Tag:Mike Smith
Posted on: January 25, 2012 6:26 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 6:34 pm
 

Baltimore defense is a head-coaching pipeline

Almost everyone on Billick's sideline got a head-coaching job at one point. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Have you always dreamed of becoming a head coach in the NFL? Well, then you should find work with the Ravens defense, because doing so will all but guarantee you land a head-coaching job in the NFL.

Alright, it's a bit more difficult than that, but on Wednesday, Chuck Pagano became just the latest in a long line of former Ravens assistants to land gigs running NFL teams elsewhere.

The very first year the Ravens existed, 1996, the defense featured Marvin Lewis as defensive coordinator. Lewis, of course, is on his way to becoming one of the longer-tenured head coaches in the NFL and just took the Bengals to the playoffs. Lewis would leave Baltimore in 2001, coach the Redskins defense for a year and then take over the Bengals.

Working under Lewis up until 2001? Defensive assistant Jim Schwartz, who left to take the same position with the Titans, before being promoted to defensive coordinator and then taking over as head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2009.

(Notably, Eric Mangini -- 1996 as an offensive assistant -- and Ken Whisenhunt -- 1997-98 as a tight ends coach -- went on to land coaching gigs after working with the Ravens.)

In 1999, Brian Billick took over as head coach, and things really took off. He retained Lewis as defensive coordinator, but the team also hired Jack Del Rio (linebackers), Mike Smith and Rex Ryan as defensive assistants.

The Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. But it didn't pay off for the assistants until a year later, when Del Rio took the Jaguars job, where he stayed until being fired in 2011. Smith followed him there as defensive coordinator and would leave for the Falcons head coaching job in 2008, where he remains today.

In 2002, Mike Nolan, who'd been hired as the wide receivers coach previously, took over for the departed Lewis. Nolan, of course, went on to become the 49ers head coach in 2005. The man who replaced him? Mike Singletary, who took over as linebackers coach for the Ravens the same year Nolan became defensive coordinator.

Ryan replaced Nolan and eventually took the gig with the Jets. Greg Mattison took over for Ryan and after leaving for the University of Michigan (he took the same position under Brady Hoke), he was replaced by, you guessed it, Pagano.

Besides the Ravens, there's two other common threads with these guys: Ray Lewis, who's captained the defense since being drafted in the first round in 1996, and Ozzie Newsome, who took over as general manager that same year.

Read into it however you want; Newsome clearly has an eye for players and personnel, and Lewis clearly makes any defense better, regardless of how old he is.

But whoever takes over for the defense next should be thankful for the would-be springboard they're getting set up on.

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 7:42 pm
 

Falcons hire Mike Nolan to head up defense

Mike Nolan has been hired as Atlanta's defensive coordinator (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

Now that the Falcons have hired former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan as their defensive coordinator, as written by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it seems that former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo could be headed to New Orleans to replace Gregg Williams as the Saints defensive coordinator.

That’s the word from Rapid Reporter Larry Holder, who writes that Spagnuolo “has reportedly been high on the Saints wish list for the job with (Williams) leaving for St. Louis.”

Both moves make sense: Spagnuolo because* the 2008 Giants squad, the last time he was a defensive coordinator, was a top-five defense and stopped the Patriots high-powered offense in the Super Bowl, and Nolan because he’s put together strong defenses in Denver and Miami after he was fired in San Francisco.

*But as CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson and Will Brinson point out, Spagnuolo also could be a candidate to replace Jim Caldwell as the Colts next head coach. Which he obviously would accept over a New Orleans offer.

Nolan will replace former defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who unexpectedly bolted for the Auburn defensive coordinator job, and he’ll join newly-hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on Atlanta’s staff.

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“Mike Nolan is an established coordinator in this league,” said Falcons head coach Mike Smith in a statement. “He brings more than 25 years of NFL experience to our team and has been a coordinator at this level for 14 years. Mike has a history of developing physically intimidating defensive units, and we are fortunate to have him join our staff.”

