Calling for someone to get fired is not something I do rashly. When a coach, coaching staff, or a player gets released, more than just that person is affected. Families must move again, kids have to leave their schools, and you’re on the search for another job. The feeling is miserable, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
However, there are times when making a change is needed for the future of your franchise, and one team is getting awfully close to that.
The Atlanta Falcons had high expectations coming into 2019. I even thought they were a potential dark horse. But what was supposed to be a season when the Falcons competed for the NFC crown quickly turned into one when they are competing for a top draft pick. And a lot of the blame falls at head coach Dan Quinn’s feet.
How the Falcons got here
In Quinn’s second year with the Falcons, they won the NFC championship and lost the Super Bowl. We know how that game ended, but it felt like the start of a short dynasty run in Atlanta. The Falcons had the perfect match of young talent on defense paired with a defensive guru in Quinn. On offense, even with the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the future was shining bright. Matt Ryan was coming off an MVP season in 2016, and they still had Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, and Devonta Freeman. The offensive line was older, but as group it was skilled.
After blowing a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Falcons didn’t have a hangover season like we’ve seen happen to previous NFL runner-ups. They went 10-6 in 2017, made the Wild Card Round, and even won a playoff game over the Rams before going to Philadelphia and losing on the final play.
They were so close to the NFC Championship again, and everything was looking up.
But last season was a disaster from the very first game. The Falcons couldn’t stay healthy on defense, and it cost them their season, going just 7-9. Offensively, they took a few steps back, but nothing they couldn’t retool. An aging offensive line was replaced this offseason with young bodies. Everyone was healthy on defense, even if they didn’t make many big-time additions. Quinn was taking over defensive playcalling duties. The outlook was positive heading into 2019.
This season has been an utter disaster for the Falcons, though. They are 1-4 after five weeks and in all four of the losses, the game wasn’t close. The Falcons have looked worse each week and have played uninspired ball.
What’s gone wrong for the Falcons this season
When a team takes a nosedive like this, it falls on the coaching staff, especially when the head coach’s expertise is continuing to worsen.
The Falcons’ 53-32 loss to the Texans in Week 5 was the defense’s worst game yet. They surrendered 592 total yards and allowed Deshaun Watson to record a perfect passer rating while he continued to throw to Will Fuller (217 receiving yards) over and over. The defense, which the Texans called “basic” afterward, couldn’t execute.
When I discuss removing a coach from a job, I always side on giving the coach one more season to figure it out. After a poor 2018, this was the season for Quinn to do that. And when I say “figure it out,” I mean figure out the defense. He’s a defensive-minded coach who is in charge of that side of the ball this year. In theory, it should be elite. But it’s the opposite.
The Atlanta defense has gotten worse each season. In 2017, the Falcons finished 22nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency measure. In 2018, they were 31st. OK fine, they were injury-riddled then. But this season should have seen a huge improvement.
Instead, they are worse than 2017 so far. They are 27th in DVOA, but taking a closer look at the numbers, they are even worse in important areas. The Falcons are 30th on third down and 31st in points per game. They get ZERO pass rush and are last in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. They’ve whiffed on their draft picks to get after the quarterback. Vic Beasley had 15.5 sacks in 2016 and ONLY 11.5 since then! Injuries of course play a role in that, but nonetheless, he’s regressed. They drafted Takk McKinley in the first round in 2017, and he’s produced modest results.
This side of the ball is supposed to be Quinn’s speciality, and the failures lie with him.
Lastly, there’s one stat that shows the coaching staff’s struggles with adjustments and gameplanning: In the Falcons’ last 13 games against AFC opponents, they are 1-12 straight up! That’s embarrassing. You play one division from the other conference each season, meaning you play each team once every four years. There’s a whole process of breaking down the tape and studying the opponent. It’s new tape. There’s no familiarity with the teams, players, and schemes, so it takes some outstanding coaching to get the gameplan together.
This record shows me the Falcons’ coaches aren’t great at getting their team prepared against the unknown. No bueno.
Again, I think you have to tread super lightly when discussing a coach or player getting released from their jobs. Unfortunately, I think I’ve laid out a good reason why Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is going to lose his job sooner than later, especially if they head to Arizona and lose this weekend.