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  1. https://theathletic.com/1773323/2020/04/25/schultz-falcons-dan-quinn-trying-to-fix-defense-without-seahawks-blueprint/ Every draft selection goes something like this: Team drafts player. Player celebrates. Team says it can’t believe the player fell because the team had been targeting him since middle school, and he’s going to be special, and he’s perfect for the system, and he has the perfect attitude, and on the team’s draft board, he was supposed to be taken much, much, earlier, like a week ago Tuesday. Somehow, things still go wrong. Draft bliss has a limited freshness date. So let’s start with this: By all appearances, the Falcons had a really good first two days of the draft. They appeared to fill three important needs in the first three rounds, and even without Thomas “Itchy Triggerfinger” Dimitroff making a trade: They took cornerback A.J. Terrell (Clemson) in the first round, defensive tackle Marlon Davidson (Auburn) in the second and center Matt Hennessy (Temple) in the third. Hennessy is Alex Mack’s heir apparent at center but will start out at left guard. All three draft picks may start next season. It all looks great today. But temper your glee (or outrage). Even game tape, analytics, background checks and Jedi mind tricks in pre-draft interviews can’t elevate most drafts to much more than a refined game of drunk darts. Nobody can predict how players respond to NFL paychecks or pressure. Nobody knows if they peaked in college or if they just won’t care anymore. But Falcons head coach Dan Quinn needs immediate impact from this class, particularly on defense. He needs edge rusher Dante Fowler, a free agent import, to replicate what he did a year ago with the Los Angeles Rams and Terrell and Davidson to have fast learning curves. The Falcons are painfully young and generally unproven at cornerback after the release of Desmond Trufant in a salary-cap move, and their defensive line play last year was uneven. The defense’s entire personality was as split as the season: from 1-7 to 6-2. Quinn believes Terrell and Davidson can have an immediate impact, pointing to the fact both have played in big games at major programs. “Those are usually the guys who transfer well at the NFL level,” he said. With Tom Brady joining Drew Brees in the NFC South, secondary play is crucial. Quinn is largely perceived as a line coach, but he clearly has embraced using early picks on cornerbacks. Why? “It’s really become a passing league first,” he said. “So you better have, on the defensive side, a way to match up.” Here’s the strange part. Remember when Quinn was hired in 2015? He was coming off consecutive Super Bowl appearances as Seattle’s defensive coordinator. The Seahawks’ starting secondary included two players drafted in the fifth round (Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor), one in the sixth (Byron Maxwell) and one not drafted at all (Brandon Browner) to go with first-round pick Earl Thomas at free safety. That might’ve been an aberration, but it didn’t stop the narrative: If the Seahawks can do that, the Falcons can do that. Don’t use early picks on cornerbacks, spend your resources elsewhere. A case could be made it would clash with Dimitroff’s history of drafting a ton of defensive backs, including several in the first two rounds. Terrell is the ninth defensive back the Falcons have drafted since 2015, including four in the first two rounds: cornerback Jalen Collins (second round, 2015, a bust), safety Keanu Neal (first, 2016, solid when healthy), cornerback Isaiah Oliver (second, 2018, struggled until the second half last season) and now Terrell. He’s actually the seventh DB taken by the Falcons in the first two rounds since 2008. There has been no DB drop-off since Quinn replaced Mike Smith. So was the narrative false or did Quinn’s philosophy change? “I don’t think you had it wrong,” Quinn said. “Even now when I think of some of the players in different rounds, there’s names like (Grady) Jarrett and (Ricardo) Allen and (Demontae) Kazee and (Kendall) Sheffield who weren’t always on the first-day picks. It really also involves the rush. So throwing a guy like Marlon into that group, (with an) attacking front, that’s a part of it. Having that connection between the front and the secondary is important.” Was it an overstatement to assume you could build a starting secondary with late-rounders? “That’s fair. The reason (Seattle) played so well is there were good players everywhere — linebacker, in the front and the secondary,” Quinn said. “There was a connection with one another. It wasn’t just one piece.” In 12 drafts from 2008 to 2019, the Falcons drafted 87 players, including 23 defensive backs. So make that 24 defensive backs out of 90 players now (26.7 percent). The Falcons have taken at least one DB in 12 of the 13 drafts and as many as four in 2013 when Trufant and Robert Alford were the first two picks. The draft position breakdown from 2008 through three rounds in 2020: 24 defensive backs, 15 defensive linemen, 14 linebackers, 14 offensive linemen, eight running backs, eight receivers, four tight ends, two quarterbacks and one punter. There’s an argument to support this: Offenses have become increasingly wide open, and the ripple effect is defenses are in nickel a majority of the snaps. But Dimitroff and Quinn valued Terrell so much that they were willing to trade up from 16th in the first round to a pick in the nine to 12 range to ensure they would get him (even apparently ahead of South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and far higher than most mock drafts had Terrell going). Dimitroff maintains he had only “loose” and hypothetical trade discussions, denying he ever made an actual trade offer. A behind-the-scenes story on NFL.com about Jacksonville’s draft painted a more specific picture, saying Dimitroff “proposed a potential trade” that would’ve sent the No. 16 pick, as well as third- and fourth-rounders, to the Jaguars for the No. 9 selection. But Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell, a former Falcons assistant GM, said no, fearing Dimitroff would take one of his preferred players (notably defensive back C.J. Henderson or edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson). That the deal never happened and Dimitroff landed his preferred target regardless doesn’t change how highly the Falcons coveted a cornerback. “Corner was one of the spots that was going to be a big one for us this offseason,” Quinn said. So much for the perceived Seattle blueprint.
  2. https://theathletic.com/1762718/2020/04/21/schultz-falcons-need-to-reverse-past-flubs-if-they-go-defensive-line-in-draft/ Before understanding where the mindset is of the Falcons’ primary decision-makers during this draft, it’s important to understand their agenda in recent weeks. They continued to restructure and front-load contracts, setting up a likely doomsday scenario in the salary cap down the road, all with the objective of clearing space for this crucial offseason. They committed significant money to a pass rusher (Dante Fowler) who was coming off one good season and is now with his third team in five years, unusual for a player taken third overall. They brought back a former Georgia star (Todd Gurley) with the hope that he can still squeeze something out of an arthritic knee. They traded a second-round pick for a tight end (Hayden Hurst) who was drafted in the first round for his perceived talent but sat third on Baltimore’s depth chart in his second season. All three players come with significant risk but a potentially high payoff. When a coaching staff and front office are desperate for a turnaround, they will attempt a couple of, “Hey, watch this!” moves, because they need a big payoff to save their jobs. Which brings us to this week’s draft. The Falcons will draft 16th in the first round Thursday night unless general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn make a move to sacrifice more of the future for the present and leap into the top 10. Trading up has become a calling card of Dimitroff’s, but it’s not like it always has worked out. The Julio Jones trade in 2011 was a success. But the deals for Sam Baker (2008) and Takk McKinley (2017, to this point) did not work. Desmond Trufant (2013) was solid but not elite and therefore a push. The jury remains out on Kaleb McGary (2019). The Falcons need players on all three layers of their defense. The difficulty in determining which direction they will go partly stems from the uncertainty of who’s making the call. Dimitroff tends to favor defensive backs. Quinn likely leans toward an edge rusher or a player in the front seven, particularly with the Falcons going offensive line early last season and McKinley not panning out to this point. Rich McKay, the team president who stands at a splatter-free distance next to owner Arthur Blank, is the only one with job security. When asked on a media conference call about McKay’s role, Dimitroff said, “The final decision stays in my world.” Truth is, we’ll never know, unless somebody does a tell-all book one day, because the McKay factor makes it’s a confusing mess. In his latest mock draft, The Athletic’s Jason Butt has the Falcons taking LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson if they stay at No. 16 or a difference-maker like Derrick Brown, Isaiah Simmons or Javon Kinlaw if they trade up. If the Falcons go defensive line early, Dimitroff will need to do better than he has in the past. Since 2008, he has drafted six defensive linemen in the first three rounds, and only one has panned out (see chart): Corey Peters, a third-round pick who wound up starting for seven seasons. DL in first 3 rounds of draft since 2008 DL in first 3 rounds of draft since 2008 PLAYER YEAR ROUND (PICK) ALL-PRO PRO BOWL YEARS AS STARTER GAMES SACKS Deadrin Senat 2018 3 (90) 0 0 0 17 0 Takkarist McKinley 2017 1 (26) 0 0 2 45 16.5 Vic Beasley 2015 1 (8) 1 1 5 78 37.5 Ra’Shede Hageman 2015 2 (37) 0 0 1 44 4 Corey Peters 2010 3 (83) 0 0 7 None of the other five met expectations. Chronologically: • Peria Jerry (first round, 2009) suffered a major knee injury in his rookie season and never made an impact. He made only 29 starts (in 64 games) in five seasons. • Ra’shede Hageman (second round, 2014) lived up/down to his reputation for being lazy coming out of college, had significant off-field issues, was released, then re-signed, then failed again. In Dimitroff’s defense, Hageman was drafted largely because coaches Mike Smith, Bryan Cox and Mike Nolan believed they could get the most out of him. • Vic Beasley (first round, 2015) had a glorious season in his second year but otherwise failed, and the Falcons compounded the problem by rewarding mediocrity and picking up his fifth-year option. • McKinley (first round, 2017) struggled to get going his rookie year and has underwhelmed since, to the extent that the Falcons are not likely to exercise his fifth-year option. (Dimitroff and Quinn are still trying to get their public soundbites straight on that one.) The Falcons chose to draft McKinley, despite knowing he was inconsistent and emotionally unstable at times in college. Quinn maintained he is “fully expecting Takk to come back and play at the level we want, and he does, too.” It’s what he would say whether he believes that or not. • Deadrin Senat (third round, 2018) was a fixture on the inactive list for all but two games last year in his second season. That qualifies as an unmitigated failure. Having so many washouts is why the Falcons had to take a risk and dip into the free-agent market for Fowler. Dimitroff has had way too many misses on linemen in what should be the money rounds of the NFL Draft. He has fared better finding quality players with later picks, notably Grady Jarrett in the fifth round in 2015 — he’s by far the team’s best and most consistent defender — and Kroy Biermann in the fifth in 2008 (114 games, 23.5 sacks, for a player picked 154th overall). Vance Walker, drafted in the seventh round in 2009, played seven years in the NFL (four with the Falcons). But late-round finds are nice bonuses. A team should make its bones in the early rounds, especially given the salary commitment. Dimitroff said evaluating defensive linemen has proved to be difficult league-wide but acknowledged mistakes. “I’m not saying it’s more difficult than other positions,” he said. “I am saying we’ve been fortunate to hit on some of the guys in the later rounds, and to your point, some of the earlier picks, we’ve gotten certain production out of them at times, and other times we haven’t. We’re hoping to get that right in the future.” That would be now.
  3. https://theathletic.com/1715315/2020/03/31/schultz-rich-mckay-on-falcons-draft-prep-optics-roger-goodells-memo-threat/ The NFL, with the benefit of its regular season still more than five months away, is determined to stick to its calendar during these spring and summer months. The positive aspect of this: The league has dominated the news cycle, providing content for starving sports fans. The negative: A case can be made that it’s creating some poor optics, even looking tone-deaf, as it takes a business-as-usual approach against the backdrop of a deadly spreading virus. Falcons president Rich McKay, a longtime league executive and a chairman of the NFL’s Competition Committee, is well equipped to comment on the league’s approach to this offseason and how the weeks leading up the draft for the Falcons have changed. I’ll get to a transcript of our conversation shortly. But first, a few bullet points. • After going back and forth on this, I don’t consider the NFL’s decision to stick to the draft’s April 23-25 scheduling a bad thing (pending a worsening situation, of course). As long as the draft can be done safely, by phone, the league is taking the same approach as any business, whether it’s your job or The Athletic, trying to operate as best as it can in difficult and unusual circumstances. • But I do have a major problem with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell telling team executives, general managers and coaches in a March 26 memo that “public discussion of issues relating to the draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.” This seemed odd, not to mention well out of bounds, given Goodell suggested in the same memo that management was “unanimous and unequivocal” in the decision not to push back the draft. McKay and I got into a back-and-forth on this, which you can read in the transcript. My position: Goodell shouldn’t be telling anybody how to feel on this subject. I’ve had one NFL executive tell me that he should be admonished for those words. • I probably should have led with this: McKay said, to his knowledge, all Falcons employees, including players and coaches, are healthy and virus-free. And now, our conversation: Are we each talking from our protective bubbles at home? Yes. Think about this: Since the day we (closed the Falcons’) office, which I think was the 14th, I’ve driven in my car twice. Once was to go on a Saturday to the Silver Comet (Trail) for a run and then again the following Sunday. So I’ve really been in my bubble. That’s where we are today. Is everybody in the organization healthy, as far as you know? As far as I know, thanks for asking, the answer to that is yes. We do a virtual town hall every Friday, where we kind of reach out and go through, from department to department, like 400 to 500 people. Last week, unfortunately, we only got to 200, and then we had kind of a glitch and the link went away. But we communicate that way. I have two more online meetings (Wednesday), where we drop into different (company) organizations. We’re healthy, and everybody seems to be doing OK. I still get worried. My concern is we have a lot of people who are young and this is their first job, and they’re 26 or 28 and living in an apartment. We tried to make sure everybody got home and could work from home. That’s a tough spot to be in. But players are good. Coaches are good. Dan (Quinn) and Thomas (Dimitroff) have a lot of meetings, as you can imagine. How does all this change draft prep? The great majority of the work is done when the combine is complete. Because we made it through the combine, you could say 90 percent of the work is complete. That last 10 percent is the ultimate cross-check. It’s the opportunity for the position coach to look at that player face to face on a pro day and get a chance to interview them, watch them work out, maybe go to lunch or dinner. The same can be said for the coordinator or the head coach. But it’s that last piece. You’ve got everything else. You’ve been scouting that player for three or four years. You’ve got multiple reports, and you’ve got all the tape you would ever want to watch. To me, the real challenge is you have a rhythm you’ve used as a general manager, and it’s your own rhythm. You have a way you like to meet with all the scouts. Meet in December, come back and meet after the combine, then meet two weeks before the draft. That has all been turned sideways because this just doesn’t give you that opportunity. It changes the way you set your board up. You probably set the board up in December and revise it a little after the combine, but these last meetings, don’t think there’s not a lot of debate and still movement. That’s different. So Thomas and Dan are still doing all their meetings, and scouts are doing all of their cross-checks, but they’re doing it virtually, and it’s definitely different, and it’s challenging. You’re going to have to get very comfortable, I think, with the area scouts and have a little more belief in them because you won’t have that last piece to do yourself. What are some examples of players moving up on your draft board late? I’ve seen Jeff Ulbrich tell the story of De’Vondre Campbell and going to see him and making a case for him. I’ve seen that before. When I first got to Atlanta, (assistant coach) Joe DeCamillis looked at a player who we were not going to take, and he had the whole litany of why we should take the player, and we went back and challenged the area scout on what he had seen as far as character went, and we ended up taking the player, and he played very well for us. (The player was Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley, who played four seasons for the Falcons and nine in the NFL. But Boley was suspended by the league in 2009 for domestic violence when he was with the Giants.) So basically it’s just about relying more on area scouts now. Yeah, because he will have seen the kid numerous times, he will have been to the campus and seen him practice and have more personal connection than anybody else. Coaches, even GMs, normally can go to a Pro Day and say, “I want to look at this player a little more.” Does this impact players who might’ve been drafted late or signed as an undrafted free agent because you won’t have late information? To me, I don’t think it really hurts anybody because players in the sixth and seventh rounds, supplemental picks and college free agents, they’re pretty much on the same footing. You’re not taking a sixth-round pick and a college free agent who are both cornerbacks and thinking, “I’m keeping the sixth-round pick even if the college free agent plays better.” They may get mixed up a little bit in terms of where they get drafted, but that’s about it. I think I saw Scott Pioli say this the other day, and I agree: The people who are well organized and have their departments in order, they’ll benefit from this. If you’re a team that really depends on the GM, that’s going to be harder to do this year. Do you have any problem with the optics of the NFL sticking to its calendar against the backdrop of everything going on? The backdrop is definitely a challenge for all of us. When we opened free agency, I was nervous. I thought, “Is this not a time we should think about extending it?” But I think it did turn out to be a good distraction for the country, and we were able to do it. What the memo said was: “We can do this. We will be a good distraction. It is something the people will want to consume.” And so I’m comfortable with that. What I’m not comfortable with is what we’re doing today, which we’ve never done in our lives. We’re sitting in our homes, trying to work in our homes, but we’ve also got the television on, and the news is very challenging. About the memo: Do you have any problem with Goodell effectively threatening disciplinary action against those who say anything negative about the decision? I will leave that for you to write about. You must have an opinion. I will just say, I’ll leave that to you to write about. But that’s not the first memo we’ve had that said that in our league or in other leagues. I’m sure that’s the case. But is that the tone he should be using given the backdrop right now? I’ll give the same answer I did before. (Laughter.) Your lack of comment on this speaks volumes. You know my thoughts: He shouldn’t have said that, and if it’s true that everybody is in 100 percent agreement on this, why would he even put that in the memo? Obviously, everybody is not in complete agreement. That’s for you to say, not me. OK, moving on. I know you’re not a soothsayer, but how should we view the future as it relates to the NFL calendar today? We’ve talked about it internally, and what we’ve said is we should focus on the draft because we know that’s what’s on the schedule coming up. Beyond that, let’s wait and see what changes. In the first week, when we closed the offices, people were saying, “I can’t believe you closed your offices,” and three days later everybody’s office was closed. For me to get into the discussion of “What will this mean for the offseason; what will this mean for training camp; what does it mean potentially for the season?” — we haven’t spent any time on it. We’ve spent time on the draft. Today, one of our meetings was just spent with the IT people to understand how we would be connected during the draft and communicate. I’m not going to get caught up in the speculation about what happens after the draft. Notwithstanding what you just said, is the London game in a different category because of travel? We’ve asked the question, and our understanding is the London game will be on our schedule, which I think will be released in the end of the first week in May. I think we’ve said it’ll be scheduled in the first or second week of October (against Denver).
