The NFL is a what have you done for me lately league. Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons are off to a disappointing 1-3 start to the 2019 season after missing the playoffs in 2018 with a 7-9 record. It may seem unfair to call the job security of a coach that was just in the Super Bowl three seasons ago into question, but the goodwill of that runner-up finish can only last for so long.
Dan Quinn is a good coach, but is he a great one? Is he capable of turning this ship around and leading the Falcons back into Super Bowl contention? These are the questions that Atlanta’s front office needs to be asking as the years of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their primes keep slipping away.
Where is Dan Quinn’s defensive expertise?
Quinn’s background is purely as a defensive specialist. The 49-year-old played college football as a defensive lineman, was a defensive line coach at three different colleges from 1994 through 2000, and was a defensive line coach for four different NFL teams from 2001 through 2010. After two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators in 2011 and 2012, Dan Quinn returned to the NFL to be the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014 before landing this head coaching job in 2015.
The idea was that the Falcons already had an excellent offensive core in place; bringing in the defensive coordinator that led the Seattle Seahawks to the best total defense in the league and a Super Bowl in both 2013 and 2014 would shore up that side of the ball and make the Falcons a contender. But this hasn’t been the case.
In 2015, Atlanta finished 16th in the NFL in total defense and 14th in scoring defense. In 2016, the year that the Falcons went to the Super Bowl under Quinn, the defense ranked 25th in total yards allowed and 27th in scoring defense. Atlanta would go on to famously blow a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Falcons finished 28th in total defense and 25th in scoring defense last season, prompting Quinn to take over play-calling on defense this season. Atlanta’s 24.8 points per game against rank a pedestrian 22nd in the NFL through the first four games of 2019.
The Falcons are trending in the wrong direction on offense, too
The only good year that Dan Quinn’s Falcons had on defense came in 2017 when the team finished in the top ten in both total defense and scoring defense. But this was also the year that Kyle Shanahan left the team’s offensive coordinator position to take the head coaching job in San Francisco.
With Shanahan gone, Atlanta’s offense went from best in the NFL in scoring with 33.8 points per game down to 15th in the league with only 22.1 points per game. The Falcons’ downgraded offense mustered up only 10 points in a 15-10 postseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that year.
The Falcons had the 10th highest-scoring team in 2018 with 25.9 points per game, but with the defense back in the bottom third of the NFL, they missed the postseason with a 7-9 record. This season, Atlanta ranks 26th in scoring with a paltry 17.5 points per game.
It’s time to move on
With Drew Brees out injured for the first half of the season, the Atlanta Falcons had a golden opportunity to open up a lead in the NFC South in his absence. Instead, we’ve seen the offensive-minded Sean Payton lead his Saints to two straight defense-driven wins while the Falcons have fallen to last place in the division at 1-3.
This isn’t all Dan Quinn’s fault; general manager Thomas Dimitroff and owner Arthur Blank must take their share of the blame for the limited personnel that they’ve given Quinn to work with. And injuries haven’t been kind to the Falcons, either.
But with that said, it’s hard to imagine that an offensive-minded coach wouldn’t be getting a lot more out of an offense that includes two of the best players in the world in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, among plenty of other talented weapons. Especially given that the defensive-minded Quinn isn’t even producing results on defense.
Barring any miraculous turnarounds this season, the Falcons should be looking for a new head coach in 2020. However you want to dish out the blame among Quinn and the front office, the tandem just isn’t working out.