Written by Joe Carlino
Following the conclusion of the 2018 NFL season in which the Atlanta Falcons went 7-9 behind a plethora of injuries, primarily on the defensive side of the ball, head coach Dan Quinn proceeded to relieve offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, and special teams coordinator of their duties. While the team proceeded to hire former OC Dirk Koetter and Ben Kotwica to run special teams, the appointment of Quinn himself to man the defensive side of the ball is one of curiosity.
As most people in the league are aware, Quinn does have an extensive defensive coaching background dating back to San Francisco in 2001, but it’s his time at the helm in Seattle during the 2013 and 2014 seasons in which he really put his name on the map. In 2013, Seattle became the first team since the ‘85 Bears to lead the league in fewest points allowed (231), fewest total yards allowed (4,378), and takeaways (39) en route to decimating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. The next season, Seattle’s defense was just as dominant, but the team fell to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Quinn moved on to Atlanta.
Since becoming Falcons head coach in 2015, Quinn has led the team to an overall record of 45-42, with a postseason record of 3-2. That said, his defenses haven’t come close to those days in the Pacific Northwest, so here’s the lingering question now that he’s in charge of the defense for the first time since those days:
Can Atlanta’s defense perform like those Seahawks did back then?
To answer that, let’s take a look at Quinn’s defensive stats since becoming Falcons head coach*, complete with where the team averaged throughout the league. Keep in mind, these stats are not with him as defensive coordinator:
2015 (8-8 record): 21.6 PPG (13), 347.6 YPG (17), 19 sacks (32), 15 INTs (10)
2016 (11-5): 25.4 PPG (6)), 371,2 YPG (8), 34.0 sacks (16), 12 INTs (18)
2017 (10-6): 19.5 PPG (25), 318.4 YPG (24), 39.0 sacks (T-13), 8 INTs (T-29)
2018 (7-9): 26.4 PPG (8), 384.5 YPG (5), 37.0 sacks (T-22), 15 INTs (T-9)
*All stats gathered from NFL.com archives
Of course, for the Falcons defense, it is nice to have their core group of players back to
100%, with their secondary being healthy again and having the best coverage linebacker in the game not named Bobby Wagner in the middle of the field. Also, the team locked up defensive line anchor Grady Jarrett and said coverage LB Deion Jones for the next four seasons, so the forte of having their security is definitely a plus for Falcons nation.
That said, the main focus will be on the defensive line and if the team can do what they’ve notoriously lacked in Quinn’s tenure, and that’s the ability to generate constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Former first-round pick Vic Beasley’s fifth-year option was picked up, but to everyone in the media realm, his option is almost essentially a one-year “prove it” deal since he hasn’t generated the same type of pressure he did in his 15.5-sack 2016 season. Also, Takk McKinley will need to show some extra movement, but he’s arguably the best member of the defensive line that isn’t Jarrett, plus he’s a relatable guy and wants to make his late grandmother proud (and I’m sure she’s looking down on him and is so happy about what he’s done in the league).
So, overall, it remains to be seen how the Falcons’ defense will look under Quinn, especially considering the Hall of Fame game ended in ignominious Falcons fashion: the team leading in the final two minutes, only to lose on a last-gasp play (though let’s be honest, anyone who plays defense knows that on a fourth-down play, if the ball is in the air, don’t swat the ball up and give the receiver another chance).
However, if Quinn can strike lightning in a bottle twice, and Atlanta’s defense can even have a chance of meeting those Seahawks numbers, the possibilities are endless for where Atlanta can go. But one thing is for certain: Quinn will be revered in defensive lore for generations to come.