  4. https://theathletic.com/1690145/2020/03/20/schultz-buzz-aside-todd-gurleys-knee-very-bad-falcons-cant-assume-much/ The Falcons made a great move in at least one area Friday: marketing. Five years after seemingly every fan wanted them to draft Todd Gurley, they’re bringing whatever remains of the former Georgia running back home to the cheers of everyone who barks on Saturdays and views every former Bulldogs player as an impenetrable force. So it’s a win for sales. It’s a win for social media and advertising and buzz for a franchise that has backslid since the Super Bowl in 2016, failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons and has been thirsting for positivity against the backdrop of a doom-and-gloom reality. But is this a win for football? Like many, I had a close-up view of Gurley’s skills and athleticism at Georgia. I believed the Falcons made the right decision when they drafted Vic Beasley eighth overall in the first round in 2015 because they were desperate for pass-rush help. (Beasley’s 15.5 sacks in a Pro Bowl 2016 season affirmed his ability. Then his head got into the way, but that’s another story.) But when the then-St. Louis Rams took Gurley two picks later, I sent a text message to Rams general manager Les Snead congratulating him on the pick. Gurley was the best running back I had seen, college or pro, since covering Eric Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams. Gurley affirmed his potential in his first four seasons, rushing for 4,547 yards, catching 187 passes, scoring 56 touchdowns and collecting two All-Pro and three Pro Bowl honors. But that was the last time we saw Todd Gurley. An NFL source told The Athletic that there were concerns about his surgically repaired left knee when he came out of Georgia. When asked how bad the knee is now, the source said, “Very bad.” Jeff Howe of The Athletic was the was the first to report in June of 2019 that Gurley was suffering from arthritis in the knee. This was later confirmed when Gurley’s trainer, Travelle Gaines, told CBS Sports: “Everybody knew when Todd came out of Georgia that there would be some kind of arthritic component to his knee, which is part of every surgery whether it’s a shoulder, a knee, an ankle. He’s now at the year-five mark, all we’re doing is managing that. If we can pound him less in the offseason while keeping his weight down, working on his strength, working on his agility in short areas, that’s going to give him a better chance to be healthy Weeks 14 through 17 when they really count.” An NFL source told The Athletic Friday, “Once a player has an arthritic condition, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s different for every person. You’re sort of playing Russian roulette because you never know how fast it will accelerate.” In the Falcons’ defense, this is a low-risk decision. If Gurley can’t perform or fails his physical, they lose little. Gurley’s salary is only $5 million, as reported by WSB’s Zach Klein. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it as $6 million from the Falcons and $7.5 million from the Rams, less a $2.5 million “offset.” Either way, it’s not a lot. We also don’t know what of the Falcons’ portion is guaranteed. While there are many fans who view Gurley as damaged goods and aren’t seeing things through Bulldogs-colored glasses, some in team offices right now only know — and care — that they’re getting a lot of marketing juice from this move. Unfortunately, that’s a big part of what they have become. Gurley had career-low numbers last season in carries (223), yards (857), yards per attempt (3.8) and total yards from scrimmage (1,064). He did not look good against the Falcons (18 carries for 41 yards) but had strong games against Pittsburgh (12 for 73) and Arizona (19 for 95). During the course of the season, there appeared to be friction between Gurley and Rams head coach Sean McVay about his workload and perceived abilities in 2019, as outlined in this story by The Athletic’s Rich Hammond. The Falcons loved Gurley coming out of Georgia. So did everybody. But they opted for Beasley for two reasons: 1) pass rush was the greater need; 2) their trust in then-new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and then-running backs coach Bobby Turner led them to believe they didn’t need a star running back and could rely on Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Suffice to say, the 2016 season validated their thinking about the 2015 draft. If anybody’s fortunes have changed more dramatically than the Falcons’, it’s Gurley’s. In July of 2018, he signed a four-year, $57.5 million contract extension with $45 million guaranteed. But he was released one season after that deal kicked in. The Rams tried desperately to trade him the past several weeks. As I reported Thursday, the Falcons were interested but couldn’t absorb the salary cap hit that Gurley’s inherited contract would bring. It was logical the Falcons would circle back if the Rams chose to release Gurley, and they did. L.A. opted to take a $20.15 million “dead money” cap hit the next two years rather than pay Gurley another $10.5 million in bonuses that would’ve come due at 4 p.m. on Thursday. Snead and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff are close, dating back to Snead’s time in Atlanta. It’s logical they’ve had discussions about Gurley’s condition and what should be expected. Nothing is guaranteed — not what Gurley can realistically contribute, not that he’ll even make it out of training camp, not that there will even be a 2020 season. But for now, the Falcons get headlines.
  5. https://theathletic.com/1678965/2020/03/16/schultz-bad-contract-decisions-after-super-bowl-led-to-falcons-roster-slash/?source=shared-article The Falcons, who for weeks have denied they were in salary cap ****, donned their fire-retardant suits Monday and prepared to take a blow torch to their roster. Welcome to reality. Cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Devonta Freeman, who never lived up to big contract extensions and for months were considered the most likely veterans to be slashed from the roster, will be released this week, according to reports by the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport, respectively. (Two reserves, tackle Ty Sambrailo and tight end Luke Stocker, also were released, the team announced.) These moves follow the decision to not bring back Vic Beasley (made that mistake once already), let it slip they almost certainly will not exercise the fifth-year option on the sporadic Takk McKinley (lesson learned with Beasley) and the likely exits of free agents Austin Hooper, who reportedly has agreed to a deal with Cleveland, and De’Vondre Campbell for financial reasons. I’ll get to the specific salary cap ramifications of all this shortly. But first, it’s important to understand how the Falcons got into this mess. This franchise has made a number of smart personnel decisions and draft picks during the past decade, fan and media criticism notwithstanding. Before 2008, when general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith took over, the franchise never had consecutive winning seasons. After the regime change, the team had five straight winning seasons and made the playoffs four times, including an NFC title game appearance. It has gone to six postseasons in the past 12 seasons, including a Super Bowl berth. The problem has been what has occurred since 2016: a series of post-Super Bowl bad contracts that contributed to a second-round exit in 2017 and non-playoff seasons the past two years. Dimitroff, with the blessing of owner Arthur Blank, and presumably input from head coaches Smith and Dan Quinn, gave large deals to the wrong players. The Falcons rewarded their draft picks with second contracts that would hamstring them in later years. You may want to sit down for this: • Trufant: He was thought to have the potential to be an elite cornerback. It turned out he was only a good one. He’s well-liked but never grew up into the locker room leader the team hoped for, a problem with so many young players on defense. In short, he didn’t live up to his five-year, $68.75 million extension, even though he was a good player in 2019. He will leave with three years on his deal. It’s important to note that the Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 2016 without Trufant, who suffered a shoulder surgery at midseason. The extension was given to him two months after the Super Bowl. • Freeman: Another miscalculation. He far outperformed his contract for a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 and 2016, making two Pro Bowls and rushing for 22 touchdowns and more than 2,100 yards. He also was genuinely one of the most popular players in the locker room and had an inspiring backstory, having risen from the projects in Miami. But post-Super Bowl was different. Freeman was frequently injured the next three seasons, missing 18 games, and last season rushed for a career-low 3.6 yards per carry (down from 4.8 in 2016) and scored only two touchdowns with 656 yards in 14 games. With one year left on his rookie contract, he was given a five-year, $41.25 million extension before 2017. He leaves with three years left. Freeman’s contract also meant the team could not re-sign Tevin Coleman, who rejoined Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. • Beasley: The oft-repeated misstep of honoring his fifth-year, $12.8 million option squeezed the Falcons in the cap last season. Part of that decision stemmed from their relationship with the sports agency, CAA, which also represented Julio Jones and Grady Jarrett in pending negotiations. But Quinn, who had taken over as defensive coordinator for 2019, also believed he could get more out of Beasley as an edge rusher. He was wrong. • Cornerback Robert Alford signed a four-year, $38 million extension after the Super Bowl. He was released after 2018, saving overall cap space but leaving a $1.2 million dead money hit in 2019. Bottom line: Trufant’s release causes a $10.2 million dead cap hit. The team can more than split that in half if he’s designated for a post-June 1 release, as expected. The 2020 hit would be $4.4 million, according to Spotrac. Freeman likewise would be a $6 million hit, or $3 million each in 2020 and 2021 if it’s post-June 1. This is on top of “dead money” the team will carry in 2020 for Ryan Schraeder ($2.5 million; didn’t live up to a five-year extension given to him in November of 2016), Sambrailo ($2 million; released) and Mohamed Sanu ($1.4 million; traded). The salary cap will increase $10 million to $198.2 million in the new CBA. But teams close to the cap, including the Falcons, were hoping it would be more than $200 million because part of the increase will be consumed by minimum salaries rising $100,000 in the new CBA. This is why re-signing Hooper and Campbell was always considered a longshot. This is why significant improvement this offseason was always considered a longshot. The Falcons, who need to improve their pass rush, could attempt to sign outside linebacker Dante Fowler, who had 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams last season. Quinn knows Fowler from their Florida days. Fowler also played for two former Dimitroff assistants, Dave Caldwell in Jacksonville and Les Snead in Los Angeles. But Fowler, who suffered a torn ACL in his rookie season, generally underperformed with the Jaguars and his 11.5 sacks in 2019 should be weighed against the advantages of playing in a front with Aaron Donald and Clay Matthews. Other options include free agent Jadeveon Clowney and Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue (who has been franchise tagged at $19.3 million). Both will get big contracts, and Ngakoue would cost the Falcons draft picks assets. NFL teams regularly circumvent the salary cap by restricting deals, moving guaranteed money up front to satisfy the player and borrowing against the future. But at some point, the bill comes due. That’s what we’re seeing here. The Falcons are knee-deep into their second mortgage.
