According to Tori McElhaney of The Athletic, Duron Harmon said he called Logan Ryan to ask about Dean Pees before he signed with the Falcons. Ryan told Harmon that playing in Pees’ scheme was the most fun he had while playing in the league.
Duron Harmon said before he signed with the Falcons he called up Logan Ryan to chat about Dean Pees. Ryan told Harmon that playing in Pees' scheme was the most fun he had while playing in the league.
— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) April 21, 2021
Harmon and Ryan both entered the league in 2013 with the New England Patriots, and the former would play there until 2019 while the latter left for Tennessee in 2017 — where he played three seasons under Dean Pees.
Pees is the type of coordinator that listens to his players and doesn’t force square pegs into round holes. He will mesh his scheme around the talent afforded to him, not the other way around. That’s why, regardless of the roster turnover, the defense will improve dramatically.
Bill Belichick brought the 3-3-5 to the forefront of the NFL, and nobody runs more sub-packages than Pees’ defenses. He will rely on his nickel personnel package as he did in Tennessee — 73% of defensive snaps in nickel, good for ninth-most in the NFL during the 2018 season. His game plans vary depending on matchups that week; sometimes, he will deploy a bend don’t break philosophy, but others are ultra-aggressive game plans. One where the idea is to attack, attack, and attack with a high volume of disguised blitzes. Pees does this by having six and sometimes seven guys near the line of scrimmage, sending five of them. This is called an odd front, which ensures one-on-one’s across the board.
Pees then combines this ever-changing front with twists and stunts, which should work well with the Falcons’ athletic inside linebackers. It could be Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, Mykal Walker, Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler, Duron Harmon, and Erik Harris all within five yards of the line of scrimmage; when the ball is snapped, all three inside linebackers drop in coverage while the rest come on a blitz… but on a delayed blitz comes Isaiah Oliver from 10 yards off the ball. Just take a look at this exotic look from 2019.
Can’t stop laughing at the brilliance of this defensive scheme. #Titans rush 4—one of which is a corner, Jayon Brown sprints back into coverage, and Wake destroys the edge. Browns all kinds of confused. Dean Pees, you wild man. pic.twitter.com/ihbBGZwLrD
— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) September 9, 2019
I spoke about Duron Harmon’s place in the Falcons’ defense recently, in which I explained why Belichick’s 3-3-5 only works if he has the safeties who can defend the run, drop into coverage, and blitz as Pees will ask them to do week to week.
Below are some plays from a couple of years ago, but the 3-3-5 defense that Belichick runs is similar to what Pees ran most recently in Tennessee. As I said earlier, for this type of scheme to be successful, the defense needs to stop the run without putting bigger bodies on the field. Stopping the run with three safeties on the field is the first key to success with Pees’ scheme, which opens up the exotic blitz and coverages that befuddle offenses. In the videos below, note all the different alignments from Harmon — single-high, in the box, and rotating down from a split safety look.
great job coming up from safety to quickly fill gap and force rb into traffic pic.twitter.com/vm4O68iRH5
— mansur (@mansurshaheen) March 22, 2020
playing deep safety here. quick to read and react to qb and gets all the way to the sideline just in time to break up the play pic.twitter.com/LJsl1TchiD
— mansur (@mansurshaheen) March 22, 2020
Grady Jarrett launched his podcast today with Ray Lewis, who played for Pees in Baltimore, as his first guest. Lewis told Jarrett he would love playing for Pees because he’s such a players’ coach, and he’ll ask you what you think and actually consider his players’ thoughts. I’m excited about what Pees has to offer after coming out of retirement for Arthur Smith. Fans shouldn’t deem his retirement a result of porous production because he had many impressive defenses in New England and Baltimore. Mike Vrabel actually sought him to come back to Tennessee, but Pees chose Smith’s staff in Atlanta.
My understanding is that #Titans' Vrabel did reach out to Pees to see if he wanted to come out of retirement and return to the team.
-Pees made the choice to go to Atlanta. May well be bringing his son Matt, a former Titans quality control assistant, with him.
— John Glennon (@glennonsports) January 21, 2021
Harmon is the first free agent who chose Atlanta because of the coaching staff and systems in place, but he won’t be the last. Falcons fans should be excited about the building blocks in place because attracting free agents is one of the last pieces of the Super Bowl puzzle. Atlanta isn’t quite there yet, but it is encouraging that players are choosing to come to the dirty south.