The Atlanta Falcons have a defensive coordinator for the 2023 season, announcing the hire of Ryan Nielsen to the position. Nielsen served as the co-defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints last season after starting in New Orleans as the defensive line coach -- a position which he served from 2017 to this past season.
Nielsen will be responsible for calling the defense in Atlanta. Head coach Dennis Allen called the plays in New Orleans while Nielsen and defensive backs coach Kris Richard were co-defensive coordinators. Richard is the lone defensive coordinator in New Orleans with Nielsen off to Atlanta.
Nielsen also was promoted to assistant head coach in 2021 and co-defensive coordinator in 2022 in addition to his defensive line coach duties. The Saints' defensive line was one of the best in the NFL during Nielsen's watch, not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 55 consecutive regular season and postseason games between 2017 and 2020. The Saints were third in the NFL in rushing yards per game since the 2017 season -- allowing just 100.4 rushing yards per contest. The 20.8 points per game allowed by the Saints were fifth fewest in the NFL under Nielsen's watch.
Nielsen will replace Dean Pees, who retired after the season at the age of 73. Pees was the Falcons' defensive coordinator for the past two seasons after previously having the role with the New England Patriots (2006-2009), Baltimore Ravens (2012-2017) and Tennessee Titans (2018-2019). He'll be tasked with fixing a Falcons defense that allowed 22.7 points per game (23rd in NFL) and 362.1 yards per game (27th in NFL).
The Falcons allowed 130.2 rushing yards per game in 2022, 23rd in the NFL. The 15 rushing touchdowns allowed was 17th in the NFL and the 4.4 yards per carry allowed was 18th.
Nielsen has a history with Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, who was in the Saints' front office when he was on the defensive coaching staff. New Orleans' defense had 281 sacks since the start of the 2017 season -- the second most in the NFL over that span -- finishing in the top 10 in sacks in five of the past six seasons.