  6. https://theathletic.com/1539835/2020/01/16/schultz-biggest-differences-between-falcons-and-playoff-teams-should-be-obvious/ The Falcons announced this week that they soon will unveil new uniforms, a merchandising decision that will have zero impact in any areas that actually count if one can’t see the new jerseys because they’re somewhere under a pile of opposing players. Which leads me to this week. Atlanta was not one of the 12 teams that made the NFL playoffs, and it follows that it isn’t one of the four playing in the two conference championship games this week. Non-playoff teams this week all are attempting to answer the same question: “What makes them different from us?” It’s a painfully obvious answer for the Falcons: One, their pass rush stinks. Two, their running game stinks. There’s enough blame to go around in those areas, from head coach Dan Quinn and his poor staffing decisions, to the coordinators and their lack of creativity and objectivity, to the front office and some poor personnel moves, to perhaps, most of all the players, many of whom underachieved. But before jumping into the primary differences between the Falcons and the four conference finalists, here are the areas to note: Sacks: The Falcons’ defense finished with 28 sacks, which ranked 30th. The last time they had a double-digit sack guy (Vic Beasley, 2016), they made it to the Super Bowl. The previous time they had a double-digit sack guy (John Abraham, 2012), they made it to the NFC title game. Of the top 15 sack teams, nine made the playoffs (New Orleans, San Francisco, Minnesota, New England, Kansas City, Buffalo, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Green Bay). Of the bottom 17, only three made the playoffs (Baltimore, Houston, Seattle). The four teams left in the playoffs (49ers, Chiefs, Titans, Packers) each finished with 40-plus sacks. See, you really don’t have to go too deep into analytics. Running game: The Falcons finished 30th in rushing at 85.1 yards per game. That’s not just about poor offensive line play or Devonta Freeman — it’s about the scheme and predictable play calling. Of the nine worst rushing teams, zero made the playoffs. Zero. Of the 14 worst, only one made the playoffs: Kansas City, who was 23rd. But the Chiefs have made up for it with a great season from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and superior play calling of Eric Bieniemy, who probably should have landed one of the head-coaching openings. Quinn and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter often said they were striving for balance in the attack. Epic fail there. They ranked 32nd, as in last, in running game percentage (22.4). Here’s the playoff field and each team’s respective ranking in rushing yardage percentage: Baltimore (1), Buffalo (3), Tennessee (4), San Francisco (5), Minnesota (6), Seattle (7), Houston (11), Philadelphia (13), Green Bay (17), New England (22), New Orleans (25), Kansas City (27). The three outliers all have extraordinary quarterbacks: the Patriots (Tom Brady), Saints (Drew Brees) and Chiefs. They were the only three in the bottom 15 to make the playoffs. Now, to the four NFC and AFC finalists. Tennessee I’m starting with the Titans because if ever there was a blueprint for how a team can win without shiny pieces and a video game offense, it’s them. Tennessee has won consecutive playoff games at New England (20-13) and at Baltimore (28-12), limiting offenses led by Brady and Lamar Jackson, respectively, to a total of one touchdown with five turnovers, including three interceptions. The Titans have a smart and tough head coach, Mike Vrabel, who’s one of the few Bill Belichick disciples to prove himself capable for the top job. Like Belichick, Vrabel doesn’t focus on being the players’ buddy. He doesn’t need to because he has their respect. There’s a message there. In Week 4, when Tennessee was only 1-2 and had consecutive losses to Indianapolis and Jacksonville, it traveled to Atlanta and dumped the Falcons 24-10. Marcus Mariota threw three touchdown passes. How bad was the Falcons’ defense? In Mariota’s next two starts, both losses, he threw for zero touchdowns and two interceptions and was sacked eight times. Vrabel benched him for Ryan Tannehill. The Falcons’ loss to the Titans also might’ve been the greatest indictment of Koetter, who couldn’t find a solution for the Tennessee defense. The Titans limited the Falcons to 58 rushing yards and sacked Matt Ryan five times. Outside of great coaching, Tennessee has two things: One, a great running back, Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 588 yards in the past three weeks, more than the 548 yards the Falcons accumulated in the first eight games, when they went 1-7; and two, a great defensive front. The pass rush produced 43 sacks (15 more than the Falcons). Tennessee twice stopped Baltimore on fourth-and-1, forced Jackson to move to outside the hash marks, where he’s less effective as a runner and passer, and stuffed the Patriots at the goal line. San Francisco The 49ers are next because they’re the team most Falcons fans appear to be watching. Coach Kyle Shanahan, running backs assistant Bobby Turner and running game coordinator Mike McDaniel all were on Quinn’s Super Bowl staff in 2016. (Also on the 49ers from that staff: Mike LaFleur, the passing game coordinator.) Atlanta couldn’t stop Shanahan from taking a head coaching job, but letting Turner go was a huge loss. Word is the Falcons didn’t care for McDaniel. San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 2 rushing attack, 144.1 yards per game and a league-high 23 touchdowns, far ahead of the Falcons’ 85.1 and 10. The 49ers are getting it done with a rotation of three running backs that includes Tevin Coleman, who also was part of the Falcons’ Super Bowl team. Credit to San Francisco’s front office for prioritizing building the defensive front. Nick Bosa, a first-round pick, has had a monster season with nine sacks, 25 quarterback hits and 16 tackles for loss. DeForest Buckner, a first-round pick in 2016, has 19.5 sacks in the past two seasons. Dee Ford was acquired from Kansas City for a second-round pick after a Pro Bowl season. Arik Armstead, a first-round pick in 2015, has had 10 sacks in a breakout season and likely will hit it big in free agency. Those four combined for 33 sacks this season, 63 QB hits and 42 tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh almost certainly will be on the short list for head coaching jobs after next season. Green Bay Another Falcons coaching tie: Head coach Matt LaFleur, Mike’s brother, was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach in 2016. A number of people wondered why the Falcons never seriously considered him to replace Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. Good question. The answer is that neither Quinn nor Thomas Dimitroff believed he was ready. It’s possible they were right. LaFleur had been with Shanahan with three teams (Houston, Washington, Atlanta), but he never had called plays. In 2017, LaFleur became the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, but Sean McVay called plays. In 2018, LaFleur took the Tennessee OC job under Vrabel, but the Titans, partly because of injuries, had a miserable year offensively, finishing 25th in yardage and 27th in scoring. When Green Bay hired LaFleur to be its head coach, many were stunned. It helps to have Aaron Rodgers. But the Packers’ running game also has improved slightly, going from 104 to 112 yards per game, and it’s noteworthy that they scored ran for two touchdowns in the playoff win over Seattle. Green Bay’s rushing-yards percentage also was significantly higher than the Falcons. Defensively, the Packers’ 19.6 points allowed during the season ranks second to only the 49ers’ 19.4 among the remaining playoff teams. The key? The Packers have two-digit sack guys, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and a strong defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. Bingo. Pressure and coaching combined to help Green Bay allow the sixth-lowest quarterback efficiency rating at 81.1. The Falcons, even with second-half improvement, finished with an opponents’ QB rating of 96.9 to rank 24th. Kansas City The Chiefs have the most elite talent of the remaining four teams with six Pro Bowlers this season, including three great offensive weapons (Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce) and former Georgia wide receiver/returner Mecole Hardman. In that sense, they’re not unlike the Falcons. Where things change: The Chiefs have two great defensive linemen in Frank Clark and Chris Jones, who combined for 17 sacks and 34 QB hits during the season. They also have 15 players who had at least one sack. The Falcons had seven, plus two players who shared one sack. Kansas City’s defense ranked fifth in passer rating, 11th in sacks and seventh in scoring, a category in which the Falcons ranked 23rd. In addition to a strong coaching staff, led by Andy Reid and Bieniemy, the Chiefs have been built well with strong veteran leadership, an area where the Falcons have lacked in the past three seasons. One final statistic: Three of the four playoff teams — Green Bay (four), Kansas City (five) and Tennessee (eight) — ranked among the top five in throwing the fewest interceptions. The Falcons finished with 15 (14 by Ryan), which ranked 21st. The last time Ryan threw that many interceptions was in 2015, when the Falcons lost six straight at one point, finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
  7. https://theathletic.com/1497644/2019/12/30/schultz-falcons-improvement-depends-more-on-dan-quinn-than-roster-changes/ Dan Quinn, a defensive coach by trade, produced miserable results as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator in the first half of this season and by association, a big enough failure as a head coach that the team’s playoff hopes were reduced to ash before the end of October. We can forever debate why a 1-7 team with a defense being stomped for 31 points per game seemingly played the second half of the season as if under the threat of direct deposit being stopped. But there’s no debating this: The same roster — maybe even a lesser roster, given injuries — played better in the final eight games than the first eight. That suggests problems in 2019 stemmed less from personnel deficiencies than coaching. Quinn made it to the Super Bowl in his second season and reached the playoffs in two of his first three. But his five-year tenure has been punctuated by unexplained inconsistencies and a disturbing lack of player accountability. He’ll be back as the head coach in 2020 because owner Arthur Blank believes/hopes/prays that 6-2 trumps 1-7. Sunny talk about the salary-cap situation from Rich McKay and Thomas Dimitroff notwithstanding, the Falcons face a difficult offseason. They could part ways with some veterans, even if it means carrying millions in “dead” money. Notable candidates: Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant. Re-signing tight end Austin Hooper will be difficult. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell could be gone. Personnel help will need to come mostly from the draft. Free agency moves will be low-budget. But the Falcons will only get better if Quinn doesn’t repeat his mistakes from the past. Here are a few: Failing as administrator to assess the big picture It should not have taken a 1-7 first half before Quinn realized he had problems on his staff (including himself as the defensive coordinator) and in the locker room (where there were several underachieving players who folded in adversity). The man is close to his players. He swims in a pool of enthusiasm. That works sometimes. But it also can cloud a coach’s objectivity and lead to wild emotional swings by a team. Hello, Falcons. This team needs greater perspective in good times and more accountability in bad ones. It needs more stable leaders — players with a thermostat stuck at 72 degrees. See: Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen. Fluctuating emotions and inability to maintain focus, day to day, week to week lead to roller-coaster seasons. That falls on the head coach. This is an area where Quinn hasn’t improved, as evidenced by streaks. Consider the 2015 season: 5-0 start followed by a 1-6 skid. And 2017: 3-0 to start, then 0-3. And 2018: three straight losses, then three straight wins, then five straight losses, then three straight wins. And 2019: six straight losses in September and October, four straight wins to close the season. Fixing the coaching staff Quinn has gone through a staggering amount of change on his staff in five seasons, including three offensive coordinators, four defensive coordinators, three defensive line coaches and four running backs coaches. There’s expected to be more change in the next day or two. Dirk Koetter will be back as the offensive coordinator. Nothing we saw in 2019 supports the firing of Steve Sarkisian to hire Koetter. Quinn sought a more balanced attack, but the Falcons ranked 30th in rushing. Asked Monday whether the Falcons ran the ball enough this season, Freeman responded: “I don’t know. All I’m doing is do what I need to do. When my number is called, whether it’s a run or pass — if I need to block, run, whatever, I’ll do what you need me to do, Coach.” The Falcons were 0-for-5 in the red zone in the season finale at Tampa Bay. That left them ranked 25th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage at 52.7 percent, down from 64 percent (10th overall) in 2018. They also tumbled in third-down conversion percentage (45.3 to 42 percent) and offensive touchdowns per game (2.9 to 2.4). There are more metrics, but that’s enough. Scheme is overrated. Efficiency isn’t. Unpredictability isn’t. Koetter was largely predictable this season. This isn’t about the need for more gadget plays (see Ryan’s touchdown pass to Ty Sambrailo at Tampa Bay). It’s about keeping defensive players on their heels. Kyle Shanahan’s greatest gift was he never fell into patterns. Opponents struggled to get a read on whether a run or pass was coming, whether it was left, center or right. They would see a certain formation on a certain down and distance and guess one thing based on a previous play, only to see Shanahan call something completely different. I’ve written this before, but I also believe Quinn needs to cultivate an atmosphere of more diversity of thought. Some disagreement and/or friction can be a good thing. Coaches, just like players, need to be challenged. Player accountability NFL coaches are somewhat at the mercy of their roster, contracts and the salary cap. Once their team is set at the end of August, coaches are stuck with it. But there has been a lack of accountability at times from some players not performing to expectations, without a hint of lineup changes. We’re not behind the scenes so it’s difficult to know for sure whether “The Brotherhood” includes times when Quinn actually puts his thumb on players. But why did it take so long for Deion Jones and Campbell, among others, to play to their level of ability this season? There’s no question several regulars played with a level of urgency that was absent earlier. That speaks to a coach’s ability to motivate players — or, when needed, to scare the **** out of them. If they believed they were better than they were, they were wrong. If they believed their poor play in the first half was about to get a good man fired, they were right. Either way, they woke up. But too late. As Quinn acknowledged, “There’s no trophy for playing well in the second half.” Develop better leaders It’s amazing what coaching and strong leadership can overcome. Look at New Orleans, which overcame an injury to Drew Brees. Look at the Tennessee Titans, who made the playoffs with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Quinn is right to credit players for their second-half performance at a time when they could have “tapped out.” But great leaders help prevent long losing streaks to begin with. Quinn and Dimitroff need to do a better job adding leaders to this locker room. It’s something the Falcons had in 2o16 but have been short of since. The Braves did a nice job stressing leadership to players like Freddie Freeman and Chipper Jones, who were All-Stars but never had a desire to be the out-front guys in the room. Leadership seems to come naturally to Allen and Jarrett but not many others.
  8. Arthur Blank is an emotional guy. One doesn’t create a new enterprise, redefine the retail industry and become a self-made billionaire without being difficult, even cold, at times. Decisions are made based on results, not friendships. The business world is filled with people who had great ideas but didn’t have the fortitude to make hard decisions, relationships be damned, and the NFL works the same way. Blank is still emotional. But now he clings to hope. What he did Friday effectively was to stall for a year. Put aside the spin and “data” disseminated by the organization meant to douse the public brush fires (too late). The old and cold, results-oriented Blank would’ve cleaned house instead of doing what he did, which is retain coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff for at least one more season and — perhaps most stunning of all — put the once-expelled Rich McKay back in charge of football operations. McKay now oversees Quinn and Dimitroff, who was hired to replace McKay in 2008. Don’t try to make sense of this. Just watch. Next season will either unfold like some beautiful dream or go down like Pompeii. The months between now and next September will be surrounded by more doubters in the gallery than this organization has witnessed in years. “There will be fan backlash if we don’t win — I’d expect that,” Blank told The Athleticfollowing a news conference Friday. “But there would be fan backlash if there was a new coach and we didn’t win.” He acknowledges there’s risk. He’s playing a dangerous game. He’s effectively giving more weight to the Falcons’ 5-2 second half than their 1-7 start. He’s assuming the coaching-staff changes that worked in desperate times will work in Game 1 next season. He’s assuming five- and six-game losing streaks in the past two years were aberrations. He’s assuming the players on this roster who played with an unfathomable lack of urgency in the first eight weeks have been humbled. He’s assuming 5-2 will have some carryover effect even though 3-0 at the end of 2018 clearly didn’t impact the start of this season. He might be right. Or he might be standing in front of a slot machine with his final silver dollar. This is not the way he used to do business. “There’s obviously risk,” Blank said after the news conference. “There’s no guarantee going into next year that we’ll be able to continue what we’ve generated in the second half of this year. But our judgment is the least amount of risk, and our best opportunity for success is staying the course.” Blank denies the fact that he likes Quinn and Dimitroff played a role in all this. He denies that putting McKay at the top of the football flowchart again — with Dimitroff and Quinn now reporting to him — should seem strange. But these are un-Blank-like decisions. He fired Dan Reeves during Blank’s second year as owner in 2003, when Reeves followed a 9-6-1 season and a playoff upset of Green Bay with a 3-10 season that was generated mostly by Michael Vick’s broken leg. He fired Jim Mora after seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 7-9. (Although, Mora didn’t help himself by telling a sports talk radio buddy that his dream job was coaching at the University of Washington.) He fired Mike Smith, who had five straight winning seasons and four playoff berths followed by records of 4-12 and 6-10. Quinn is 42-37 in five seasons and 13-18 in the past two going into the season finale at Tampa Bay. He was given a pass in 2018 because of injuries. But Blank is deciding to focus more on the 5-2 second half than the 1-7 start, which rendered the second half of the season meaningless. Blank’s own words: “After you’re 1-7, it’s kind of late. The music has stopped playing in many ways.” Not in many ways. In every way. At 1-6, I wrote that the season was over: Quinn had failed, and his firing appeared inevitable. Blank was heavily leaning toward making a change after the bye. An announcement was imminent, although for competitive reasons, Blank wanted to wait at least until after the trade deadline. Some in the front office suggested Blank slow down and let the season unfold. Then came the win in New Orleans. Then in Carolina. Then in San Francisco. It didn’t change the season, but it changed Blank, who had struggled emotionally with firing Quinn and Dimitroff all along. When the Falcons won consecutive games over the 49ers and Jacksonville, the decision was made. Blank had his weekly meeting with Quinn on Monday. Quinn to The Athletic: “He told me, ‘You’ve learned something. So apply the things you’ve learned moving forward.’ I said, ‘I want that chance.’ He said something like, ‘OK, go prove it.’” That was it. The announcement news conference was finalized Thursday night. Blank taped a friendly and orchestrated interview for the team’s website. It’s the way things are done in 1984. Also 2019. The public announcement was Friday, a classic end-of-week news dump. The Falcons had all their narratives ready Friday in an attempt to defuse fan backlash. They pointed out that New Orleans had three straight 7-9 seasons and that deciding to keep coach Sean Payton illustrates that patience pays off. But comparing Payton’s situation to Quinn’s is disingenuous at best. Payton had won a Super Bowl and went 73-39 with only one losing season in seven years. The Saints had salary-cap problems and were going through a significant rebuild. Payton was never going to be in trouble after three 7-9 seasons. The other bizarre aspect to this is McKay. He was pushed completely out of football operations following the 2007 season and the exit of Bobby Petrino. Blank kept McKay because of his strong ties to the NFL and the fact he needed McKay to run point on a new stadium deal. When Mercedes-Benz Stadium was completed, McKay briefly sought to work for the NFL, The Athletic learned. A position was created for him. But he then made a U-turn and decided he wanted to remain in Atlanta. Blank allowed him to increasingly become more involved in football ops in 2018. Blank effectively has added another layer of government. McKay is allowed to stand back, free of the mud splatter, should things blow up. Dimitroff is retained but effectively has had his authority undercut for the second time — the first came when Quinn was hired and given control of the 53-man roster — even if that’s not the way the organization is spinning things. McKay on Quinn and Dimitroff: “They still make the decisions. I’m charged with making sure our processes work.” Straight out of the Corporate Doublespeak handbook. Blank has strong emotional attachments to Quinn, Dimitroff and McKay. But there was a time when he had a strong emotional attachment to McKay and took away his authority anyway. He denies his relationships with the three played a role in his decisions: “The emotional attachment is to our fans and our franchise. It’s not to the individuals. I care about a whole lot of people. I care about their ability to perform. But this is a performance-based business.” Blank again: “I wish I could look into a crystal ball and tell you a year from now it’s going to be a perfect decision. My belief is, given all the evidence we have in front of us, that our best opportunity to win going forward is to keep Coach Quinn and Thomas in place. It has nothing to do with loyalty, nothing to do with friendship, nothing to do with personal relationships.” Correct. It’s about winning and losing and right now. Blank might wind up looking brilliant. But right now he looks like a man clinging more to hope than he has in the past.
