Pees: ‘We’re going to change the culture of this defense around this frickin’ place’

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Apparently, over the offseason he studied the history of the Falcons’ defensive squads and didn’t like what his research project revealed.

“We’re changing a culture around this dag gum place,” Pees said on Saturday. “It’s not going to be mediocre. It’s not going to be average. It’s not going to be in the bottom half of the league, like it has been 15 out of the last 20 years. Sick of that crap.”

He is correct. The Falcons have finished in the top half in the league – 16th or higher – just five times over the past 20 seasons in yards allowed. The Falcons finished ninth in 2017, 16th in 2015, 12th in 2011, 16th in 2010 and 14th in 2004.

Last season, Pees’ first with the Falcons, the defense finished 26th in yards allowed.

“We’ve got to take charge and it (isn’t) going to be anybody else to do it, but us,” Pees said.

The forecast for the rebuilding Falcons is not very good. USA Today predicted that they would win just two games and Las Vegas has the over-and-under at 4.5 games for the 2022 season.

“Okay, I’m tired of everybody telling us how bad we are,” Pees said. “After a while you start believing it. …. You get mad at the teacher if (the teacher) says … or tells some kid he’s stupid, right? Don’t ever tell somebody that because pretty soon they start believing it.”

Pees was a defensive coordinator with the Patriots, Ravens and Titans. He came out of retirement to coach the Falcons. He’s determined to change the culture.

“Guys around here on defense, sometimes believe that 15th is okay or whatever,” Pees said. “Been a top 10 one time out of the last 20 years, that’s (expletive) is over. Okay, sorry, I’m getting fired up, but I’m tired of this crap.”

Pees is referring to Marquand Manuel’s 2017 defense, which finished ranked ninth in league in total yards allowed.

In points scored, the Falcons have had four top-10 defenses over the past 20 seasons. They finished eighth in 2017, fifth in 2012, fifth in 2010 and eight in 2002.

“We were not aggressive enough last year,” Pees said. “We need to be aggressive in coverage. We’ve got a great corner (A.J. Terrell) out here who can be aggressive, but we need everybody to be that.”

To make a point about how aggressive he wants the Falcons to become, Dees flashed back to his days in New England. He remembered a game against the Bengals, who featured quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

“I actually told (New England safety) Rodney Harrison in the secondary, ‘I want you guys all over these guys,’ " Pees recalled. “We are going to go attack these guys. If they double-move you, grab them and take the holding penalty. It’s five yards and a first down, big deal.”

The Patriots aggressiveness worked.

“We were so damn aggressive and played the hell out of them and beat the crap out of them,” Pees said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, especially in camp.”

It figures to be an uphill climb for the Falcons’ defense in 2022.

In addition to Terrell, the Falcons have defensive tackle Grady Jarrett up front. The linebacker corps is being revamped and Deion Jones, a one-time Pro Bowler, is on the physically unable to perform list.

“Look, we can’t control what everybody else says about us,” Pees said. “What you got to do is you’ve got to believe in yourself.”

The Falcons added veterans in outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, linebacker Rashaan Evans and cornerback Casey Hayward to help with the rebuild. They are hoping to get nickel back Isaiah Oliver back from knee surgery.

“It takes the right players to do it,” said Pees, who had Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore. “You have got to take guys who won’t take it. I will not tolerate this. I won’t take it. You’ve got to find those players.”

That’s why Pees was not upset when the Falcons got into a couple of scuffles in practice on Saturday.

“Sometimes you’re going to get into a few scuffles,” Pees said. “When stuff starts getting competitive, but that’s what you want. You don’t want guys sitting back and being passive. It’s football. It’s a tough sport. So, you want guys that are going to compete.”

Pees is determine to have that top defense.

“We’re going to change the culture of this defense around this frickin’ place,” Pees insisted. “People are going to start talking about the Atlanta defense like they did in Baltimore, like they did in New England. It’s going to be the same (thing) around here.”

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