Although Nolan has been known as a 3-4 defense schemer and though the Falcons personnel is suited toward a 4-3, the AJC writes that coach Mike Smith has so much respect for Nolan that the team will become something of a hybrid of the two schemes.

“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said before the Nolan hiring. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”

The Falcons feel they’ve got the man in Nolan who will help do so.

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 11:11 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 3:43 pm
 

Falcons hire Dirk Koetter as new OC

Dirk Koetter has been hired as Atlanta's offensive coordinator (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

Falcons coach Mike Smith and former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be reunited as the Falcons announced the hiring of Koetter as their offensive coordinator on Sunday.

Koetter replaces Mike Mularkey, who was hired as Jacksonville’s head coach.

"I am very pleased to add Coach Koetter as our offensive coordinator," Smith said in a statement released by the team.  "Dirk is a veteran offensive coach who will bring years of NFL experience as an offensive coordinator as well as a fresh set of ideas to our offense. He is bright, he understands the intricacies of the vertical passing game, but he also wants to be able to run the football which is very important in the NFL.

"I look forward to working with Dirk and have tremendous confidence that he will be a great addition to our team and our coaching staff."

Koetter beat out an apparent interview list that included Brian Billick, Brian Schottenheimer and Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements in order to win the job from his old Jacksonville mate.

Koetter was hired as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator in 2007. He worked with Smith for one year. Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator before he became Atlanta's head coach in 2008.

While Koetter’s offense didn’t impress this season -- even with the league’s leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville finished last in the league in yards gained and 28th in points scored -- the Jaguars have been better under Koetter in years past. Not great, mind you. But closer to league average as opposed to league worst.

At the very least, Koetter will get to work with a franchise quarterback for the first time as an offensive coordinator, after spending his previous years dealing with David Garrard from 2007-10 and the disappointing rookie Blaine Gabbert last year. Matt Ryan will be quite an upgrade from those two.

Koetter inherits an offense blessed with established starters such as quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. With the exception of Jones, who was a breakout rookie in 2011, all those playmakers, plus fullback Ovie Mughelli, have been Pro Bowl selections.

But Atlanta fans shouldn’t expect a huge change in offensive philosophy. As NFL analyst Adam Caplan notes, Murlakey and Koetter run a similar style of offense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 13, 2012 11:19 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 11:20 pm
 

Report: Falcons interested in Spagnuolo, Nolan

Atlanta head coach Mike Smith is looking for more consistency from his team. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Falcons lost their offensive and defensive coordinators are consecutive days last week. Mike Mularkey was announced as the Jaguars' new head coach on Tuesday and the day before, Brian VanGorder bolted Atlanta to take the same job with the Auburn Tigers.

Given how the Falcons' season ended -- managing just two points and watching their third-ranked run defense get treaded by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw in a punchless wild-card loss to the Giants -- it's probably best that Mularkey and VanGorder got other gigs because there's a chance they may have been relieved of their duties.

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Whatever the speculation, the reality is this: the Falcons are looking to fill two very important positions for a team that owner Arthur Blank admits has some work to do to be considered elite.

“We’re on the door, we’re knocking, but we’re on the other side of the door,” he said Thursday according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Knox Bardeen.

As for potential candidates, we've already mentioned the organization is reportedly looking at Brian Schottenheimer and Brian Billick to replace Mularkey. The former doesn't exactly evoke images of a high-powered aerial assault.  And neither does the latter, frankly, although Billick had great success as a coordinator in the late '90s with the Vikings when he wasn't responsible for drafting and developing the quarterback. That's the case in Atlanta too, so maybe that's a good sign … except, as CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz points out, Billick may be too rich for the Falcons' taste.

On the other side of the ball, more encouraging news: the team is reportedly interested in Steve Spagnuolo, the recently fired Rams coach, and Mike Nolan, the former 49ers head coach who also served as a defensive coordinator with the Ravens, Broncos and most recently the Dolphins.

