touchdown play. Such blitzes were a reason the Falcons, with the league’s worst third-down defense, limited the Bucs to converting 29 percent (5-of-17) of third downs for the game.
Smith previously talked about some of the younger players getting more opportunities to play. Rookie defensive ends Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga got a few more reps -- maybe planned or maybe a result of the Bucs having the ball 15 minutes longer. And rookie safety Zeke Motta saw action as part of the goal-line defense.
There were still some missteps. Veteran cornerback Samuel seemed to have a few hiccups, although it was tough asking him to defend Vincent Jackson’s one-handed grab for a 59-yard touchdown -- the ninth play of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons this season. DeCoud also had a tough time on Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown catch. Jackson finished with 10 catches for 138 yards and two scores while being targeted 22 times.
Regardless, the defense played better than it had in recent weeks. And Nolan’s presence likely had something to do with it.
“We’ve thought it would be in our best interest,’’ Smith said of the Nolan move. ``We weren’t playing as efficiently and as good as we would have liked to, and we thought it would be in our best interest to bring Mike down."