  9. https://theathletic.com/1481434/2019/12/22/schultz-breaking-down-arthur-blanks-options-on-dan-quinn-thomas-dimitroff/ The roof was closed for the Falcons’ final home game of the season Sunday, given the rain and 40-degree temperatures outside. But the lure of climate-controlled coziness did little to add to the attraction. Tickets could be had for the cost of a couple of UnHappy Meals. At least one-third of the seats inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium remained empty. NFL philosophy: If a team goes 6-2 in the second half of the season but nobody was watching, does it make a sound with the owner? The Falcons dumped Jacksonville 24-12. That means that since a 1-7 first half, which dropped the Falcons off the radar with a majority of the sports populace, they have gone 5-2 going into next week at Tampa Bay. Everything is suddenly going right. The defense is playing for Raheem Morris the way it didn’t play for Dan Quinn (the defensive coordinator). Offensive line play has improved. Julio Jones is an alien. Vic Beasley, who has 6.5 sacks in the past seven games, is suddenly so good that an Atlanta sports talk radio guy may have to get a tattoo of the player’s face on his ***. What does Falcons owner Arthur Blank think of all of it? Good question. It’s believed he is leaning a certain way on the futures of Quinn (the head coach) and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, but nobody can be certain which way that is. Blank was leaning toward firing Quinn at 1-7, but Blank held off booking the news conference room after road victories in New Orleans and Carolina. Since the turnaround, the owner has taken notice of players speaking up on Quinn’s behalf. But if the second half of the season has made it clear the Falcons had the talent to win, shouldn’t Quinn pay for the first half that submarined the season? The Falcons are expected to hold a news conference next Monday when Blank will announce his decision. He has four options. In terms of odds, there’s not a lot separating the four. But I’m listing these in what I consider the order of probability, based on just gut feeling: Keep Quinn and Dimitroff If Blank reaches that decision, his talking points would center on the Falcons going 6-2 or 5-3 in the second half, including road victories over New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco. He also would point to the significant improvement on defense, stemming in part from Quinn’s decision to step back as the defensive coordinator and shifting Morris from coaching the wide receivers to the secondary. There’s a major risk in that decision. It would mean Blank is giving more weight to the second half of the season than the first half, when expectations were high. It would mean ignoring consecutive non-playoff seasons and a consistent slide since 2016. Quinn and Dimitroff effectively would be given one year to make amends. Blank hasn’t hesitated to make changes in the past. He took personnel decisions away from then-general manager Rich McKay, whom Blank hired away from Tampa Bay. He has fired three head coaches, Dan Reeves, Jim Mora and Mike Smith, and he likely would have gone down that same road with Bobby Petrino if the invertebrate hadn’t quit. But Blank likes Quinn on a personal level more than he ever has a head coach. Blank also knows Quinn went 29-19 with two playoff berths and a Super Bowl berth in his first three seasons. Blank also still retains respect for Dimitroff and the immediate impact he had on his franchise. Fire Quinn and Dimitroff There’s a belief by many that the coach and general manager should be linked because they’re partners are personnel decisions, and while Dimitroff obviously knows more about personnel come draft time, Quinn has final say on the roster. The idea in firing both is simple: Atlanta should have been a playoff team this season, barring another catastrophic string of injuries. No excuses. To extend these two another season runs the risk of next season being no better as the Matt Ryan/Julio Jones window nears closing. Ryan would be 36 in two years, Jones 32. If Blank gives Quinn and Dimitroff one more season, but it doesn’t work, he effectively would be forecasting an organization blowout in 2021 — front office, coaching staff and an entirely new direction in personnel. But if Blank fires both, it’s because he believes new leadership is needed and maybe there’s still a Super Bowl contender in the near future under some of this mess. It also would mean there’s a job candidate out there the owner believes can make a difference. Feel free to speculate. Keep Quinn, fire Dimitroff Blank pondered making a change at general manager when he fired Smith. Dimitroff was retained in part because Quinn expressed an interest in working with him during the interview process, but Blank restructured football operations so each man reported to him. There also were brief discussions about Dimitroff’s future after the 2018 season. Blank again decided not to make a change, opting to attribute the Falcons’ 7-9 season mostly to injuries. It was an easy out. Dimitroff will get most of the blame for the decision to bring Beasley back for a fifth season at $12.8 million, even if Quinn also believed on some level that his own skills as a defensive line coach and coordinator could elevate Beasley’s game. And again, despite Quinn and Dimitroff branding themselves as co-team builders, the personnel department tends to be under the microscope more when depth and team chemistry are questioned. This is Dimitroff’s 12th season with the Falcons. It’s only Quinn’s fifth. If Blank goes the route of firing the GM and not the coach, it would because he believes Dimitroff has had a long enough tenure and Quinn deserves one final shot. Blank also might believe firing nobody would cause a greater fan backlash than firing just one. Keep Dimitroff, fire Quinn There’s a case to be made that, for as much as Dimitroff has been a lightning rod for criticism, the second half of this season has somewhat absolved him. Consider: Guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary both look like they’re going to be solid offensive linemen. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield, a fourth-round pick, has played well. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver, a second-round pick in 2018, has been a strong player in the second half of the season, as has sixth-round wide receiver Russell Gage. On the free agency front, Tyeler Davison and Allen Bailey have been serviceable pick-ups on the defensive line. On the negative side, offensive linemen Jamon Brown and James Carpenter have been dreadful, even if adding offensive line depth was the right idea. Dimitroff often gets blamed for fat contract extensions. But that really falls more on Blank. When an owner talks about him wanting a player to be “a Falcon for life,” it undercuts management in negotiations. I’m just not sure keeping Dimitroff and firing Quinn would go over well in the locker room.
  10. https://theathletic.com/1462936/2019/12/15/schultz-after-another-upset-win-its-worth-wondering-if-dan-quinn-has-saved-his-job/ SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When the Falcons stumbled and bumbled and dragged themselves through the first half of the season with a 1-7 record, head coach Dan Quinn’s firing appeared imminent. New Orleans waited for them on the other side of bye, and Quinn was close enough to his personal finish line that there was a debate in the executive suite about the best timing for his official exit. It’s futile to guess about the future now. When the Falcons rallied from a 19-10 deficit to defeat San Francisco 29-22 on Sunday, it was their second road upset of a double-digit favorite in the past six weeks — the other stunning win coming in New Orleans — and raised them to 4-2 since the 1-7 start. When Quinn entered the locker room with music blaring after the game, he shouted to his players, “Nuts and guts!” It fit. Regardless of where anybody stands in the debate about Quinn’s future, it’s undeniable his players have exhibited both of late. They have put themselves in position to go 6-2 in the second half if they can close with wins over Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, even if they won’t make the playoffs and their final record will still tip to the left. It’s now worth asking: Did Dan Quinn just save his job? “I don’t know,” said Ricardo Allen, a team captain who has been firmly in Quinn’s corner. “I hope so. I know I want him to be here. But it ain’t got nothing to do with me. All I can do is try to lead these boys and help him however I can. I pray that he’s here, but that decision isn’t going to be made by me or any player.” That decision will be made by owner Arthur Blank. He was decidedly leaning toward making a change at midseason. Had the Falcons been blown out at New Orleans, as most expected, Quinn might have been gone the following week. But they beat the Saints 26-9 as 13½-point underdogs. Then came a 29-3 win at Carolina. Any discussions of the scheduling of a firing news conference were tabled. I approached Blank about Quinn after last week’s win second win over Carolina. Blank said he wasn’t leaning in any one direction about his coach. “We’ve got games left. Let’s see how this plays out,” he told me. As usual, Blank attended Quinn’s postgame news conference Sunday. He left immediately after congratulating his coach, not pausing where he might be stopped for comment. Predicting anything at this point, whether it’s how the Falcons finish or whether that finish impacts Quinn’s future, is futile. But Blank’s demeanor throughout this difficult season has been a stark contrast from 2014, sources told The Athletic. The Falcons went 4-12 in 2013, then started 2-6 the following season, sealing the fate of then-head coach Mike Smith. It was soon after when Blank retained a search firm for a new coach, word of which leaked out before the Falcons still mathematically had a chance to win the NFC South in a down season for the division. (Carolina went to the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record.) Blank has been urged in the background to not rush into a firing until seeing how players respond down the stretch and whether Quinn’s coaching staff shuffle improves things. Evidence of improvement is clear. Whether that’s enough to save Quinn remains uncertain. But those closest to Blank reaffirmed to The Athleticthat he has struggled with this decision emotionally, not just because Quinn is a likable guy but because it wasn’t long ago when the coach was being celebrated for nearly leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl title in only his second season in 2016. After Quinn’s news conference, I asked him off stage if it appears to him that his players are trying to save his job. “You’d have to ask those guys,” he said. “But it’s really cool. I’m proud to be a part of it.” What did Sunday’s win mean to him? “It means a lot. It means a lot to all of us,” he said. “We’re all fighting for our football lives. I **** sure appreciate it.” San Francisco has been a significantly better team than Atlanta all season. The 49ers, coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, entered the game as the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But for most of Sunday, it was difficult to tell the difference between the 11-2 team and the 4-9 team. Even when trailing 19-10 with 10 minutes left, the Falcons never looked out of it. They drove 75 yards to a touchdown to make it a two-point game. Later, with 1:48 left and trailing 22-17, Matt Ryan drove the offense 70 yards for a touchdown. A 25-yard pass to Julio Jones moved them to the Niners’ 25. On second-and-goal from the 5, Ryan appeared to hit Austin Hooper for the go-ahead score with five seconds left. But the touchdown was nullified by replay officials, who ruled Hooper dropped the ball. (It didn’t look that way.) On the next play, Ryan connected with Jones. On-field officials ruled he was stopped just before the goal line. But this time, the Falcons were awarded the touchdown after replay showed the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. Regardless of how those final two plays swung, the Falcons were going to be deserving of credit for their performance. The defense, in particular, has improved significantly since assistant Raheem Morris was shifted to a quasi-defensive coordinator role. Shanahan’s offense basically was limited to one touchdown drive because the 49ers’ other touchdown was set up by a fumble by punt returner Kenjon Barner on the Falcons’ 1. So what should we take from all this? “Records aren’t indicative of what a team is made of,” Hooper said. “We have a lot of fight, we have a lot of grit, we got a lot of talent on this team. Just because we messed it up in the past doesn’t mean we have to mess it up all the way.” Allen stood alone in front of his locker after speaking to a group of reporters. He was the one who always addressed the media after defeats and now feels the most gratified by the rebound. “This shows that we’re fighters, and we’ll fight for Coach Q no matter what the situation is,” he told The Athletic. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to. We understand we may be fighting for nothing. We may not be playing for the playoffs or anything. But we’re fighting for our names, we’re playing for who we are, we’re playing for Quinn. This may not be the year that we wanted, but we’re never going to back down. We’re fighting now.” Too late to save a season. But maybe not a coach.
  11. https://theathletic.com/1432153/2019/12/04/schultz-roddy-white-on-falcons-trauma-coaching-kids-and-going-into-ring-of-honor/ Sharod Lamor “Roddy” White relatively “flew under the radar” in his young football life, growing up in James Island, S.C., and later playing at Alabama-Birmingham. It was all fun and no pressure. It wasn’t until he was drafted into the NFL by the Falcons in 2005 that he first felt the weight of expectations. “The first time I felt pressure was when I was walking onto the field for OTAs with Mike (Vick), and it seemed like there were 1,000 people there, and they’re saying, ‘Finally, Mike’s got someone to throw the ball to.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, God,’” White said. But White did just fine. After a struggling career start that saw him drop passes and not listen to coaches and teammates when they criticized his focus or practice habits, White matured, went on to play 11 seasons and became a four-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro. He led the NFL in receptions in 2010 and strung together six straight 1,000-yard seasons (2007-12), a span in which he averaged 94 catches for 1,295 yards. He was consistent and played through injuries and eclipsed 10,000 yards, finishing with 808 receptions for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. The Falcons are struggling through the misery of a 3-9 season. They’ll reach back to better times Sunday when White is inducted into their “Ring of Honor” during halftime ceremonies of the Carolina game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In a near two-hour conversation with The Athletic, which has been edited down, White touched on a number of subjects, including the current state of the Falcons and the locker room’s lack of leadership, being cut the offseason before the team’s Super Bowl season, dealing with the trauma of his younger brother being shot and killed in Charleston, the recent passing of his grandmother, the 2016 Super Bowl collapse and his desire to fight Kyle Shanahan, his Las Vegas misadventures and more. Most of White’s time is now occupied by his five children, ages 14 to 8, being a volunteer receivers coach at Johns Creek High School and running his summer youth camp. Anything else? “I want to be a pilot,” he said. “But they say you have to fly the little small planes before you get to the big boys. With all these simulators nowadays, why?” So you think because you play video games, you could just jump in and fly a 787? “If I had to.” He hasn’t changed. When White gives his acceptance speech Sunday, he said he’ll reflect on his former teammates and coaches but he mostly will think about Rosalee Mitchell, his late grandmother who passed in June after a long battle with cancer. Rosalee was the matriarch of the family and helped raise Roddy when his young mother had to work. “She kept everything together for us,” he said. “Everything was positive. I could call her and have a conversation about anything. When she passed away, I felt so bad. We were going to see all the doctors, trying to hold onto a miracle, but I could hear her say, ‘Roddy, it’s OK. I’m going to be fine. I just need you to continue to be who you are.’” Here’s more from my conversation with White, including some insightful comments about today’s team. So you’re coaching now? We made it to the second round of the playoffs. Back-to-back region champs. I’ve been doing it for three years. I always wanted to work with kids. When I was in the league I did a lot of stuff with the Boys & Girls Club, which was fun. You get to hear a lot of stories from the kids in the community, and you get a breakdown of their situations. It reminded me of when I was growing up. Fortunately, I had a slew of people in the neighborhood helping when my mom was working, so I could go someplace and get some food. I love coaching, just watching these kids grow up and excel. I’ve had a couple go on to play in college. It’s hard to imagine you as a coach It’s totally different. Now I understand coaches and their mentality and trying to figure out players and what they’re best at doing. It’s tough when you’re in the film room with a player, and they don’t see what you see. We’re like on two different wavelengths. They’re like, “I can do everything.” And I’m watching it through a coaching lens and thinking, “No, you can’t.” Compare Player Roddy vs. Coach Roddy. Player Roddy thought he could do everything. There’s nothing on the field I couldn’t do. But coaching Roddy understands all the limitations and what position I should’ve put myself in and how I should’ve handled things differently. I regret some of those conversations I had with coaches. If I could go back and change it, I would. Me and (receivers coach) Terry (Robiskie) used to always get into arguments, especially when the schedule got to November, and it started getting cold, and I didn’t want to practice. Of course, that affects your performance in the game. You see that as a coach. Now I’m telling players, “You’ve got to get these reps.” (My name) carries a lot of cache. But this is Generation X. Their life is like a highlight reel, and they want success instantaneously because everything has been given to them so fast. These kids will make two or three plays in a game, and then they’ll put it on the internet. So what’s it like for a kid from James Island and UAB to be honored like this. You’re only the 11th player in the Ring of Honor. I’m in the starting 11! I made the cut! It feels good. But to tell the truth, it really hasn’t sunk in. Prior to this, I was just playing football, wrapped up in the moment, trying to win games, trying to win a Super Bowl. Did you ever see this coming? I didn’t see playing 11 years, especially not the way I started. I was terrible. I kind of flew under the radar before the NFL, and it was fun. The first time I felt pressure was when I was walking onto the field for OTAs with Mike (Vick), and it seemed like there were 1,000 people there, and they’re saying, “Finally, Mike’s got someone to throw the ball to.” And I’m like, “Oh, God.” I wanted it so much. But I didn’t understand what my job was. I wanted to eat the whole cake. Coach (Jim) Mora used to tell me, “You’re not here to win the games. We just need you to make a couple of big plays.” But in my eyes, I win games, it’s what I did, it was my time. I butted heads with Greg Knapp. I told him he didn’t know what he’s doing and he didn’t know how to use me. I was a 22-year-old kid, and here I am telling this guy he didn’t know anything. When did it turn? When Coach Mora got fired. I felt like my security blanket was gone. It just got real. I was worried. I remember before my third year I went to the facility and punched in my code (for the gate), and it didn’t work. I sat outside. I called my agent, and I’m like, “My code don’t work. I think I just got released.” He said, “No you haven’t.” It turns out I just had to pick a new code. That was my awakening. You liked Mora. What about Bobby Petrino? I didn’t have much interaction with him. We just didn’t talk much. And then he just