Falcons Hire Ryan Nielsen As DC

Ryan Nielsen will jump within the NFC South, moving from New Orleans to Atlanta. The Falcons announced Friday they have hired the Saints’ co-defensive coordinator to be their DC.

Working alongside Kris Richard in the Saints’ co-DC setup on Dennis Allen‘s staff this season, Nielsen has been with New Orleans for the past six years. This move will reunite Nielsen with Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, who came over from the Saints in 2021.

This Atlanta search featured some moving parts. Needing to replace the re-retired Dean Pees, the Falcons interviewed some high-profile names. They reached out to two coaches who have already gone through head coaching interviews — Brian Flores and Ejiro Evero — and interviewed ex-Denver HC Vic Fangio. Flores has been closely tied to the Cardinals’ HC job, while Evero has interviewed twice with the Colts and Texans. The Broncos, however, quickly blocked an Evero-Falcons meeting. Because Evero holds play-calling responsibilities in Denver and is under contract, a block maneuver could ensue. Fangio has also interviewed with three teams and looms as an option to return to the 49ers if/once DeMeco Ryans lands a top job elsewhere.

Nielsen, 43, had also interviewed with the Vikings about their DC job. No block could commence with Nielsen, due to he and Richard’s atypical arrangement. This will be Nielsen’s first crack as a play-caller, as Allen continued to run the show on that side of the ball despite succeeding Sean Payton as head coach.

Nielsen spent his time in New Orleans coaching defensive linemen. He worked as the Saints’ D-line coach — or as DC with D-line responsibilities — throughout that Louisiana run. During that stretch, Cameron Jordan (one Pro Bowl in his first six seasons) emerged on the Hall of Fame radar. Breaking the Saints’ career sack record, Jordan has made five Pro Bowls over the past six years. New Orleans also received quality work from defensive tackle David Onyemata under Nielsen.

Atlanta ranked outside the top 20 in points and yards allowed in each of Pees’ two seasons, but the team made no secret of its rebuild path. Nielsen will be tasked with elevating the young talent on the Falcons’ defense — including the likes of Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone and Troy Andersen. The Falcons’ 21 sacks ranked as the NFL’s second-worst total; only Grady Jarrett totaled more than four.

The Falcons shifted to a 3-4 scheme under Pees, so it will be interesting to see if Nielsen brings the Saints’ 4-3 alignment to Atlanta. Allen oversaw New Orleans’ defense throughout Nielsen’s tenure, making it premature to determine if the latter would make that change. But the Falcons are changing up their staff on defense.

As should be expected, Nielsen will be bringing in much of his own position coaches to Atlanta. The Falcons fired outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, D-line coach Gary Emanuel and secondary coach Jon Hoke, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter (on Twitter). A former Colts DC, Monachino joined the Falcons upon Pees being hired. Ditto Emanuel, who worked under Monachino in Indianapolis and who has been in coaching since the early 1980s, and Hoke.

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