“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”

Spagnuolo may have been mostly unimpressive during his three years in St. Louis, but he was the architect behind the Giants' defensive game plan to stop the Patriots' explosive offense in Super Bowl XLII. Ledbetter adds that "Nolan is considered a 3-4 coach. But [Falcons head coach Mike] Smith’s respect him from their days together in Baltimore runs deep. They could likely mold the principles of Nolan’s 3-4 with Smith’s 4-3 if necessary."

Another guy Smith's close to? Jack Del Rio; the two worked together in Baltimore and Jacksonville, but apparently there are no plans for a reunion in Atlanta.

Here's to hoping that whoever the Falcons hire they instill in the players a sense of consistency. Because to hear Smith tell it, that was lacking this season.

“There was inconsistency in our focus, there was inconsistency in our will to play and inconsistency in our enthusiasm," he said.

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 3:15 pm
 

Report: Falcons looking at Schottey, Billick

By Josh Katzowitz

While we speculate about whether former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would join his father if Marty Schottenheimer got the Buccaneers head coaching job, another potential job has emerged for the younger Schottey.

According to NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora, Schottenheimer is on the list to be interviewed for Mike Mularkey’s old job as the Falcons offensive coordinator.

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While Schottenheimer is set to interview for the open University of Alabama offensive coordinator position as well, Atlanta also appears interested in Super Bowl-title winning coach Brian Billick, former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements.

Assuming Billick wouldn’t want that job (and assuming that if Billick did want the job, the Falcons wouldn’t want to pay the salary Billick would desire), Koetter seems like a decent option. Although the Jaguars offense was a disaster this year when running back Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t running the ball, Atlanta coach Mike Smith and Koetter worked together in Jacksonville.

Clements, meanwhile, was apparently a candidate for the Penn State job that ultimately went to Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:30 pm
 

Brian VanGorder bolts Falcons for Auburn DC job

VanGorder left the Falcons for Auburn. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, known for good defenses and a better mustache, left his gig in Atlanta for the same job at Auburn, the team announced on Monday.

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VanGorder's departure is a bit of a surprise, as the Falcons are coming off a strong defensive season, ranking third in the NFL against the rush and 12th in total yardage allowed. In his four years as coordinator (albeit under a defensive coach in Mike Smith who was hired at the same time), the Falcons defense has steadily improved in most categories, though they did slip in points allowed per game.

Plus, it's not often that a coordinator for an NFL team takes the same job at the college level. Though the title is the same, it's clearly a step down.

Which is why VanGorder's departure may be an indication that changes are coming for the Falcons; Smith is obviously safe, with the Falcons making the playoffs in three of his four years in Atlanta.

But should Mike Mularkey be worried about his job now? The Falcons offensive coordinator has done good work with Matt Ryan in his four years there, and he's up for some nice head-coaching opportunities, but if he doesn't land a gig, it's hard to imagine he wont' be scrutinized heavily in the offseason.

The Falcons offense is good and it has been good. But it's struggled mightily in three playoff games, even though two of the three were against the eventual NFC Champions (we'll let you know about the Giants).

This is nothing more than speculation, of course, but considering that VanGorder's unit outscored Mularkey's unit 2-0 on Sunday in an embarrassing wild-card loss in New York, it's hard to imagine that Thomas Dimitroff and Smith won't take a long, hard look at the coaching staff in preparing to reload for 2012.

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Posted on: January 5, 2012 10:37 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Falcons wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Both of these teams seem to be peaking at the right time. The Falcons are looking for their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era; the Giants are looking for a second improbable Super Bowl surge in five years. Here’s the breakdown:


1. Falcons offensive approach
The Falcons spent most of the season trying to figure out if they would remain the two tight end/two-back run-oriented offense that has defined them since Mike Smith and his offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey arrived, or if they’d go ahead and assume the pass-first identity that Thomas Dimitroff committed them to when he traded a bounty for the chance to draft Julio Jones.

In the end, the pass-first approach won out. After fullback Ovie Mughelli went down with a Week 7 knee injury and Jones’ iffy hamstring strengthened, the Falcons drifted to more three-receiver sets and wound up finishing fourth in the league in pass attempts.