left. Adversity strikes in every season, and things can go either way. I felt like for three or four weeks before he left, he was already out the door. He was like, “I didn’t come here for this.” He came here thinking he was going to get Mike Vick, and when he didn’t get him, it was, “I’m onto my next adventure. What about Mike Smith? He was my guy. Each and every week he pushed me to be the guy and lead the troops. He was a stand-up guy. I had Jim Mora all over again, but we were winning. He felt like an extension of the players. You only had one year with Dan Quinn. Dan was cool. He was a good coach. Fiery. Everything was a competition. It was fun. It was saucy. If you made it to 12 seasons, you would’ve been in the Super Bowl. I thought about it every second of that season. Especially toward the end of the year when they were on a roll and scoring like 40 a game, I was thinking, “I wish I could’ve been a part of that.” It was special. I was going to all the games. I was enjoying the run. That was the first year of Julio (Jones) taking over and being a leader in the wide receiver room without me being there. That was big for me, knowing I did a good job mentoring him. You and Julio were like brothers from Day 1. He’s such a good guy. He’s so cerebral. He sees everything. He would just watch me a lot, even when I was talking to the media because he wasn’t a big talker. You were there for each other in some tough times. My brother got shot (in 2014), and then his brother got shot maybe six days later. It brought us even closer together. He came to South Carolina for my brother’s funeral, and then he went back to Alabama to see his brother (who survived but lost an arm). Life is short, man. You never know what you’re going to go through. How close were you to your brother, Tyrone Moore Jr.? We grew up together. We were 11 years apart, so I was changing diapers and babysitting forever. It was the toughest thing I ever went through in my life. You can never fill a void like that, when somebody’s been around you your entire life and now you have to live without them. The first three or four years I was just mentally exhausted. I was crushed. When you have birthdays or things like that, it’s tough. I used to talk to him after every game because he would watch the games. A lot of times after games I would break down and cry because I was waiting for that call from him, and that call ain’t coming. It was heartbreaking. It was tough on my mom, watching her go through that. That did something to me. It made me a different person, and I think football became secondary. You’re still a fan and go to the games. What are your thoughts on this year’s team? I feel bad for Dan because he’s taken the brunt of what’s happened. Nothing has been consistent since the Super Bowl. We keep moving coaches. We keep trying to find ways to change things instead of just being consistent. Sometimes you’re going to have bad years, and things just aren’t going to go right. That was last year for us when guys kept getting hurt. It’s different this year, but there’s so much turnover in the staff. I don’t know how you get better as a group of individuals when you keep hearing different voices. That’s one thing I hate about the NFL. I think Dan’s a good coach. So what does it tell you when you see players underachieving? I always tell people: You have to have leaders in your locker room. When it gets to that level of under-performing, it’s because you don’t have people holding them accountable. It’s not a talent issue. It’s an accountability issue. We’ve got a bunch of young guys, and everybody wants to play young guys. But they don’t know how to win. They just don’t. They’re trying to learn how to win, and the cost is somebody’s going to lose their job. We have a leadership issue in our locker room. We don’t have enough guys in those roles who’ve been in those fires and fought and made it through those fires. Yeah, everybody wants the young guys. But those are the guys who are going to get you beat because they won’t make those one, two or three plays. They needed somebody like Sean Weatherspoon. We had Mike Peterson for a few years, and that guy was the best thing that ever happened to our defense. You sound like a consultant. That’s what we need — consultants. You don’t even have to play. Are you up for the job? Naw, I don’t have time. Listen, I left, and the guy I mentored, Julio, is doing what he’s doing. I’m done. Why is it so important to have those guys? What people don’t understand about football players is they have so many insecurities, and the only way you (overcome) those insecurities is by speaking to people who’ve already been through that and understand how you feel emotionally. When I was here, I would talk to Joe Horn, and he would tell me about everything I was going through. He would tell me, “We need to find a way to get you back to your happy place.” I’m serious. People don’t understand, you’re a human being. ****’s happening. If you’re having problems off the field and you’re having trouble transitioning on the field, it’s a problem. I’ve been there. Eight seconds after a play, I’m there thinking about **** I have to do after the game. You need someone to help navigate you though that. The Falcons don’t have that now? If you’re talking to a young guy over here, he’s giving you bad advice. You’re getting advice from someone the same age as you. Like, “Forget that ****. Let’s just go ball.” What does that mean? Seriously, I don’t even know what that means. That’s what’s happening. I did a podcast with you, and you said you told Julio that if you were in the Super Bowl and Kyle Shanahan kept sending in pass plays late in the game, you would’ve jumped offsides to kill the play. And I would’ve. Or I just wouldn’t have run the play. We would not have thrown the ball if I was in that game. I would’ve gone to Coach Quinn and said, “Just run the ball three times, and let’s get out of here.” We were at the finish line. I was so excited for the parade on Peachtree. I was like, “It’s going down.” The NFL humbles you, and it tells you year to year that it doesn’t matter what you accomplished the year before. You also said on a podcast that you wanted to fight Kyle. I did. And you know what: Do you know how many calls I got after that game? From friends? From players in that locker room. They wanted to fight Kyle. I got at least least eight calls — and those were just guys on the offensive side of the ball. They couldn’t believe it. Somebody should’ve jumped offsides. Didn’t Julio leave tickets for you but you bagged the trip after losing $60,000 playing blackjack in Las Vegas? I was still going to go. But the guy who I was renting the jet from screwed me. I had won like $30,000 the day before so I took half that and put it as a down payment on the private jet to go to Houston. Then the next day I started gambling, and I didn’t care how much I was spending because I put a bet down on the game, like $80,000, and I figured I was going to win all my money back. Charles Barkley put down like more than $100,000; it was crazy. But the plane we were supposed to take to Houston, he gave it to somebody else. He didn’t have a jet for us until like 8 p.m. (after the start of the game). I wasn’t happy. So I watched the game in Las Vegas. But if they won, I was gonna use the jet to bring some of the guys back to Las Vegas. In retrospect, are you happy you weren’t at the game? I probably would’ve gotten into a fight if I was there. There were a lot of stories about everybody butting heads with Kyle Shanahan in 2015, which was your final season. How bad was it? He had his vision, and that’s how he wanted things to go. The most frustrating thing for me was the communication barrier from me to Dan to him. I would talk to Dan about how I was going to be used, and then Kyle would still do his own thing. It was especially frustrating early in the season because they brought in Leonard Hankerson to take my role, and that didn’t work out, and I felt I could’ve helped win some of those games. Any thoughts on Shanahan succeeding now as a head coach? They’re doing well. Their GM has done a good job building from the inside out. You can always find skill guys. Kyle hasn’t worked with a lot of (elite receivers) other than Julio and Andre Johnson. It’s more like, “This guy’s fast. This guy’s big. I need this guy to run these routes and this guy to run those routes.” He believes he can scheme people to get them open. A lot of it is just play-action and things coming off it. The passing game is a lot of bunch formations, movement, crossing routes and things like that. Were you satisfied with the way your career ended? You could’ve possibly gone to Tennessee, Tampa Bay or Minnesota, but you said you wanted to play for a Super Bowl contender. New England talked to you at some point, but that fell through. I didn’t see my end coming like that. I didn’t think I’d be cast out like that. I sort of saw myself playing and the just retiring. But I didn’t feel like I was really missing anything when it was over, except for walking through the door and seeing the guys. The only accomplishment I didn’t have was winning a Super Bowl.
  12. https://theathletic.com/1389660/2019/11/18/schultz-if-dan-quinns-return-doesnt-hinge-on-playoffs-how-low-should-falcons-set-the-bar/?source=shared-article If Dan Quinn’s future hinges on making the playoffs, there’s really no decision to make. The Falcons dug themselves a crater with a 1-7 start. Their postseason chances, listed at less than one percent by analytics sites two weeks ago, remain at less than one percent after consecutive wins over New Orleans and Carolina. Biblical plagues have yet to intervene. So if this isn’t about whether Quinn will coach a playoff game this season, it’s about what would persuade owner Arthur Blank to bring Quinn back. Some around the NFL believe the bar could be as low as a 7-9 record. The idea is that Blank’s criteria will be more about the 6-2 second half than the full-season résumé. My personal view is hiring and firing decisions should never be based on a small sample. But should the macro view include Quinn’s two playoff seasons or just the past two? “I just want to get into this week,” Quinn said Monday when asked how he should be judged. “I recognize it’s a bottom-line business. There are consequences when you do well, and there are consequences when you don’t. But I would just rather spend time on how can we get there and play like we’re capable of playing. As far as being judged on where you’re at, I recognize it’s a results business.” When asked if he has been told by Blank where the bar for his return sits, Quinn said, “No, and we talk weekly about the team, about where we’re at. We talk about the team a lot. But we’ve never gone further than that.” Quinn also balked at referencing the past two wins as a turnaround, saying, “I don’t know that even qualifies as a streak. That would be an awesome Christmas question for you to ask. Or at least give us to Thanksgiving.” He gets points for perspective. Many have speculated about Quinn’s future. But nobody really knows what Blank is thinking, in part because even Blank’s view changes. Four weeks ago, after a 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, I wrote a column about the then 1-6 Falcons, headlined “Dan Quinn has failed, and his firing from Falcons appears inevitable.” It was a column written based not only on my own view but that of others in and around the organization. When asked if Quinn would be fired the next day, Blank told The Athletic: “No. But that doesn’t change the record. It is what it is. It’s just very disappointing for everybody.” Following a loss to Seattle before the Falcons’ bye week, Blank told to an assemblage of media members in a hallway at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that he would “take the next couple of weeks (to) evaluate where we are and whatever decision we make it will be for the right reasons and long term.” Many logically concluded that if the Falcons were blown out in their next game at New Orleans, Quinn would be gone. But they won as two-touchdown underdogs and have played their two best games of the season the past two weeks. So where do things stand now with Quinn? Here are some thoughts: • Blank likes Quinn. Blank’s emotions are different than they were during the final days with ex-coaches Dan Reeves and Bobby Petrino. Blank is not yet at the “must fire” line like he was with Mike Smith, whom he also liked. Intellectually, Blank understands if he keeps Quinn after consecutive non-playoff seasons, regardless of the second-half record, there is going to be blowback and a potential financial ripple effect from fans. But it might take another humiliating loss to push Blank over the line, at least before the end of the season. • Blank understands he has a shrinking window to take advantage of having Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the roster. Ryan will be 35 next season, Jones 31. If Blank gives Quinn one more season to fix this and he fails, that means a new regime would come in before the 2021 season, when Ryan is 36 and Jones is 32. The question becomes: Would starting with an entirely new coaching staff with a possibly new philosophy, terminology and schemes in 2020 immediately get the Falcons closer to a Super Bowl or further away? Blank hasn’t determined that, yet. • The Falcons are a different team at 3-7 than they were at 1-7. But they’re still 3-7. Quinn carries responsibility for the start because he has been at the center of personnel and coaching staff decisions, and he wasn’t able to get players to perform to their capabilities in the first eight weeks, which is a coach’s primary job. The fact his shuffle of assistants has positively impacted the defense the past two weeks is both praise-worthy and an indictment. Mistakes were made to begin with. Raheem Morris probably should have been moved back to defense after the 2016 season, when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco and defensive coordinator Richard Smith was fired. Quinn instead promoted Marquand Manuel to the DC position. He was fired two years later. • To his credit, Quinn actually recognized after five games that his decision to call defensive plays wasn’t working. To be clear: The Falcons are not 2-0 since Quinn stopped calling plays. It was the Arizona game in Week 6 when he first turned over most of the decisions to assistants, led by linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. It wasn’t an immediate success. The Falcons lost the next three games to the Cardinals (34-33), Rams (27-10) and Seahawks (27-20, with a second-half rally from 24-0 falling short). Blank isn’t losing anything by holding onto Quinn right now. Potential replacements, whether currently in the NFL, college or sitting the season out, aren’t going anywhere. But Blank will have to react soon. College coaches will begin making career decisions after the regular season in two weeks. Potential candidates will have conversations with possible assistants for their next staff as they prepare for interviews. Other jobs will soon open. That means competition for top candidates will increase. So the decision is nearing. But since Blank’s “couple of weeks” comment, the view has changed. If only slightly.
  13. https://theathletic.com/1366474/2019/11/10/schultz-grady-jarrett-fittingly-at-center-of-falcons-unexpected-uprising/ NEW ORLEANS — This is what it looks like in the alternate universe. “A good view,” Ricardo Allen said. “I saw Drew (Brees) going through his reads, and he couldn’t make it to his last couple of guys.” This is what it sounds like in an alternate universe. “Who Dat!” De’Vondre Campbell shouted as he ran into the locker room. “Aaaaaaaaaaggghhhh!” Jamon Brown uttered in a primal scream. “Yessir! Shut the f*** up! Shut the f*** up! Shut the f*** up!” Damontae Kazee shouted as he ran off the field in a celebratory rant, and it can’t be certain if that was directed at comatose New Orleans fans, irritated Falcons fans, media or the rest of the Falcons-hating world. Or all of the above. OK. What just happened? In the long and often strange history of Falcons-Saints games, No. 101 in the series will go down as one of the most unexpected results. The Falcons, playoff dead after going 1-7 in the first half of the season, returned from a bye Sunday to play what potentially could have been Dan Quinn’s final game as their head coach. Then something strange happened. Actually, a lot of strange things happened. They won 26-9. A 1-7 team defeated a 7-1 team in the NFL for the first time since 2003, and that wasn’t even nearly the most surprising development. A defense with seven sacks in the first eight games had six in the ninth. A defense that had been torched for more than 31 points per game in the first half of the season held the Saints, now with Brees back at quarterback, to three field goals. The Falcons played like they were expected to before this season began nine weeks ago when an unexpected virus hit. They exhibited some resiliency, a four-letter word for most of this season, playing their best game despite losing running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper during the game and missing cornerback Desmond Trufant. The offense also ran the ball effectively and had four extended scoring drives of 56 to 75 yards, which limited the Saints’ number of possessions. So many questions. Like: Where has this been? Like: How does a 1-7 team and 13½-point underdog dump a 7-1 team on its home field? Like: Will we see this again? But before silliness and projected images of an 8-0 second half and 9-7 finish for a wild playoff finish, take a cleansing breath. “We’re appreciating the moment right now,” Grady Jarrett said. Nobody was better than Jarrett on Sunday. Nobody deserved this more than the defensive tackle at the center of the team’s defense and remaining heartbeat. Jarrett had 2½ sacks that totaled 17 yards in losses and five total quarterback hits. He is one of the few accountable players and team leaders left in the locker room from the 2016 Super Bowl season and one of the few starters living up to his contract. The Saints’ offensive line couldn’t do anything to contain Jarrett. The Falcons pressured Brees constantly with mostly a four-man rush, registering 11 QB hits. Quinn moved assistant Raheem Morris back to secondary coach during the bye weeks and yielded defensive play-calling to Jeff Ulbrich in Arizona three weeks ago. Shifting Morris appeared to make a difference in the defensive backs’ performance but most notable was the communication between the back end and front end of the defense. Brees has made a career of buying time when receivers are covered. This time, after his first and second reads, there was no time. “Communication (between) the rushing and the coverage,” Jarrett said. “They did a really good job on the back end and made the quarterback hold the ball. We were able to get to them. That felt really good.” When was the last time he experienced this much joy? “The last time we won,” Jarrett said. “It’s hard to win in this league. We’ve been in a little slump.” (Points for understatement.) “It feels really good, and encouraging, and motivating,” Jarrett said when asked about the six sacks. “You want to get more and more. We have to build off this performance going forward. There’s a lot of football still left to play.” The 1-7 start can’t be erased. But, he said, “You can’t change anything by looking back.” The Falcons showed they are capable of this kind of performance. You can take that as good news (they realized it) or bad news (it took until the ninth game before they brought it). Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been weighing the pluses and minuses of a coaching change. He said before the bye he wanted to “take a couple of weeks” to meet with his senior staff. Obviously, this extends the coach’s lifeline. Allen was aware of the backdrop. He also believed this performance was in the defense somewhere. “I go into every game thinking we’re going to win. But today was just a different feeling,” he said. “Everybody was locked in. There wasn’t very much talking. Not very much hoopla. Everybody knew they had to just do their job.” Asked about Jarrett’s performance, Allen smiled and said, “Us in the secondary, when you get to sit back and watch that, when you see that (Brees) can’t step up in the pocket and make the throws that he wanted to and he can’t go through all of his reads, we appreciate that.” It was a rare day — one to appreciate a Falcons performance. So we know it was in there, somewhere. It just took a while.
