FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is destined to be under the microscope next week as management reflects on the 2013 season and tries to recover from an epic fall.
There is a good chance the Falcons could go in a different direction based on a multitude of defensive woes, some well beyond Nolan’s control. The Falcons rank 27th out of 32 teams in scoring defense, 29th in total defense, 29th in rushing defense, and 29th in pass defense going into Sunday’s finale against the Carolina Panthers.
The Falcons have the league’s worst third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 46 percent of time. And they are just one of four teams allowing opponents an average of six yards or more per play.
In reflecting on the season, Nolan was asked to evaluate himself.
"Geez, that’s for somebody else to answer,’’ he said. "Look from a statistical standpoint, there’s no way we met our expectations. Especially after last year where in the significant areas -- things like third down and red zone and takeaways, quarterback ratings and all that -- we were outstanding a year ago. We were not this year.
"So I’m disappointed in that. So realistically, I would say we underachieved. At the same time, we’ve got a lot of young guys playing. But nobody wants to hear that. And I don’t even really want to hear it. Those guys busted their tails, and I can't ask for anything more than that. And it’s my job also to motivate those guys to play at a higher level than they can, and I thought they did that. But was it enough all the time? Not really.’’
Here is Nolan’s take on each of position groups:
DEFENSIVE ENDS: "Other than Osi (Umenyiora), there was a lot of youth. Obviously, (Jonathan) Massaquoi, (Stansly) Maponga, Malliciah (Goodman), they all got better and they’ll all continue to improve. They all got experience that normally, they wouldn’t have had. But I was pleased with the way they progressed. I don’t think any of them stayed the same or got worse. I think all three of those players made a lot of strides. In particular, Mass. Then I’d say Malliciah and then Maponga. And a lot of that was related to playing time. Obviously, I would have liked to have had them all playing at the level of Reggie (White), but you’ve got to be realistic.’’
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: "I thought they did a good job, too. Corey Peters, it was unfortunate he got hurt (Achilles) at the end of the year because he was nursing a knee most of the year. As was P.J. (Peria Jerry) nursing a foot. But they gave it their all. And Babs (Jonathan Babineaux), he’s been a good player all along. I thought they all did fine.’’
LINEBACKERS: "A lot of young guys. It was unfortunate that Kroy (Biermann), he and both Spoon (Sean Weatherspoon) were out the second game of the season. So from that point forward, (Paul) Worrilow and (Joplo) Bartu, those guys had to play quite a bit. And again, you have to be realistic about what you expect of young guys. From an expectation level, here are two street free agents out of college who are a long shot to even make the squad, let alone play. I know Worrilow played at least 75 percent of the snaps all season. Joplo probably played 40 to 50 percent. Again, it’s hard to say that these guys did a good job when you haven’t done as well as you’d like to. But based on their individual performances, I thought those guys gave us way more than we would have ever expected them to give us. So I’m happy with them. Outside of that, the other guys were hurt a lot. Akeem (Dent) was hurt most of the year, as he still is nursing the ankle. The same with (Stephen) Nicholas; he was in and out with the injuries.’’
CORNERBACKS: "The two young rooks (Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford) are where we ended up. They’re both very good players. I think Trufant already is a very competitive, very intelligent, talent guy. For those reasons, he’s going to be a star, to be honest with you, in this league. I think he’s going to be a guy who the players on the other teams respect because he’s respectful, the way he plays the game. But if you mess with him, as what evident the other night – (Anquan) Boldin is a hell of a player, but Desmond competed with him. He’s was going to go back and pat Boldin on the (butt) and say, `Don’t hurt me.’ ’’
SAFETIES: "It’s really more of an individual thing. I thought that William (Moore) played more like he did a year ago than T.D. (Thomas DeCoud). T.D. had some struggles, and most of them were in the tackling area. Although it’s ironic he had his best tackling game ever at San Francisco. I was kidding him the other day and said, `If we played in California every week, you’d be in the Hall of Fame,’ because he played well at San Diego (2012). Certainly found out that two young safeties that we got in the draft (Zeke Motta and Kemal Ismael) are at least tough kids. How much better they get, we’ll see in time. (Motta) played with a significant (hand) injury for two weeks, which says a lot about the kid’s toughness.’’