Cover 9@9: Meet the Falcons’ defensive coordinator candidates

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

(Here’s the third Cover 9@9 blog for 2023. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., we will drop the Cover 9@9 blog on the Atlanta Falcons.)

1. The no-spin zone: Here’s a look at the defensive coordinator candidates:

FRANK BUSH

Title: Linebackers coach, Falcons

Age: 60

NFL coaching experience: Was a college scout for the Oilers from 1987-92; Oilers, 1993-94; Broncos, 1995-2003; Arizona, 2004-06; Texans, 2007-10; Titans, 2011-12; Rams, 2013-16; Dolphins, 2017-18; Jets, 2019-20; Falcons, 2020 to present.

Highlights: Won two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos. He was defensive coordinator with the Texans for two seasons in 2009 and 2010. The defense ranked 17th in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed in 2009. In 2010, they dipped to 29th and 30th in the NFL.

Playing experience: The Athens native played at Clarke Central High School and N.C. State. He played two seasons with the Oilers (1985-86) before a neck injury ended his NFL career.

BRIAN FLORES

Title: Senior defensive assistant/linebackers, Steelers

Age: 41

NFL coaching experience: Patriots, 2008-18; Dolphins (head coach), 2019-21; Steelers, 2022 to present.

Highlights: Won four Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He was 24-25 as head coach with the Dolphins. In 2018, he was the Patriots’ defensive play-caller, and his defense finished seventh in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. His Miami defenses finished 30th, 20th and 15th in yards allowed.

Playing experience: He played linebacker at Boston College and was a teammate of former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Credit: Assoc

Credit: Assoc

RYAN NIELSEN

Title: Co-defensive coordinator/defensive line, Saints

Age: 43

NFL coaching experience: Was in the college ranks from 2005-16. He’s been with the Saints from 2017 to the present.

Highlights: The Saints have amassed 42, 49, 51, 45, 46 and 48 sacks since 2017. Last season, the Saints finished ranked ninth in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed.

Playing experience: He played at USC and had a cup of coffee with the Eagles and the L.A. Avengers in the Arena Football League.

Credit: Ralph Freso, Associated Press

Credit: Ralph Freso, Associated Press

AL HOLCOMB

Title: Defensive coordinator, Panthers

Age: 52

NFL coaching experience: Was in the college ranks from 1995-2008. Giants, 2009-12; Panthers, 2003-17; Cardinals, 2018; Browns, 2019; Panthers, 2020 to the present.

Highlights: Won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants after the 2011 season. Started out as a defensive quality-control assistant. He’s been to two Super Bowls, winning one with the Giants, and has coached Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. Davis, a former Georgia Bulldogs standout, described his former position coach as an excellent motivator.

Playing experience: No NFL playing experience.

Credit: Green Bay Packers

Credit: Green Bay Packers

JERRY GRAY

Title: Defensive backs/passing-game coordinator, Packers

Age: 60

NFL coaching experience: 25 seasons coaching in the NFL. Was with Titans from 2011-13 and helped Falcons coach Arthur Smith get his NFL coaching career started.

Highlights: Is credited with developing Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander. He was the Bills’ defensive coordinator from 2001-05 and was the Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2011-13. He has the second most experience of the candidates, with eight seasons as a defensive coordinator. His units finished in the top half of the league in points allowed in four of eight seasons and in the top half of the league in yards allowed in four of eight seasons. His best defense was the 2003 Buffalo unit, which was led by Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes and finished fifth in points allowed and second in yards allowed.

Playing experience: After being named an All-American at Texas, he was a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback and two-time All-Pro. He played for the Rams, Oilers and Bucs (1985-93).

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

VIC FANGIO

Title: Consultant, Eagles

Age: 64

NFL coaching experience: Started coaching in the USFL with the elder Jim Mora. Has been in the NFL since 1986 (Saints, 1986-94; Colts, 1999-2001; Texans, 2002-05; Ravens, 2006-09; 49ers, 2011-14; Bears, 2015-18, Broncos, 2019-21; Eagles, 2022 to present.

Highlights: He has been a defensive coordinator for 19 seasons in the NFL and helped expansion Carolina get started in 1995 and the reboot Houston Texans in 2002. A total of 13 of his 19 defensive units have finished in the top half of the league in yards allowed and 11 of 19 in points allowed. He’s also had eight top-10 defenses (yards allowed) and six top-10 defenses for points allowed. His 2018 Chicago defense finished ranked No. 1 overall in points allowed and No. 3 in yards allowed.

Playing experience: No NFL experience.

2. Chris Lindstrom named All-Pro: Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl this season, was named to the Associated Press All-Pro second team Friday.