  14. https://theathletic.com/1357213/2019/11/06/schultz-matt-ryan-frustrated-as-he-tries-to-lead-falcons-in-lost-season/ Less than three years removed from going to the Super Bowl and being honored as the NFL’s most valuable player, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had his physical and mental resilience tested this season. The Falcons are 1-7 as they come off the bye week. They’re near two-touchdown underdogs against their longtime rival, the New Orleans Saints, who would love nothing more than to extend the misery. Ryan has thrown for 300-plus yards in six of his seven starts, but he is coming off an ankle injury that caused him to miss his first start since 2009. He also has been sacked 14 times and hit 38 times in his last four starts. The Falcons have allowed the fifth-most quarterback hits in the league at 60, and that might be a greater indicator of quarterback duress than sacks. The six teams that have allowed the most quarterback hits this season — the New York Giants, Jets, Miami, Tennessee, Atlanta and Tampa Bay — have a combined record of 11-39. Back to Ryan. As one of the team leaders, he has pulled aside teammates at times this season to discuss what he considers shortcomings in their performance. He has done that in previous seasons, as well. The frustrating part for him is that the overall product hasn’t changed. When I asked him about the perception that some teammates might not be focused, Ryan told me: “Here’s the thing, Jeff. We haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted. If you’re just going to point fingers and say, ‘He’s the issue. He’s the issue’ — there are a lot of issues that we have to figure out.” Ryan spent some time with The Athletic to discuss the Falcons’ season: Do you always stay in town during the bye week? It depends on the year. Sometimes when you’re nicked up, I’ve had bye weeks where I’ve been here. Sometimes when I’ve been healthy, we’ve had bye weeks where I’m able to get out and disconnect for a few days. One year we went back to Boston. I went to a B.C. game and had my jersey retired. Mostly when we leave, it’s to see my family or Sarah’s family or just to catch up with somebody someplace on the East Coast. Did you do anything to decompress? We had Halloween. That was our big thing with our (1-year-old twin) boys. We took them around to three houses in our neighborhood. But that was it. It was cold. Did they go as Matt Ryan? No! They went as Ninja Turtles. They loved dressing up. We kind of practiced walking up to the door and knocking on it. We had a little game plan going into it, and they executed it pretty well. OK, shifting gears. You’ve been part of a couple of pretty bad years here. But is this the worst, not just because of the record but the expectations? It’s definitely been the toughest start to the season, for sure. There was an expectation for us to be productive. We haven’t been able to play consistently across the board. It’s been frustrating and disappointing. But you have to find a way to get through that and to continue to have belief you’re going to play better as we move forward. Has it been mind-boggling, to some degree? One thing I’ve learned in this league is that it’s tough to win. The margin for error is small. The line between wins and losses is very fine. So to a certain extent, nothing shocks me. But at the same time, we haven’t been as productive as we’ve needed to be. That’s the part you rack your brain about. Why? What’s the why? But when you go from a presumed playoff contender to 1-7, that’s significant, even in a league in which most games are decided by a touchdown. I hear ya. Some years, two or three games go in the other direction and you think, “OK, we’ve kind of weathered the storm.” Then you go on a roll. But you have to find ways to win those tough, ugly games. Good teams I’ve been on have found a way to do that, and we have not done that this year. What, in 2016, beyond just the offense being on a roll, went right? What made that season work? A lot of things went right. You talk about being opportunistic as a team. Capitalizing off turnovers and scoring points off that. Creating explosive plays. And we didn’t put ourselves in situations that were difficult to overcome. This year offensively there have been too many times where we had penalties that set us back in drives and prevented us from getting into a consistent rhythm. That’s not something that happened back then (in 2016). Do you take it more personally when things fall apart and spiral because you’re one of the team leaders? Absolutely I take it personally. You’re invested. You’ve invested so much in this. You’re committed to trying to make this as successful as it can be. So when it doesn’t go right, it hurts. But you have to persist. You have to find a way to get through it and beyond it. That’s where mental toughness and grit and things you’ve worked on along the way help you out. What are some of the different ways you’ve tried to lead the team this season? Have there been times when you jumped on a table or called a team meeting? I know sometimes that kind of stuff gets overblown. I always feel like that overreaction kind of stuff — you know, that’s a Band-Aid. In order to get things right, you have to do things right all the time. It’s not a speech that changes things. It’s not one specific act that changes things. It’s consistent effort over a long period of time that changes things. That’s the message more than anything that you try to stress and get over to guys. You have to do things right all the time just to give yourself an opportunity to be successful. That’s my approach to it. It’s less about being rah-rah than it is having the right approach every day. Have you felt the need to pull guys aside this year? Absolutely. But I’ve been doing that my entire career. For sure, as this year has gone on, I’ve said things like, “Stay the course,” or, “You need to be a little more consistent,” or, “You need to do things a little bit different.” But that’s not working this year. The results have not been there. I’m a believer that there’s these four quadrants of performance: You can have a process and bad results, a bad process and good results, a good process and bad results or a good process and good results. Right now our process is actually OK but we’re getting bad results, and that’s the toughest quadrant to be in. But when a team consistently underachieves in a season, as yours has, there’s a perception by some that some guys in your locker room aren’t focused, for whatever reason, and their minds are elsewhere. And as you know, it doesn’t take a lot of players doing the wrong thing for a season to spin off the rails. And that’s the thing: It’s got to be everybody — all-in, all the time, across the board. So have you seen that? Do you think there’s an issue? Here’s the thing, Jeff: We haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted. If you’re just going to point fingers and say, “He’s the issue. He’s the issue” — there are a lot of issues that we have to figure out. But to me, it’s not guys not caring or not being invested or the day-to-day mindset not being there. We’ve just got to find ways to take what we’re doing on the practice field and in the meeting room and make it work in games. To me, it’s not about guys being distracted. We just need to play better. I hear those narratives a lot. But clearly something is off on Sunday. There’s a handful of really good things we’re doing at certain times. That’s the standard we have to find a way to play at consistently. There’s obviously a lot of speculation now about Dan Quinn possibly losing his job. As someone who’s been with him for a while, what are your thoughts seeing him go through this? It sucks. It sucks. You understand it’s a production-based business. But he’s a **** of a coach and as consistent a person as I’ve ever been around. That’s the part — as players, you want to find a way to make these plays because you love the guy. That’s the part you take personally. He’s given so much to this cause. Sometimes players love a coach so much that they take advantage of that. That’s you saying that. I can only speak for me. You want to find a way to make plays because he’s a **** of a guy and a good football coach.
  15. https://theathletic.com/1308930/2019/10/20/schultz-dan-quinn-has-failed-and-his-firing-from-falcons-appears-inevitable/ It’s over. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, a good man but an increasingly ineffective coach, logically is going to be out of a job soon. The firing won’t happen Monday, assuming Falcons owner Arthur Blank wasn’t just running a misdirection play when I asked him after the season’s most recent dumpster fire Sunday. It’s more likely to happen during the bye week following next week’s scheduled loss to Seattle, or whenever Blank finally pushes himself to emotionally surrender. But it’s going to happen. Because Quinn is a lost coach with a lost locker room in a lost season and his players — for as much as they say they love him — aren’t following him. Organizations don’t collapse because of one bad coach or one bad player any more than corporations collapse because of one bad investment. It takes a series of mistakes and unplanned mutations. But this is mostly on Quinn. The Falcons’ 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was punctuated by all forms of ugliness, from quarterback Matt Ryan being sacked five times before leaving with an ankle injury to the team rushing for 38 yards, the defense looking silly, the offense being held without a touchdown until it was 30-3, and a fumbled punt return that led to one final pie to the face with 11 seconds left. The Falcons’ overall talent probably has been vastly overrated. There’s also little question that the leadership void that was so evident in 2018 was not fixed during the offseason. Sports teams just don’t spiral like this unless (1) veterans who are supposed to take charge in bad times are either failing miserably at that or more worried about their direct deposit, (2) there’s a lack of accountability in the locker room and (3) players who say they love their coach nonetheless don’t follow their coach, possibly because they have the moral fiber of nougat. For the fifth time in seven games, the Falcons trailed by double-digit points at halftime. They have been outscored 120-50 in the first half. That goes to readiness, preparation, coaching. Players are not following Quinn. So they share the blame but mostly blame Quinn because he gets paid to coach, motivate and lead. This is a 1-6 team with a $30 million quarterback and a $20 million wide receiver. There are several other players — too many, probably — not living up to fat contracts. But Quinn has picked most of these players in concert with general manager Thomas Dimitroff since 2015. The team is underachieving and getting worse. Everything has been backsliding since the Super Bowl three years ago. Quinn has had time to fix all this. He has failed. Blank is clearly struggling with this decision. He likes Quinn and doesn’t want to have to blow up the coaching staff and front office again, even if that seems inevitable. Following is a brief exchange I had with Blank as he was exiting an interview room following Quinn’s postgame news conference Sunday: Do you still support your coach? “Of course. We’ve got games to play. I support the players. I support the coach. I feel all the pain that the fans feel and also the players do and the coaches do, as well.” Is there any chance Quinn gets fired tomorrow? “No. But that doesn’t change the record. It is what it is. It’s just very disappointing for everybody.” So you have no decision at this point? “No.” At which point he continued out the door, trailed by security. Blank has made a financial investment in Quinn as well as an emotional one. Quinn and Dimitroff received contract extensions through 2022. The coach also was given uncommon autonomy for a first-time head coach in personnel decisions, from signings and roster cuts to draft decisions. But so many of those decisions have backfired. Quinn’s coaching staff has struggled on both sides of the ball. Even new special teams coach Ben Kotwica spoke during the week about Rams punter Johnny Hekker having the ability to pass, but the punt return team looked completely unprepared for a fake punt on fourth-and-3 in the second quarter. Hekker completed a 23-yard pass to Nick Scott, setting up a field goal. Quinn fired his offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators after last season. He’s struggling as the team’s new self-appointed D.C. He acknowledged after Sunday’s loss that he has started to step back in coordinator duties and that “some of the other assistants” took over some play-calling last week against Arizona and again against Los Angeles. It didn’t help. It gets worse. Blank has PSL owners and fans to answer to. They’ve turned on this team and on Quinn. “We want our money back!” one fan yelled as he walked down the corridor in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There were thousands of empty seats in the stadium; thousands of other fans left early. Secondary markets like StubHub were dumping tickets for as low as $18. Anybody standing outside before the game and holding out their hand probably could’ve gotten in for free — if they felt like witnessing such misery. Quinn’s news conference was cut off after five minutes but not before he was asked if he felt he had lost the team. “I understand why the question is (asked),” he said. “It’s a fair question, honestly, because you spend most of your time trying to connect and get the team to play the way we’re capable of. The answer, I would say, is no. But why the disbelief at times of not playing like we’re capable of — that can be very frustrating. When you don’t do that, you want to look and search and find answers. That’s what I spend most of my time doing.” Does he consider this a lost season for either the team or himself? “I never think you’re out of a fight. You shouldn’t think that way as a team member, and I certainly never think that way as a coach,” he said. “I recognize when you don’t play well those are fair questions.” He also surely recognizes where this is going: Dan Quinn will soon be without a job.
  16. https://theathletic.com/1235336/2019/09/23/schultz-whether-its-the-messaging-or-the-players-dan-quinn-has-a-problem/ Dan Quinn is a really good guy. He is beloved by his players and everybody he comes in contact with at the Falcons’ headquarters. He helped build a roster that he then coached to a Super Bowl in 2016 in only his second season as an NFL head coach. But Dan Quinn has a problem. Whatever he is doing, coaching or saying isn’t working. The Falcons have a talented enough roster to be 3-0 or at least 2-1. Instead, they’re 1-2 and could be 0-3. These perceived talented players are doing dumb and undisciplined things, like committing penalties (a league-high 35 for 274 yards, exceeding the average distance of three scoring drives), blowing basic coverages, failing in basic run defenses and committing turnovers (seven, led by Matt Ryan’s six interceptions). Getting outscored 41-3 in the first half of two road games also suggests focus or hotel wake-up calls are lacking. The 1-2 start isn’t about Keanu Neal’s horrible luck of having a second straight season wiped out by injury. It’s not about other injuries or a young offensive line still coming together or a mostly new staff of assistant coaches getting settled. It’s about Quinn. He’s the one who sets the tone and messaging. He’s the one who brought in most of the players and coaches, in concert with general manager Thomas Dimitroff. This defense, this team, they’re Quinn’s. Safety Ricardo Allen, who is as smart and professional a player as there is in the NFL, acknowledged that being known as a “talented” team isn’t necessarily a good thing. There’s a danger of that creeping into one’s mindset. “The best thing you can do as a player is be accountable for your actions,” he said. “We’re a 1-2 team. You’re not an overly talented team — you’re a 1-2 team. You have to be realistic with it. I don’t care how much talent you have. If you can’t find a way to win with it, you gotta shake something up.” Asked if he was concerned about some players not being accountable, Allen paused briefly and said: “No. If this was in the middle of the season, and it keeps going, yes. As of now, no. I think players are really trying to do all they can and play as hard as they can.” It’s fair to wonder whether Quinn’s style and messaging just aren’t working anymore, whether the whole “Brotherhood” thing needs to be drop-kicked in favor of something with more flames. The Falcons returned predominantly the same team following the Super Bowl, save offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but suffered in 2017 from inconsistency, including home losses to Buffalo and Miami. They made the playoffs but lost in the second round to Philadelphia. Last season was submarined by injuries. But there’s a case to be made that things fell apart beyond what they should have. The Falcons are 18-17 in the regular season since the Super Bowl. That doesn’t cut it. Quinn is taking a lot of heat. After Sunday’s 27-24 loss in Indianapolis, when the Falcons dug themselves a 20-3 hole and committed a dizzying 16 penalties, the coach’s three-minute postgame news conference was live-streamed on Periscope. Those watching Quinn’s conference had the ability to comment live, and they unleashed a number of verbal grenades. A selection follows: “I want blank to fire you. … FIRE QUINN. … Trash defense. … Blah blah blah brotherhood blah blah blah. … Blame is on DQ shouldn’t allow penalties to get so high. … Clown. … Sorry but u gotta go. … You are an awful coach!!! … We don’t want to hear the excuses Dan. … Go back to Seattle. … Get your **** together dan. Every week it’s like this. I love my falcons but ******** man.” So, yes. He has lost the benefit of the doubt in Atlanta. Quinn doesn’t run from the criticism. He understands the anger and the questions about his messaging. “The messaging is always important: You know you’re on it when the team lives it,” he said. But this team is not living it. So does he feel the need to change it? “I may say some things in a different way, but it’s still the same message,” he said. Louder, more in your face? “It would depend on who the person was,” he said. “Sometimes it has to be louder, in their face. But not every player reacts in the same way. Sometimes it needs to be in front of everybody and louder and stronger than some. Others, you may need to talk to them one-on-one.” When asked again whether he feels the need to change who he has been in the past, Quinn said: “You have to look at it. I wouldn’t say change. But you have to make sure the people who need to get addressed have my attention, for sure.” It’s an important subject because in any sport a coach’s messaging can get stale. That’s why even some with early success might have a limited shelf life. Allen said: “I’m going to fight to the end with him. Until the clock hits zero, zero, zero.” But Allen, Julio Jones and Grady Jarrett, three of the team’s acknowledged leaders, can speak only for themselves. The problems puzzle them as much as anybody. Allen also puts it more on the players than the coaches. He referenced a practice in the days leading up to the Indianapolis game when players were flat. “Last week we had a time where we came out and we started off slow, and it took the coaches to say something,” he said. “It has to be the players.” Allen believes the Falcons play better when they “think we’re the underdogs and nobody cared about us and we didn’t have people saying we were the high-flying (Falcons).” So here’s the good news: Keep losing and they’ll be underdogs all the time. But Quinn said he isn’t going to change his core principles or be influenced by outside noise. He told a story about when the Falcons lost their 2016 season opener to Tampa Bay, which was then coached by Dirk Koetter, Atlanta’s former (and present) offensive coordinator. “There were some columnists, maybe they’re sitting here, maybe they’re not, who were just, ‘Maybe (Koetter) should’ve been the coach here,’” Quinn said. “I remember hearing that, and it took me a day or two, and I’m thinking, ‘What the **** am I doing?’ And then we ended up going out to Oakland and winning. That was a lesson to myself: Stay true to the process. I’m not happy how we’ve started after three games at all. Some of the self-inflicted wounds we’ve had I know are correctable. We **** sure are planning on getting those fixed.” But we’ve heard those words often. Maybe try fewer promises and more action.
