As the Atlanta Falcons continue to interview head coaching candidates, the team has lost its incumbent defensive coordinator.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that former Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen is joining the Jacksonville Jaguars coach staff. He will be Jacksonville’s next defensive coordinator.
Nielsen spent just one season in Atlanta, but the Falcons defense greatly improved under his tutelage.
Under Nielsen, the Falcons finished the 2023 season 11th in yards allowed and 18th in points yielded. They were also 10th in pressure rate and 21st in sacks.
While those weren’t outstanding totals, the Falcons were ranked in the bottom seven of the league in yards allowed during 2021 and 2022 before Nielsen’s arrival. They were also last or second-to-last in sacks both seasons.
Nielsen’s departure can’t be too shocking. At the beginning of the offseason, the Falcons blocked other teams from interviewing Nielsen. That was a sign that the team wanted the defensive coordinator to stay in Atlanta.
But shortly after interviewing Bill Belichick for the head coach opening, the Falcons allowed Nielsen to interview with the Jaguars. It’s not clear exactly what changed for the Falcons and Nielsen. But in all likelihood, Belichick, or whichever candidate is Atlanta’s preference as its next head coach, indicated in his interview that he wants to hire his own defensive coordinator.
Regardless of the reason, SB Nation’s Kevin Knight isn’t viewing Nielsen’s departure as a win for the Falcons.
“Have to think the team is going to regret letting him get away,” Knight wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “Also means a third new defensive scheme in three years in Atlanta.”
Nielsen is used to constant change as well. The 2024 season will be Nielsen’s third season as a defensive coordinator with three different teams. He served as a New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator in 2022 after five years as the team’s defensive line coach.
The Falcons now have an opening at head coach and both coordinator positions. However, there’s a decent chance whoever becomes Atlanta’s next head coach was going to hire a new defensive coordinator anyway.