“I was super fortunate to play next to (right tackle) Kaleb (McGary) and (center) Drew (Dalman),” Lindstrom said. “I think it was every single snap. That’s something that you never want to take for granted because that availability of being able to play next to each other is a huge aspect of it. It’s awesome.”

Lindstrom started all 17 games and played all 1,047 offensive snaps. He helped the Falcons average 159.9 yards rushing per game, which ranked third in the NFL.

“What this offensive line did, he’s a big part of that,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said.

It’s the first AP All-Pro selection for Lindstrom. Dallas’ Zack Martin was named the first-team right guard for the sixth time in his career.

ExploreComplete Falcons coverage from the AJC

3. Divisional-round playoff schedule: The NFL has finalized the schedule of sites, dates and times for the divisional round of the playoffs, Saturday and Sunday:

Saturday

AFC: 4:30 p.m. (ET) Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs

NFC: 8:15 p.m. (ET) New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday

AFC: 3 p.m. (ET) Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills

NFC: 6:30 p.m. (ET) Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers

4. Championship-round playoff schedule: The AFC and NFC Championship games will take place Jan. 29:

NFC: 3 p.m. (ET) NFC Championship game

AFC: 6:30 p.m. (ET) AFC Championship game

5. Tickets to go on sale for ATL AFC title game: With the Bills advancing from the wild-card round, season ticket holders from Buffalo and Kansas City can start purchasing tickets at 10 a.m. Wednesday for the potential neutral-site game, which would be played at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium if both teams advance.

The general public can purchase tickets starting at 10 a.m. Friday. Fans who wish to participate in the Friday presale can visit https://www.NFL.com/AFC to register for the presale.

Credit: (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Credit: (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

6. Foye Oluokun leads Jaguars: Former Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun led the Jaguars with 13 tackles in the 31-30 comeback victory over the Chargers in the playoff round Saturday.

He led the NFL in tackles for the second consecutive season, with 184. He also led the league in solo tackles with 128.

7. 2023 opponents: In addition to the six NFC South games, the Falcons are set to play the NFC North (four teams), AFC South and the last-place teams in the NFC East, NFC West and AFC East.

Here’s a look at the Falcons’ opponents:

Home opponents:

NFC South: Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers

NFC North: Vikings and Packers

AFC South: Texans and Colts

NFC East: Commanders

Road opponents:

NFC South: Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers

NFC North: Bears and Lions

AFC South: Jaguars and Titans

NFC West: Cardinals

AFC East: Jets

8. Tale of the tape: Here’s how the Falcons ranked at the end of the regular season. Progress is being measured by how many categories the Falcons are in the top half of the league, 16th or better:

Falcons

21.5 (24) Pts/Game

318.6 (24) Total Offense

159.9 (3) Net Rush Yds/Game

158.8 (31) Net Pass Yds/Game

29:48 (27) Possession Avg.

23.1 (23) Opp Pts/Game

362.1 (27) Opp Tot Offense

130.2 (23) Opp Rush Yds/Game

231.9 (25) Opp Pass Yds/Game

-4 (24) Turnover Differential

9. Depth chart: Here’s the offseason depth chart, with the reserve/future signings. Players set to be unrestricted free agents are listed in boldface, and players who ended the season on injured reserve have an asterisk:

OFFENSE

QB – Desmond Ridder, *Marcus Mariota, Logan Woodside, Feleipe Franks

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams, *Caleb Huntley, B.J. Baylor

FB – Keith Smith, Clint Ratkovich

WR – Drake London, Damiere Byrd, Frank Darby, *Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali

TE – *Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick, Tucker Fisk, John Raine

LT – Jake Matthews

LG – Elijah Wilkinson, Matt Hennessy, Colby Gossett, *Chuma Edoga, *Jalen Mayfield, *Justin Shaffer

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison

RG – Chris Lindstrom

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Tyler Vrabel

WR – Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, Ra’Shaun Henry

DEFENSE

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone, Quinton Bell

DE – Grady Jarrett, Tim Horne, Amani Bledsoe

NT – *Ta’Quon Graham, Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Vincent Taylor

DE – Matt Dickerson, Jaleel Johnson

OLB – Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, David Anenih

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski, Dorian Etheridge

ILB – Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman

CB – A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Mike Ford, Rashad Fenton, Dylan Mabin, Javelin Guidry

FS – Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy, Jamal Peters

SS – Richie Grant, Erik Harris, *Jovante Moffatt

CB – *Casey Hayward, Darren Hall, Dee Alford, Cornell Armstrong, Matt Hankins, John Reid

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion

LS – Liam McCullough, *Beau Brinkley

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson or Avery Williams