  17. https://theathletic.com/1214218/2019/09/16/schultz-even-after-falcons-late-escape-matt-ryan-knows-he-has-to-be-better/ The Falcons crept to the edge of 0-2 and potential early season doom before something unexpected happened late Sunday night. They won. They rallied to win a game over their recent tormentors from red-zone ****, Philadelphia. They managed to win on a night when their $30 million starting quarterback threw three interceptions in a span of four possessions, making everybody wonder, “What the **** happened to Matt Ryan?” “Turning the football over three the times, it’s hard to win when you do that,” Ryan said. “But you keep telling yourself, ‘All right, the score is where it’s at. We’re in a good position. Forget what’s happened until this point. Trust the play that’s coming in. Trust what you see on the other side. Go execute.'” Ryan makes it all sound so simple and systematic and tunnel-vision like. That thinking is what allows athletes to compartmentalize the noise and disasters and move forward. So the positive is that Ryan again proved he could face-plant in the mud — more than once — and still do something right in the hit. He read Philadelphia’s all-out-blitz, cover zero (no safeties) defense and burned the Eagles with a screen pass to Julio Jones, who blasted off 54 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons won 24-20. But there’s so much to forget. Early film review: • The first interception near the end of the first half when Ryan tried to stop Mohamed Sanu in his route but threw behind him, leading to a turnover and a Philadelphia field goal. Ryan: “I probably shouldn’t attempt that.” • The second interception against all-out pressure in the third quarter when he got hit as he threw and the ball was well short of Jones, leading to another pick and setting up a Philadelphia touchdown. Ryan: “It sucks when that happens.” • The third one, the worst of all, the one in the red zone when the Falcons had a chance to expand their lead from 17-12 when Ryan didn’t see weakside linebacker Nathan Jerry and Ryan’s pass for Austin Hooper was intercepted. Ryan: “That’s just a mistake on my part. But it’s something I can clean up.” He needs to. Otherwise, forget about the Falcons accomplishing anything of significance in 2019. They won a big game. They blew a 17-6 lead and allowed 14 straight points before winning on the last spasm. A beautiful game, it wasn’t. The teams combined for six turnovers. Instead of 0-2, the Falcons are 1-1. They might be the sudden favorites in the NFC South, with New Orleans losing quarterback Drew Brees to a potentially serious thumb injury. But slow down. Ryan has thrown five interceptions in two games, the worst start of his professional career. Some of it can be blamed on defensive pressure. But he has made far too many poor decisions for an 11-year NFL quarterback, let alone one whose pay ranks him among the elite. He knows this. Head coach Dan Quinn knows this. Turnovers submarine football teams, and right now Ryan is sinking his own boat. “He gets pissed,” Quinn said of Ryan’s response after interceptions. “But he resets quickly, whether it’s good or bad.” So it’s visible? “Yes, visible. And audible. “I don’t think (five interceptions in two games) is going to be the norm. It hasn’t been his history. It’s obviously not what he wants or we want. But it’s not a concern for me.” Ryan was not without impressive moments Sunday. He threw for 320 yards. He also threw three touchdown passes against an Eagles defense that held the Falcons to one touchdown and a field goal in a 15-10 Falcons playoff loss in 2017 and to four field goals in an 18-12 loss in the 2018 opener. Both games ended inside the Philadelphia 5-yard line. So greased the exit ramp for former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Ryan also deserves credit for perhaps his greatest trait of all: resolve. He helped win a game that he surely would’ve been blamed for losing. “We’ve got each other’s backs. It don’t matter,” Jones said. “We’re an extension of one another. It’s not one person did that or one person did that. We set out to get a W, and we got a W.” Tight end Austin Hooper said even after the interceptions, Ryan’s mood was, “Unwavering. You’ve got to always believe, right? We’ve seen Matt do great things here. The true competitor, the fire, the spirit, the tenacity. That never goes away, whether a ball goes to our team or the other team. You saw him battle back. That’s what he does.” After Jones broke into the open field toward the end zone, Ryan ran around celebrating and pointing to nobody in particular on the Falcons’ sideline. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what was going on,” he said, laughing. “I was just running around like I was 10 years old.” His third touchdown was the 300th in his career. More importantly, it allowed him to move on from three throws he would like to have back.
  18. https://theathletic.com/1182994/2019/09/03/schultz-arthur-blank-on-his-teams-divorce-beating-cancer-twice-donald-trump-and-julio-jones/ These are interesting times for Arthur Blank. His NFL team — the Falcons, who are coming off a non-playoff season — begins a new year Sunday in Minnesota. His MLS club, Atlanta United, won the league championship in only its second season and is starting to get its footing after a few bumps under new coach Frank de Boer. In his personal life, Blank went through a divorce from his third wife, Angela, and recently overcame a recurrence of prostate cancer, which he initially battled in 2016. Blank sat down Tuesday with The Athletic to discuss all of those issues, as well as ongoing contract negotiations with Julio Jones, which appear to be nearing resolution; the futures of Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff; criticism some NFL owners are receiving for supporting President Trump; and mandating PSLs for all tickets sold at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. When we set up this interview, my assumption was the Julio Jones contract would be done. Our assumption, as well. What can you say other than you hope a deal gets done? I think we’re very, very close. I’d be surprised and disappointed if we didn’t get it done this week. If you walked into a sportsbook, what day would be the favorite for the signing? I don’t know that. But it’s very reasonable to assume it gets done this week. What tells you that? Just where the negotiations are and the discussions are. Is this just posturing? It’s just a dance. There’s a lot of money involved for Julio. He deserves a lot of money, and we’ll make sure he gets it. We have to make sure he gets in a contract and a construct that’s fair to him and respectful to him and everything he’s done for us and will do going forward but respectful to the franchise, as well, and continues to give us the flexibility to make sure we have other pieces around the entire team. We need to have a winning formula. It’s not about one player. It never is, not even the quarterback. Last year, Matt (Ryan) didn’t have a great offensive line; he got hit 104 times and sacked 42 times. So we have to do the right thing for the franchise, and we definitely want to do the right thing for the players, including Julio. When was the last time you put forth an offer to Julio’s people? They’ve been going back and forth on a daily basis now. You don’t seem concerned at all. This has been an on-going situation for really two years. I’m not concerned. We made an adjustment last year. Julio played well and had a great year for us, and this year he’ll play well and have a great year for us. We’ll get the contract resolved. You don’t have a concern that if it’s not resolved this week, he may sit out the season opener? I don’t have that concern. He’s scheduled to meet with the media Thursday. Well, then, you can ask him about it. Maybe he’ll have a reason to be celebrating Thursday. How important is this season to the futures of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff? You’re asking me if they’re on the hot seat. I never know how to define “hot seat.” I have great confidence in coach Quinn. I have great confidence in Thomas. You look back — Thomas has been with us since 2008. Coach, his first year was an average year because we were going through a transition, second year we were in the Super Bowl, third year we were in the playoffs. Last year was not a good year, but most of that I would attribute to the injuries that we had and lack of performance on the offensive line. But I think they’ve addressed that in the offseason, both in free agency and the draft. Barring any unforeseen injuries, which sadly is the nature of the sport we’re in, it’s not pingpong — maybe there’s injuries in pingpong, I don’t know — I think we’ll have a very competitive team this year. I like where we are. I like where we are offensively and defensively. Dan has taken over the responsibility of defensive coordinator and will call the plays himself, which I think will make a huge difference. All the players we had last year are coming back. I’m pretty optimistic about both sides of the ball. I think special teams will be good. I like the fact Money Matt (Bryant) is back with us. I felt badly for both Giorgio (Tavecchio) and Blair (Walsh). Maybe one of them will be in our future; you don’t know. Will bringing back Bryant require some adjustments financially with other contracts? It always requires some adjustments. We’re right at the edge of the salary cap, which is where we’re supposed to be. That’s where I want us to be. I want to spend every dollar we can to get the best players we can to give us the best chance to win. So the answer is: It will take some creativity. Between Thomas and (director of football operations) Nick (Polk), I think they’ll do that. They have to do it, I should say. Barring injuries, is there a minimum bar for success you’re looking at? Not really. You want the team to be competitive every week. I think we’ll win our share of games. The only people I’ll conjecture with are my kids. They’ll guess, I’ll guess, but that’s between me and my children. You’ll have to get it out of the game. I think we’ll have a competitive team, and if you get in the playoffs, single elimination, anything can happen. We have an experienced quarterback who’s playing at a high level, and physically, mentally he’s in a great place. We have a great receiving corps, running backs, the offensive line has been improved. I feel good about where we are. But so probably does every owner the week before the start of the season. Switching sports: Frank de Boer has been your soccer coach for about eight months. Any thoughts on the job he has done, considering the bar was much higher when he took over? There was no bar at first — there was a bar we envisioned but hadn’t established, and it turned out in the first two years, we exceeded that in every way we could. Frank has done an excellent job, in my view. When you change a coach, no matter which version of football you’re talking about, there’s always adjustments: the scheme, the players, players get to know the coach, the coach gets to know them, the chemistry issues. What can they do well? How can they adjust to my scheme? Is it a minor adjustment or major? In our case, it wasn’t major, but it wasn’t no adjustment. Frank has gotten to know our players now, and they’ve gotten to know what’s important to him. I think our team is peaking at the right time now, going into the playoffs. We’ve won three cups in the last 365 days. We couldn’t have a better year than that, and we want to continue to build that going forward and continue to win cups. I’m very happy with him. He understands us. He appreciates our fans and appreciates the players and what they’ve given to him. What were your thoughts when you saw reports of problems with players over his style or personality? None, really. I took that with a grain of salt because some of that was pulled out by the media. Some of the players don’t speak English fluently, and even Frank sometimes will use a word that’s not exactly the meaning. But I think when you have an elite group of players and everybody wants to play, everybody doesn’t understand why they’re being taken out of a match, but the coach has done a good job just explaining that and developing relationships with them. I think it’s fine. It takes a little bit of time for that to happen. He took some heat when he said he doesn’t favor equal pay for men and women in international soccer. Were you concerned, given your history of being inclusive and supporting such issues? I think Frank clarified his comments on that. I talked to him about that same subject several days before. We had a dinner at our house with several players and staff. Obviously, Frank believes, I believe and, hopefully, all our organizations and businesses believe the men and women are equal in terms of their competency and their abilities, and you pay people based on what their value is to the organization. I think the biggest issue with women’s soccer, and I said this to Frank, is I think it needs to be supported more on a global basis. That’s the essence of the issue. The success of the Women’s National Team in World Cup soccer and continued growth around the world — my son Josh took a two-week trip to Europe and spent some time with the women’s team in Lyon, France — it’s coming together. But there’s a history there, and it’s going to take a while. I would hope at some point in time equity would be there, regardless of gender, based on the model. Women’s soccer at the collegiate level is becoming more significant, and hopefully, that will continue to be a pipeline for women’s soccer at the professional level. You turn 77 in a few weeks. You seem to be in good health. I could lose a few pounds maybe but, yeah, my health is good. My cancer is gone. Hopefully, it will stay that way. You went through a scare with prostate cancer in 2016. And I had a reoccurrence last year, so I dealt with that. Did you have chemo or some kind of treatment again? It wasn’t chemo. But whatever the treatments were, I went through exactly what the doctor recommended and came out with a good result, so I’m happy about it. How did that impact you? Last spring it impacted me in terms of my schedule a little bit. But I would encourage all men to stay on top of their PSA. Get it checked frequently, and if you have any issues, deal with them sooner rather than later. Have you changed your diet or routine in any way? Yeah, there are some things I do now that I didn’t before. There’s a lot of issues in terms of what’s the cause of prostate cancer, and nobody is exactly sure. But I know it’s early detection cancer that you can deal with and get good outcomes from. Sometimes people go through a health situation and it causes them to step back and reflect. Did that happen to you? As you get older, I think you quite normally go through that. Probably dealing with that illness, it focused me a little bit more. I try to make every day an important day, every day a valuable day, every day a day with blessings, a productive day for myself, my family, businesses, people I care about. Your father passed away at a young age, correct? Yes, 44 (of a heart attack). I was 14. It was tough on me, my brother, Michael, and my mother, obviously, who was only 37 at the time. Staying on a personal level, in January it was reported that you and your wife, Angela, were divorcing. But you’ve also been seen together recently. Did something change? Obviously, we decided we shouldn’t be married, but we definitely should spend time together. I enjoy being with her; she enjoys being with me. I love her; she loves me. We enjoy social time. We also enjoy shared work in terms of our foundation and things she’s heavily involved in, including the transition of the military back home. Is that unusual that a couple would get divorced but still enjoy that kind of relationship? It’s a little unusual, but we get along really well, and we have shared interests. When you blend a family, it’s not always easy. But she has great kids. I love her kids, she loves my kids, and we spend time together. It’s all very public. And I have a great relationship with (second wife) Stephanie. We’re doing an event here for the Boys & Girls Club. She’s happily married, but we spend time together with our three children and in a variety of ways. Divorce is not death. People who are divorced still can have healthy, productive relationships — caring, loving relationships — at least around the things they still share together. At the risk of stereotyping, it’s not uncommon for highly driven, successful people to struggle in their personal lives. Is it fair to say this is an area in which you have struggled? I think that is a stereotype. I think we also see a lot of people who don’t come from a lot of wealth, and they come from broken homes. So I don’t think it has anything to do with being successful. Divorce is caused by many factors. When you get married, you always hope you’re going to be married forever. That certainly was true with my first wife, Diana, and I. But I’d rather celebrate the fact that I have great relationships with all three of them. I celebrate my life with them and my children with them. I’m not going to focus on those things which took place in my life that weren’t exactly what I wanted. I learned from them, I’ve moved on and I’m focused on today and tomorrow. On another subject, you bought a $180 million yacht. Did I get the price right? No, but that’s OK. It’s not important. Was this a bucket list item? Not really. I spent 30 years enjoying (late former Atlanta developer) John Williams’ boats. He was a close friend, almost a brother to me. Every year we would sail with him; he would give us a boat to use for the weekend, and we did. I always loved spending time on the water and spending time with the family in that setting. John and I started to do this together, and then, sadly, he got sick and passed away a year and a half ago. John’s memory is with me on the boat. It’s called “Dream Boat.” We had 17 family members all throw names into a bucket, and it turned out to be a really good name because it’s that kind of experience. Were you recently on a long trip? I was gone for two weeks. We were in Italy mostly, the Amalfi Coast. Just being away, being on the water. Part of nature that you’re connected to. Being on the water is almost a spiritual experience for me. The family loves it, and I love doing things with them. ****content omitted***** Since you moved into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, some fans have taken exception to your PSL policy and not selling single-game tickets. Do you believe the policy is in conflict with your fan-first philosophy? It’s not really in conflict with it. There hasn’t been a stadium built in a long time that doesn’t have PSLs, and a third to half the clubs in the NFL have PSLs. It gives season-ticket holders certain rights. We look at the value of the ticket and the value of the PSL together and make sure that the experience is going to be affordable for our fans. Whatever we feel, we feel, but fans across the NFL and Major League Soccer voted us No. 1 in fan experience. To be clear, the issue isn’t about having PSLs. It’s about having a stadium with 100 percent PSLs and not holding back any single-game tickets for a general sale, even a small block. You don’t see a need for that? No. There are no plans to ever? I wouldn’t say ever to anything. We have to look at what’s the right model based on where our fans are and what we’re hearing from them. We’re always open to changes and being responsive to what fans are telling us. (Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Tim Tucker recently reported the Falcons have approximately 1,500 unsold tickets, ranging in price from $750 to $5,000 for the season, including PSL cost. The team will continue its policy of selling those tickets only to groups of 10 or more.) Everybody seems to hate four or five preseason games. Should that change? Not everybody hates them. Players who are trying to make teams don’t hate them. There are coaches who don’t hate them because they need to evaluate them. But do there need to be four? No. It’s too many. Is the only trade-off for owners a long regular season? Whatever the CBA negotiations lead to, whether it’s an expanded season or expanded playoffs, I’ve said this publicly: An equal amount of weight has to be given to player safety, first and foremost. It can’t be a dilution of that commitment. But how the (preseason) is traded off for other opportunities, there’s certainly some flexibility in that area. How much longer will Arthur Blank be a sports owner? Hopefully a long time. My hope and aspiration is to keep these great teams in the hands of family — I can’t say forever, but for the foreseeable future. I love doing what I’m doing, and I love competing for our fans.
