Director of Dominance: Mike Nolan?

How good is the Bronco defense? They have played extremely well the first two games. The resurrection has been accomplished with generally inferior talent and aging super stars such as Champ Bailey.

So what is new? Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan, fresh off a failed head coaching opportunity with the Raiders cross-bay rival.

Is this resurrection a small sample size or is Mike Nolan is defensive genius? How hard is it going to be to move the ball on the Broncos this Sunday? The only way to find out, is to look at his body of work.

Many of you liked my Russell research, so I figured I would continue that theme and bring to you some stats on the opposition’s biggest defensive star, the coach.

Mike Nolan became the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in 1993 and stayed through 1996, 1997 through 1999 with the Redskins, 2000 with the Jets, 2001-2004 with the Ravens. I’ll provide defensive points allowed and yardage during his coaching tenures and for the year before and after he left each team.

Skip to analysis below if you aren’t a stat person.

New York Giants:
1992: Pre-Nolan (Ranks out of 28)
YARDS: 315.2 (18)
POINTS: 22.9 (26)

1993: (Ranks out of 28)
YARDS: 291.4 (5)
POINTS: 12.8 (1)

1994: (Ranks out of 28)
YARDS: 309.4 (11)
POINTS: 19.1 (8)

1995: (Start: ranks out of 30)
YARDS: 330.8 (17)
POINTS: 21.2 (16)

YARDS: 315.4 (14)
POINTS: 18.6 (10)

1997: Post-Nolan
YARDS: 316.7 (18)
POINTS: 16.6 (3)

Washington Redskins:
1997: Pre-Nolan
YARDS: 314.4 (16)
POINTS: 18.1 (8)

YARDS: 334.6 (24)
POINTS: 26.3 (28)

1999: (Ranks out of 31)
YARDS: 356.6 (30)
POINTS: 23.6 (24)

2000: Post-Nolan
YARDS: 279.6 (4)
POINTS: 16.8 (7)

New York Jets:
1999: Pre-Nolan
YARDS: 336.2 (21)
POINTS: 19.3 (9)

YARDS: 301.2 (10)
POINTS: 20.1 (13)

2001: Post-Nolan
YARDS: 322.1 (19)
POINTS: 18.4 (12)

Baltimore Ravens:
2000: Pre-Nolan
YARDS: 247.9 (2)
POINTS: 10.3 (1)

YARDS: 277.9 (2)
POINTS: 16.6 (4)

YARDS: 334.6 (22)
POINTS: 22.1 (19)

YARDS: 271.3 (3)
POINTS: 17.6 (6)

YARDS: 300.2 (6)
POINTS: 16.8 (6)

2005: Post-Nolan
YARDS: 284.3 (5)
POINTS: 18.7 (10)

(Stats from


Mike Nolan turned a bad Giants defense into a good defense in his first year on the job. This could be were he earned his reputation as a good defensive coordinator. The team regressed in each of the next two years and there wasn’t a significant difference in defensive stats after he left New York. At this point in his career, the single gem season could be an anomaly.

Whatever he did in Washington, it wasn’t working. He managed to turn a good defense into a poor defense for two seasons. The team defense improved drastically after his departure.

He returned to New York, this time with the Jets and significantly improved the defense in his single year on the job. The team arguable had a lot of talent, having had a horrible year giving up yardage before Nolan arrived, but were nails in the redzone. The team defense regressed slightly the year after he left.

There is a lot to understand about his tenure in Baltimore. Nolan inherited a fantastic defense and they were just a little less fantastic in his first season. Don’t blame Nolan, the previous year was of historical proportions under Marvin Lewis.

2002 was a regression and many place this blame upon the loss of numerous players due to Salary Cap issues. One might be able to make that case when the team again became of dominating force on defense in 2003 and 2004. However, the Ravens defensive dominance can be more directly linked to Ray Lewis, who played in just five games in 2002. The defense was just as good following Nolan’s departure under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, again with Ray Lewis as the only consistent factor.

So what do we know about Mike Nolan? Outside of his Washington stint, his defenses have tended to be top 15 in the league regardless of where they ranked the year before. He may be the type of coach that gets more out of less and maintains production when he does have a lot of talent.

If you were hoping the Broncos defense was overrated, rest assured. Nolan might be a good defensive coordinator, but it will be difficult to imagine the Broncos defense going from being ranked in the bottom three of the league to the top three. If that was the case, Nolan would certainly be up for coach of the year.

The only plausible prediction that can be made is that the Broncos defense will likely be ranked in the top half of the league or at least somewhere in the middle. No longer will this be a defense that can be completely run over. A challenge awaits JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders this Sunday.

This brings me to a brief thought. As good as the Raiders defense had looked and played, the stats are not backing it up. The stats show the Raiders defense still playing near the bottom of the league through the first two weeks. My only thought on this is a time of possession issue. It is no secret that the Raider defense has been on the field for more than the fair share of the first two games. Judging from a solid 3rd down percentage, turnovers and sacks, it is at no fault of the defense.

Expect a defensive battle on Sunday, with the victory belonging to the team that can string together the most points.

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