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How much will working with blitz-happy Mike Nolan help Josh McDaniels this week?

09.24.13 at 7:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When Josh McDaniels was calling the shots in Denver in 2009 as head coach, Mike Nolan was his defensive coordinator.

Now Nolan is in charge of the defense in Atlanta for head coach Mike Smith and the Patriots offensive coordinator will have to scheme against him this week. How much will that history help?

“There are definitely some similarities,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “Certainly every year I think that most coaches adapt and evolve and change a few things here or there, so there’€™s definitely plenty of new things that I’€™m seeing, and then there’€™s some things that I’€™m sure Mike has done for a long time that I’€™m familiar with that he did there [in Denver].

“There’€™s a lot of Coach Smith’€™s, there’€™s some elements there that I’€™m sure he’€™s brought to the whole scheme. By and large, we’€™re getting ready for a new opponent, a group of players that we haven’€™t played a lot, and this is going to be a great challenge for us. We’€™ve got a lot of work ahead of us this week to make sure that we familiarize ourselves with this team that we’€™re going to play on Sunday night.

Nolan has the reputation of using an aggressive blitz package but now with Osi Umenyiora on the defense end and Jonathan Babineaux on the tackle, they’re not as reliant to bring extra bodies to disrupt the passing game. They’ve sacked the quarterback seven times, with five of those coming last Sunday against Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Umenyiora had two while the other three came via a blitz, two by the linebackers and another on a corner blitz.

“I think they have a good blitz package, that’€™s for sure,” McDaniels said. “They don’€™t have to blitz to generate pressure on the quarterback. They’€™ve done a decent job of creating pressure with some of their guys up front, and then they have, I would say, a diverse blitz package, both from their base and their sub defense where you’€™ll see a lot of different types of players come at the quarterback, whether that’€™s the linebacking corps, the safeties, the nickel backs, the corners. They’€™ve all blitzed and they’€™ve all pressured, and we’€™re going to need to do a great job of making sure that we follow our rules and are ready for anything that we could see on Sunday because they’€™ve done a lot of it.

“I would say that it’€™s probably a great blend of both. Both of them are great defensive coaches. I’€™ve had an opportunity to work with Mike Nolan and certainly had the chance to coach against both of them on numerous occasions. Their units are always disciplined, they do a great job of disguising, not trying to give you too much information before the ball is snapped, and they don’€™t give up a lot of big plays and they create turnovers. I think all of those elements are there, you see a lot of different looks from some of their sub packages that they use to try to create some confusion or some uncertainty, and yet they are certainly a disciplined group that plays the scheme well, and you can tell that they’€™re very well-coached.”

Here is the remainder of Josh McDaniels conference call Tuesday:

Q: First off, can you comment on Julian’€™s production over the first three games of the season? I think 27 catches for him is an awful lot of work. Secondly, you guys have had some struggles in the red zone over the course of the season. I knew you guys were able to convert on a couple of occasions on Sunday, but are there any commonalities to those issues you guys have been having to this point in the year?

JM: Julian has earned the opportunity to be in there, and I think he’€™s really made the most of the opportunities that he’€™s had when the ball has come to him. He’€™s doing a good job of creating separation and getting open and catching the football. He’€™s been a consistent contributor for us now for three games in a row, and hopefully we can look forward to continuing with that as we go forward. The red zone certainly is an area of the field where any lack of execution ‘€“ timing, those types of things ‘€“ could impact your ability to score touchdowns and/or kick field goals. I would say there’€™s no common theme to some of the things that we’€™ve done down there that have hurt us, we just can do a better job of coaching things down there and a better job of executing some of the opportunities that we have when we get them in the games. I would say we need to start with making sure that we don’€™t turn the ball over, because we’€™ve had a couple turnovers down there that we’€™ve been in position to potentially put on seven points and then turn the ball over and come away with absolutely nothing, and that always hurts. We’€™ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football, and we can coach and execute things better down there. We’€™re going to work real hard this week at trying to improve in that area of our game.

Q: Michael Hoomanawanui caught a couple passes on Sunday, which doesn’€™t happen too often. With injuries and availability playing out the way it has, how important has he been to have out there? Maybe specifically, people can see when he catches a couple of passes, but when he doesn’€™t catch any balls what does he bring to your offense?

JM: Mike has done a nice job for us in multiple areas of our offense in the things that we’€™ve asked him to do. He’€™s been an effective blocker for us in the run game on the edge and he’€™s also done a decent job in pass protection when we’€™ve asked him to do that at the tight end position as well. He has good hands, and he certainly can catch the football and make some plays, and he has in the past. It was good to see him make a contribution in the passing game on Sunday, but he’€™s certainly played a big role in any success that we’€™ve had in a lot of areas on the offense because he’€™s played a lot of snaps for us. That position is certainly important.

Q: When you guys have most if not all of your running backs healthy or available, are you a big believer in creating and communicating what roles you guys want your backs to have? Does that change maybe week-to-week, or would Guy ‘€˜A’€™ and Guy ‘€˜B’€™ know sort of what their role is pretty much whenever they’€™re in there?

JM: All our backs practice and take a lot of reps, both in the running game, the passing game, some of the situational football portions that we practice, third down, red zone, those kind of things. They all get an opportunity to go in there and rep, and they’€™re all ready to play. I think anybody that’€™s earned the right to be out there with their performance and what they’€™ve done in practice and throughout the course of the season, we usually put them out there and give them an opportunity to make an impact on Sunday. I think last week we were pretty evenly split in terms of the snaps between the three backs that played last week. They each played I think somewhere between 23 to 26 snaps apiece, they all were productive in their own ways, and I would anticipate whoever is at the game, no matter what time it is, whether it’€™s now or later in the season, that that would continue.

Q: Going into Atlanta, Sunday night game, fans will naturally be revved up. It’€™s a controlled environment under a roof, and it’€™ll be very loud. What are the steps that you take in a case like this to prepare your team, especially with the young guys you have on offense, to make sure there are no breakdowns in communication to prepare for how loud it’€™s going to be?

JM: I’€™m sure we’€™ll practice with noise this week. We definitely expect it to be an exciting environment. It always is when you play down there in Atlanta and it’€™s inside. They have a really good football team, and I’€™m sure they’€™ll be excited to play, and we’€™ll be excited to play, so we’€™re looking forward to that. But there’€™s no shortcut to that, you’€™ve got to do a good job of communicating during the week, you’€™ve got to practice well with the noise and the distraction that the noise creates, you’€™ve got to try to eliminate all unnecessary communication that you can so that you can just get out there and hear what you need to hear and go execute your job and play as fast as you can. We’€™ve done it before. It was loud in Buffalo, and it’€™s been loud in some other places this year ‘€“ in the preseason for a time being. But this certainly going to be an exciting environment to go into, like I said, and we’€™ll look forward to it and we’€™re going to do the best we can to make sure that we prepare for the noise and atmosphere that we’€™re going to see on Sunday night.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Josh McDaniels, Mike Nolan
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