They also expanded Ryan’s presnap freedoms. The fourth-year quarterback has considerable power when it comes to audibling and changing protections at the line of scrimmage. In fact, it’s not unheard of for the Falcons to eschew huddling for an entire half. There have been some rough patches – Jones, in particular, was prone to mental mistakes early on – but the Falcons are finally clear about being a passing team.

By working out of three-receiver sets, Atlanta makes it tougher for defenses to double both White and Jones, as doubling both all but ensures Tony Gonzalez gets matched up on a linebacker:

Gonzalez has made a living feasting on zone defenses with an option route. With an option after Gonzalez gets over the top of a linebacker’s coverage, he runs his route based on how the safety plays. A lot of times the safety’s actions are determined by how he’s reading other receivers’ routes. This illustration shows the concept in its simplest terms. Gonzo and his QB must diagnose the defense the same way. That’s never been a problem for Matt Ryan and the veteran TE.

Also, what people don’t think about is how the three-receiver sets can actually help Atlanta’s power run game. Yes, there are fewer lead-blockers or offensive linemen for Michael Turner to run behind, but if Turner can get to the perimeter, he’s more likely to meet a defensive back than linebacker.

Not many defensive backs can’t tackle the 244-pounder one-on-one. This season Turner rushed for 459 yards on 93 attempts (4.9 average) out of three receiver sets.

The Falcons have not completely abandoned their heavy run game (they constantly used a fullback or extra tight end last week, likely to assure that Tampa Bay’s atrocious middle linebacker, Mason Foster, stayed on the field). If they don’t go no-huddle, they’ll be more inclined to bring in Michael Palmer, Reggie Kelly or Mike Cox, rather than stay exclusively in the three-wide spread.

That said, no-huddle would be an excellent tactic for them Sunday, as it could help quell the Meadowlands crowd and slow down that Giants’ pass-rush.

2. New York’s big nickel package
After rookie nickel corner Prince Amukamara got torched for the umpteenth time in early/mid-December, the Giants reverted back to their “big nickel” defensive package, with Antrel Rolle sliding down to slot corner/outside linebacker and either Deon Grant or Tyler Sash coming in to fill Rolle’s safety spot.

Rolle, whom the Cardinals drafted in the first round as a cornerback out of Miami, has the skills to cover slot receivers, and he also happens to be a superb run-defender. In fact, he’s so good that the Giants often used their “big nickel” package against base offensive personnel last season. Rolle doesn’t just offer solidity against the run; he’s also a shrewd blitzer and help-defender in zone coverage. In short, he’s a poor man’s Charles Woodson.

Obviously, though, if the Giants were overwhelmingly better with Rolle at slot corner, they wouldn’t have moved him back to safety to begin this season. Rolle being in the slot does leave the secondary a bit more vulnerable in downfield coverage. Cornerback Corey Webster’s terrific work in solo coverage ameliorates this somewhat, but Aaron Ross is a bit of a concern on the other side.

3. Atlanta’s approach
If Webster defends Julio Jones, Matt Ryan will look for the mismatch with Roddy White. If Webster defends White, Ryan will look for Jones. The Giants may want to give Ryan one more presnap read to dissect by having Webster alternate between defending Jones and White.

Regardless of where Webster lines up, a big focus of Ryan’s will be on getting the ball out quickly. He’s more inclined to find his rhythm with three-and five-step-drops, just as Tony Romo did in the second half Sunday night (it was a mistake for the Cowboys to not go with this approach earlier in that game).

Matt Ryan will be celebrating if he can get the ball out quickly. (Getty Images)

Even if Ryan’s rhythm is not a concern – and maybe it isn’t; the guy is a cerebral, fundamentally sound passer – Atlanta’s pass protection IS. The Falcons’ front five is a mauling, power-based group that is below the NFL’s athletic median.

It holds up because the five cogs are cohesive and familiar to Ryan. But that isn’t enough when facing a technician like Justin Tuck, a lightning bolt like Osi Umenyiora or a freak like Jason Pierre-Paul.

