Falcons' new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen says 'we're going to attack'

Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Football

Some mystery surrounds new Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. After all, he worked behind the scenes in New Orleans since 2017. As a co-defensive coordinator last year, he never called plays. All that was truly known to outsiders was that he trained one of the NFL’s most ferocious defensive lines.

One more thing that’s not a mystery: He can command a room. Nielsen was charismatic and assertive in his introductory press conference Monday, assuring Falcons faithful these days of a feeble pass rush will soon end.

The Falcons have no greater questions than their defensive front. They hired Nielsen to lead their defense because he’s proven himself as a developer and pass-rush maestro. With the NFC South wide open, even modest defensive improvement could vault the Falcons (7-10) into the playoffs.

“It was the right fit,” Nielsen said of his new employer. “Ownership, coach, general manager; we see a lot of things the same. Where this program is going, the organization, and how the guys play. Definitely the right fit and the place I wanted to be.”

He later added: “It was very easy for me, really. Like, when (the Falcons) offered (the job), I thought I’d jump through the phone. So I’m like, I’m in. Let’s go.”

Nielsen, 43, probably couldn’t fit his experience onto a one-page resume. The Falcons are his ninth stop as he’s ascended the ranks. He began as a volunteer coach for USC – the Los Angeles native’s alma mater, where he was coached by Ed Orgeron – and held different roles with Idaho, Ole Miss, Central Connecticut State, UT Martin, Northern Illinois, and Noth Carolina State before landing with New Orleans.


While the Saints were known for quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton, they had a menacing defense during Nielsen’s stint with the team (as Falcons enthusiasts would know). After Nielsen arrived in 2017 as the defensive line coach, New Orleans earned double-digit wins in four consecutive seasons with its defense leading the way.

The Saints had 42 sacks in 2017, tying for seventh in the NFL. They had 49 sacks the next season, bested by only four teams. They ranked third in sacks during 2019 (51), eighth in 2020 (45), eighth in 2021 (46) and fifth this season (48).

During that same stretch, the Falcons never accumulated 40 sacks in one season. In fact, their combined sack total over the past two seasons, 39, still falls short of any single-season total the Saints achieved with Nielsen.

The Saints’ defensive production wasn’t all Nielsen’s doing, of course. Saints coach Dennis Allen was then the defensive coordinator and lauded for his work. The Saints were stacked with defensive linemen like Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport; each known for a mean streak and extra-physical style.


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