  19. https://theathletic.com/1142708/2019/08/16/schultz-vic-beasley-on-expectations-disappointment-and-those-who-question-his-desire/ This was another one of those NFL-sanctioned scrimmages. The players who really matter don’t play, or don’t play much, and just want to get out without so much as a hangnail. The Falcons’ first home exhibition against the New York Jets on Thursday night aroused so little interest in Atlanta that one could buy a ticket on StubHub for $7.86 an hour before kickoff, or you could just stand outside and wait for someone to hand you 10 or 12 for free. But it wasn’t a completely meaningless night for Vic Beasley. He was a sack machine and an All-Pro in 2016, the Falcons’ season of near glory. He’s likely at the end of his lifeline in Atlanta. Another mediocre season and the Falcons won’t want him back. A good season and another team is likely to offer more than Atlanta is willing to pay. So 2019 is really about two things: whether he can contribute anything in a pivotal season for this franchise and whether he has a future anywhere. There was a flash of the old Beasley in Thursday’s scrimmage, late in the first quarter. Working in the Falcons’ nickel package on third-and-4, he got a nice jump off the line to force Jets rookie tackle Chuma Edoga into a frantic backpedal, then overpowered him and fought off a block to sack quarterback Sam Darnold and force a punt. “That was the counter,” Beasley said later. “Coach Dan Quinn has worked with us a lot on having the fastball and then throwing a curveball. It’s like being a pitcher, switching it up now and then.” There was another third-down play early in the second quarter when Beasley and Takk McKinley came hard off the edge to pressure Darnold to throw earlier than he wanted. Grady Jarrett, Beasley’s former Clemson teammate, said of Beasley, “It was good to see him get a sack, and we expect a lot more. It’s important for everybody up front to work together and to show up so we can have a successful unit.” Beasley hasn’t always shown up. He’s not a malcontent or a malingerer or a disruption in the locker room. He just hasn’t done nearly enough to match his talent level or expectations, and by own admission. He isn’t oblivious to the criticism. He actually handles it quite well and is willing to stand in front of his locker and respond to difficult questions, putting him ahead of others on the team. The problem is that for three of his four NFL seasons, there have been reasons the questions are asked. Here’s an interesting exchange I had with Beasley after Thursday’s exhibition, in which he conceded he has disappointed even himself and responded to those who question his passion for football. Do you feel after such high expectations and two bad seasons that you need to prove yourself? I have expectations for myself, and I want to be that player. What are those expectations? To be a dominant player in this league. I know my capabilities. I know what I expect out of myself. I know what it takes to be a dominant player. You’ve seen me be a dominant player. There are always contributing factors not in your control. But what’s the level of frustration for an athlete who achieved at such a high level at Clemson and then in 2016 to drop off like you have the last two years? I’m disappointed in my statistics. But despite injuries, despite whatever else happened on the team, there’s still another level I can go to. Did you wonder if the Falcons would bring you back this season? I just left that in God’s hands. I’m sure you did. But were you concerned that your time here was over? I put it in His hands, and then ultimately Q (Dan Quinn) and Thomas (Dimitroff) made the decision. What were your conversations with Quinn like? I told Q I wanted to be consistent. He understood. My word for this year is consistency. So you can put that down. Do you have a number of sacks you wrote down? No. I’ve done that before. My first year coming into the league with the hype, I didn’t live up to that and didn’t get double-digit sacks like I wanted. So lesson learned. So for me, my goal now is just to be consistent each and every year. This may sound like a strange question, but do you still love football? What? Whenever a player’s performance drops off, there are questions about why it’s happening. I’m just being straight with you: There are people who’ve asked me and wondered whether you just don’t love football that much anymore. So I’m asking: Do you love what you do? Do you love what you do? Some days. It’s the same for me. Some days you love it. Some days it gets redundant. But I’m 60. I have an excuse. I have a gift from God. So why not give it my best. And I’ve got great coaches around me and guys who are pushing me. I need these folks. They challenge me. Everybody needs somebody to challenge you. On the field and off the field. Given the circumstances, I felt I had to ask that. We live in a world where there are assumptions. Everybody has their thoughts. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion in a day. That’s the world we live in. And? Yes, I enjoy the game. Full disclosure: I did not expect Beasley would be back after he dropped from 15.5 sacks in 2016 to five each of the past two years. He looked more like a situational pass-rusher, not the game-changer most expected when the Falcons drafted him eighth overall in 2015 and certainly not one worth a $12.81 million salary. Paying that fifth-year option meant the Falcons would be limited in what they could do financially in free agency. The public narrative was that Quinn, who was returning to defensive coordinator duties and excelled as a D-line coach, believed he could get more out of Beasley. Maybe. But even Quinn doesn’t really know that. It’s believed a major contributing reason Beasley was brought back was to keep the peace. He’s represented by the same agency (CAA) that reps Jarrett and Julio Jones, both of whom were headed for major offseason negotiations (Jarrett has been signed; Jones remains in talks). In the NFL, it’s the way business is done. Quinn’s own future is linked, in part, to Beasley because an improved pass rush is a mandate for the Falcons. So Quinn has spent extra time with Beasley. “Most pass-rushers, you better have the other counter punch to that, which is all of your power to go after the tackle,” Quinn said. “This year, he’s done a better job of mixing those two up. You can’t just continue to float.” No, there has been enough of that.
  20. https://theathletic.com/1092372/2019/07/23/schultz-matt-ryan-knows-falcons-season-not-just-about-injuries-its-about-response/ Once you get past debates about the offensive line, the seeming disconnect between Vic Beasley’s skill set and pulse rate and Dan Quinn’s borderline tone-deaf decision to bring an excommunicated former college coach (D.J. Durkin) to training camp, the story about the 2019 Falcons more than likely will hinge on two things: (1) injuries; (2) their ability to avoid turning to mush again when they hit. It was ugly last season. Injuries plowed the middle of the defense and doubled-over the running game. But what became painfully obvious and smothered playoff hopes was the remaining roster’s lack of leadership. The locker room was brood-heavy and resolve-light. “There was a void that took place at times when the common voices left,” Quinn said, acknowledging the lack of leadership. Quinn wasn’t alone with a close-up view. Matt Ryan saw it, too. He’s the Falcons’ acknowledged leader. He’s 34 years old and going on his 12th season with four Pro Bowls, All-Pro honors and an MVP on his résumé. He has experienced both ends of the spectrum in Atlanta, from six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl to the 10-22 record at the end of Mike Smith’s tenure. The Falcons started 1-4 last season and continued their spiral in November and December before bottoming out at 4-9. The losses of Deion Jones, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Devonta Freeman and others figured heavily. “It’s tough to overcome that, and we probably didn’t do as good a job as we could have,” Ryan said. He meant in how things were handled individually. As a leader, he denied feeling helpless about the situation, saying: “You control what you can control as a teammate. Even when you come out of one of those games where we scored a lot of points but lost, I looked at it as, ‘We had more opportunities. We should’ve scored more.’ You have to take responsibility for your role in it.” Quinn, whose defense lost two depth players (J.J. Wilcox and Michael Bennett) on the first day of training camp, didn’t manage lineup changes as well as he could have last season. He “second-guesses” himself for some. “When injuries happen, you have a tendency to say you’ll work through it with on-the-job training,” he said. “In some instances, that (worked), and in some, it didn’t.” Ryan also might handle things better in the future. Nobody logically can blame him for last year’s 7-9 finish. He finished with the second-highest completion percentage (69.4) and efficiency rating (108.1) of his career, as well as the lowest interception percentage (1.2). Despite criticisms of the offense, he threw for only three fewer touchdowns (35) in 2018 than in his MVP/Super Bowl season (2016). But he said in every season, he is becoming more attuned to the players in the room and the huddle. “It’s an ongoing process of 12 years trying to figure out how to be the best leader you can be,” he said. “The one thing I’ve learned more than anything is you constantly have to evolve. You have to be aware of your teammates and what they may need from you. It’s different every year. You have to be flexible. You have to listen more than you speak.” So what did he learn last season? “This league is about taking advantage of every opportunity that you’re given,” he said. “You can’t miss. We have to have that mindset in a game. When we’re given a chance in a game, we have to capitalize. We’ve got to put games away. It’s a lesson I learned other years, but it was reinforced last year.” A good leader deflects blame away from others — in this case, a defense that ranked 28th in yardage, 30th in percentage of drives that ended in points and 25th in scoring and takeaways. But the offense wasn’t blameless, partly because of inferior offensive line play and Freeman’s absence. The team held fourth-quarter leads in four losses: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Dallas. The offense died in the red zone against the Eagles, had the ball last in regulation in an overtime loss to the Saints, managed only two touchdowns in 10 possessions against the woeful Bengals and kicked four field goals against the Cowboys. The Falcons have Super Bowl potential. They also have 7-9 potential. Ryan’s view: “I’ve learned along the way that expectations don’t mean a thing if you don’t put the work in and focus on the small things along the way. That’s a skill that you learn — and you learn from not doing it correctly. You learn from screwing up, and I’ve screwed up plenty of times with where my concentration and focus was. As a veteran and as a leader, that’s what you try to pass along to the younger guys: ‘Don’t make the same mistakes I did.'” They all can learn from last season.
  21. https://theathletic.com/1012787/2019/06/05/schultz-dan-quinn-says-roster-wasnt-only-problem-defensive-scheme-needed-fixing/ To understand how close defensive line play is to Dan Quinn’s heart and mindset as a coach, it’s important to know his background. He played on the line and briefly at linebacker in high school and college. He endured spinal stenosis, feeling pain with every collision. He worked in the weight room to increase strength in his neck and traps and believed he was in a good place physically, only to return to the field and suffer a torn ACL. “There was a three-year window there, starting as a high school senior, when I couldn’t play much,” Quinn said. “There’s a physical toughness but also a mental toughness that goes with playing on the line. The mental toughness is what gets you back off the ground.” With that as a backdrop, imagine Quinn’s reaction when he watched tape from the Falcons’ 2018 season. Quinn and his assistants watched every play from every game in game order. “I wanted everybody’s eyes on every part of the system — offense, defense, special teams,” he said. The reviews of defensive line play were predictably dreadful. “The people who played the best were Grady (Jarrett) and Jack (Crawford),” Quinn said. “In the interior, I was impressed by their ability to hit it on the move, and both from the pass rush standpoint were active. They met the standard of what I was hoping for.” Pause. “Past that, I didn’t think we met the standard.” So that’s two out of … “Eight.” That’s bad. “That’s really bad.” Reaffirming what should have been obvious: You didn’t learn anything about the Falcons’ defense in 2018 that Quinn didn’t already know himself from watching games, practice and tape. They were slugs on the field and statistically: 25th in scoring, 25th against the run, 27th against the pass, 22nd in sacks, 30th in pressure rate — 191 pressures on 644 dropbacks (29.7 percent), via the Buffalo News and Pro Football Focus — 30th in forced fumbles (eight) and 31st in fumble recoveries (four). That’s equal parts ability, direction and, yes, play-in-and-play-out effort. Quinn saw a combination of inconsistent and/or inadequate performances from players and a lack of players working together. He also saw scheme problems. He personally looked at “6,000 plays” from his defense during the past five years: 2013 and 2014 in Seattle and 2016 through 2018 in Atlanta. The plays were categorized by level of effectiveness. The Falcons head coach took note of how opponents’ pass routes that weren’t used too often three to five years ago were more frequent in the past two seasons. Obvious conclusion: Something had to change besides the players. “I thought now is the time to do some tweaking,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the pressure package that we’ve had the last couple of years, due to some of the things that offenses were doing. That’s why I decided to make the changes I did. Let’s call them wrinkles — some tweaking to some concepts.” He understandably doesn’t want to give much away, and little will be shown in the preseason. But Quinn said, “You could say (there will be) some pressure packages in new areas and different coverage techniques. It’s been an invigorating time for me, and it’s been good for the players.” About the players: One can understand why Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff considered fixing the offensive line slightly more urgent than the defensive line, leading them to spend two first-round picks on a guard (Chris Lindstrom) and a tackle (Kaleb McGary). But the offseason changes on the defensive line have been significantly lower-profile. Defensive end John Cominsky was drafted in the fourth round. Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, a run defender, was added in free agency. Adrian Clayborn (edge rusher) and Ra’Shede Hageman were brought back. Steven Means, whose late-season play for the injured Derrick Shelby also was praised by Quinn, also would have had a role if not for a torn Achilles. But is that going to be enough? The salary-cap-strapped Falcons could only watch when two NFC South Division rivals signed significant defensive linemen to relatively modest contracts in free agency: Tampa Bay landed Ndamukong Suh, while Carolina added Gerald McCoy. Meanwhile, the polarizing Vic Beasley was brought back for another season, and Takk McKinley has yet to play up to the expectations of being a first-round pick. Beasley, McKinley and Clayborn will be largely responsible for pass pressure. Quinn said he would’ve preferred that Beasley did not skip the voluntary OTAs, especially given Quinn has been implementing scheme changes. “It’s one thing to learn it in the classroom; it’s another to do it on the field,” he said. But Quinn doesn’t seem overly concerned about the situation. He told The Athletic that Beasley and wide receiver Julio Jones will be at the mandatory minicamp next week. But he isn’t as certain about Jarrett, who signed his franchise tag but remains in the middle of contract negotiations: “I don’t know that yet. I anticipate he will. He hasn’t told me he’s not.” Quinn and Jarrett remain close. Contract talks have not impacted their relationship. “Thomas and the guys do the business side, I do the coaching side,” Quinn said. “Sometimes they intersect. But Grady wanted, and I told him even last year I wanted, our connection to be about football. So let’s leave (business) out of it. That way we can talk about football and the team and not feel guarded by it.” There’s a boatload of “ifs” that can swing the Falcons’ season. Many are on the line. Beasley. McKinley. Edge-rushing depth. Run defense. Scheme change. Some feel unease. Quinn? “It will be the power of the group that will make it better,” he said. “It’s such an important connection — one guy goes high and another doesn’t. I am fully confident that kind of connection can happen, where we’re not independent contractors. With the additions and the improvement of the others, we’ll make a jump.”
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