What will be different about the Falcons’ defense?

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC

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Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees comments on the installation of the new scheme.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees came out of retirement to work with coach Arthur Smith.

After sitting out a season, the well-respected Pees, who has won two Super Bowl rings, wanted to return. Smith gave him the keys to defense, which has undergone a major overhaul.

ExploreWhat will be different about Falcons’ offense?

“I wanted to work for somebody I knew, totally trusted and so I said yeah,” Pees said. “I asked my wife first, like always. She said I know you want to do it.”

With Mrs. Pees’ approval, he’s back in the game at age 72.

For the first time in nearly two decades, the Falcons will use a 3-4 base defense.

“The installation is going well,” Pees said. “Guys have really kind of bought in. The great thing was that we had great participation in the offseason with the Zoom meetings back in phase one. Then with the OTAs we had great attendance. That really helps with this being a new system and new staff. My hat is off to the players for being here for that.”

Pees’ plan is to attack offenses.

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Falcons defenders Mykal Walker (center) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner bring the pressure on a sack of Tennessee Titans quarterback Logan Woodside during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons defenders Mykal Walker (center) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner bring the pressure on a sack of Tennessee Titans quarterback Logan Woodside during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons defenders Mykal Walker (center) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner bring the pressure on a sack of Tennessee Titans quarterback Logan Woodside during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“Attacking, that’s what I want,” Pees said. “If we can get it done, that’s what we are shooting for to be an attacking defense.”

Pees, who started coaching in the 1970s in Ohio, has seen the evolution of modern day football.

“Teams weren’t throwing the ball 50 times a game,” Pee said. “Everybody geared up to stop the run. There weren’t a lot of different formations. There wasn’t all of these jet motions. There wasn’t any RPOs. There wasn’t all of that stuff.”

So, the defenses were simpler.

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“When the offense really changed and was when they started opening things up, all of the motions and things like that, all of sudden you’ve got to change your defense,” Pees said. “You can’t sit in there and play vanilla defense any more. You got a choice. You can either player vanilla coverage or you can try to get after them a little bit and start pressuring them.”

Guess which method Pees picked?

“Some times, if you can pressure … they’ve got their set of issues over on offense,” Pees said. “They’ve got to figure it out too when the ball is snapped.”

So, the old days of lining up in I-formation with two tight ends are over.

“Those days are gone,” Pees said. “You’ve got to evolve with it and I think part of that is pressure on defense along with a lot of multiple coverages.”

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Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett comments on the team's progress in adapting to new defensive scheme.

While the Falcons will use a 3-4 base, Pees plans to mix up the coverages and blitz assignments in an attempt to keep the offense off balance.

“What makes it really multiple is that the fact that some times you can do the same thing in the front and do the same thing with two or three different coverages,” Pees said. “Then there are also some things where you can do a bunch of things up front different and keep the same coverage.”

Pees, who won a Super Bowl with New England and one with Baltimore, knew about Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. He talks to his former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who’s close with the Jarrett family.

“Grady is the man,” Pees said.

He studied the 2020 Falcons on film and the game against Kansas City jumped out at him. The Falcons played the eventual AFC champs tough and nearly pulled off the upset.

That showed Pees they could play at a high level, but now the goal would be to sustain that high-level of play.

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Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson tackles Tennessee Titans running back Mekhi Sargent during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson tackles Tennessee Titans running back Mekhi Sargent during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson tackles Tennessee Titans running back Mekhi Sargent during the first half of exhibition game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“That’s what the expectation is,” Pees said. “They played the heck out of Kansas City last year. As good as anybody did. In some other games that wasn’t the case. I’m not looking for the other cases. I’m looking for the one where you already showed me that you can do it.”

He’s excited about second-year defensive tackle Marlon Davidson.

“The same way with Marlon, I know what you can do,” Pees said. “Do it. That’s really what it is for everybody. The expectation … when you do something, that’s what the expectation is. That’s why you should be able to do it every time. Why wouldn’t you?”

Jarrett will anchor the front line. The linebackers are Dante Fowler, Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun and Steven Means.

The secondary has been revamped and will feature three new starters in strong safety Duron Harmon, free safety Erik Harris and right cornerback Fabian Moreau. Isaiah Oliver is slated to be the nickel back.

“It’s not realistic to think that everybody is going to play a perfect game every time,” Pees said. “They are going to make mistakes and the other team is darn good. Everybody has got good players. But you can’t let your expectations down.”

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