The only way the Falcons can give Ryan enough time to take a shot downfield is if they go max protect. Thus, when the Falcons do get away from their three-wide personnel, they won’t just be looking to pound the rock – they’ll be looking to go deep. The Giants secondary should be on high alert for play-action.

4. Stopping Eli and the passing game
Cris Collinsworth mentioned early in last Sunday night’s broadcast that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan regretted not blitzing Eli Manning more when they met back in Week 14. But in the rematch, Ryan quickly found out that even his most creative blitzes couldn’t faze Manning.

The eighth-year veteran has reached that level where he himself can’t be beat. He simply has too much intelligence, poise and arm strength. Instead, the way to beat Manning is to beat his receivers and hope that leads to Giants mistakes.

Thus, don’t expect the Falcons to do anything more with their pass-rush than the occasional zone blitzes that they’ve used all season. They’re better off focusing on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Redskins discombobulated the Giants in Week 15 by bracketing the top receivers with corners underneath and safeties over the top. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was betting that Manning would get impatient and force some balls into those coverages. He was correct.

Stifling the receivers outside is a great approach because it forces Manning to work to his third and fourth reads. He’s more than capable of that….as long as his protection holds up. The Falcons have only a good-but-not-great pass-rush (free agent pickup Ray Edwards has been a disappointment), but it’s a pass-rush that’s capable of exploding at any moment thanks to the supple speed of John Abraham. When Manning’s primary reads are covered, this offense goes from being big-play oriented to dink and dunk. That bodes well for the Falcons (see item 5).

5. Atlanta’s speed
The emergence of Sean Weatherspoon has been huge for Atlanta’s defense. The second-year linebacker is a swift, powerful three-down player who attacks the run and can patrol sideline-to-sideline in underneath coverage. The Falcons have a second player of this ilk in Curtis Lofton, a sound fourth-year pro who lacks Weatherspoon’s elite athletic prowess but compensates with decisive diagnostic skills.

With these two working behind vociferous, quick defensive tackles like Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, it’s not only tough to run on the Falcons, it’s tough to execute screens, dumpoffs and shallow crosses. The intended receiver might catch the pass, but he’s not going far. If he does get away, he still has to get by William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, two of the game’s faster downhill safeties.
 
Overall, this speedy zone defense will be a problem for the Giants, a team that compensated for its bad run game this season by totaling 138 completions to Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, Henry Hynoski, D.J. Ware, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 14, 2011 10:09 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 1:52 pm
 

Report: More tests expected for Mike Smith

Head coach Mike Smith is expected to undergo further testing after the team’s game Thursday night. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

UPDATE: Thursday, December 15, 1:45 p.m. ET -- The Falcons deny that Smith continues to experience chest pains. Falcons V.P. of Football Communications Reggie Roberts told the Atlanta Journal Constitution D. Orlando Ledbetter that Smith  “feels fine,” adding that  “He spent the week preparing his team for the nationally televised game against Jacksonville.  Smith had a previously scheduled appointment.  It was made after he left the hospital in Charlotte.” 

Following the Falcons' 31-23 victory over the Panthers Sunday, head coach Mike Smith was rushed to a Charlotte-area hospital with chest pains while the team boarded their charter plane back to Atlanta. The Falcons indicated later Sunday evening that the incident was a "non-emergency" and "reaffirmed his health," adding that he was "resting comfortably."

On Wednesday, sources told TSX’s Len Pasquarelli that Smith has continued to experience chest-related discomfort and is expected to undergo further testing after the team’s game Thursday night.

The Falcons host the Jaguars Thursday in a matchup that has playoff implications for Atlanta. Entering Week 15, they're the No. 5 seed in the NFC. At 8-5, they share the same record with the Lions (No. 6 seed), and have a one-game lead over the Bears (No. 7) and Cowboys (No. 8).

After this week's game with the Jaguars, Atlanta travels to New Orleans in Week 16 before wrapping up the regular season at home against Tampa Bay.

Hopefully, Smith, who is just 52, will be on the sidelines, completely healthy, to coach his team. 

Earlier Wednesday, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips announced that he was taking a medical leave to undergo surgery for a kidney condition. 

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com