Head coach Mike Smith has been asked about this year's defense numerous times and has kept his responses largely the same. While focusing less on 3-4 and 4-3 designations, Smith has said the Falcons will deploy a multiple defense, mixing looks of both types in an effort to be deceptive. Earlier this week, the Falcons head coach gave one guarantee about what you can see out of 2014's defense.
"I can assure you this, everyone's been talking about 3-4, 4-3, we're going to be an 11-man defense," Smith said. "I can promise you that. There will be 11 guys on the field when we go out there on defense. Where they're going to line up and how we're going to line up, that's going to be very flexible and very fluid in how we're going to do this."
Smith added that he doesn't want opponents being able to pigeonhole the Falcons defense and by providing different looks, especially in the defensive front seven, they can remain flexible and--hopefully--unpredictable.
But what is the base defense this year? That's the question everyone wonders because base defenses are descriptors like "West-Coast offense" and "run-first" are on offense. Smith said earlier this week, Atlanta's base defense is closer to the sub-package they have employed under Nolan than anything else.
"Our sub defense is our base defense because we play it 65 percent of the snaps," Smith said.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is definitely on the same page. Asked about the importance of the sub-package to his overall scheme, Nolan said the sub is very important because of how creative it allows the defense to become in both attacking and disguising.
"For one, sub is about two-thirds of the game," Nolan said. "From that standpoint alone, it's more important. There's more variation in sub than in base. Typically, not always, some teams when they go to sub it's a lot more pass. Because of that reason there's a lot more technical protection. Teams will typically get more exotic. One of the things that stymied that a little bit was the read-option that some of the teams showed up with. They had this wide-open look like here comes a pass and then they'd throw the read-option at you and force people to come back a little tighter. Sub defenses in general are usually a little more creative because of the situation that they're used in."
Nolan said the scheme they're going to run this year is largely similar to what they've run in the past, with some added variations. Last year's defense was hindered by injuries and Nolan and the Falcons weren't able to execute exactly what they wanted. The multiple defensive fronts and roaming players we've seen in the past won't be going away and with added talent to the scheme this year, they could be much more effective.
The Falcons defense seems to have multiplied during the offseason. They drafted four linebackers in addition to two defensive backs. They signed two mammoth defensive linemen. Pass-rushing specialist
With all the talk of versatility and multiplicity, we sometimes assume in Nolan's defense that defensive backs also have to be versatile. Of course,
The Falcons have a number of options at nickel. Free-agent signing
Everyone will draw their own conclusions on this year's defense and will continue to as the season progresses and the Falcons show mixed looks. If the results on the field are favorable, it won't really matter what the base defense is. Perhaps Lowery said it best when asked about this year's scheme.
"Attacking, offensive mentality," he said. "We don't want to sit back and let the offense dictate what's going to happen in the course of the game. We want to be dictators, we want to attack, we want to have an impact on the game."