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Off­season report card: Atlanta Falcons

by Doug Farrar Posted: Tue Jul. 7, 2015

http://www.si.com/nfl/2015/07/07/atlanta-falcons-offseason-report-card

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In the five seasons from 2008 through 2012, the Falcons won 56 regularseason games, head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were praised as franchise saviors and quarterback Matt Ryan was seen as a legitimate franchise shot­caller. Life was good for the team, though it could never quite get over the hump and into the Super Bowl. The Falcons came within four points against San Francisco in the 2012 NFC championship game, and that's the closest the current iteration of the team came before things quickly fell apart. Between injuries, questionable draft picks and free agency moves and plain old bad luck, the Falcons won just 10 total games in 2013 and 2014. An offense that was one of the NFL's best in previous years disintegrated, and a defense good enough to hold things together became a true liability.

The 2014 Falcons won just six games, scoring 381 points to their 417 allowed. That minus­36 point differential was better than the minus ­90 differential the year before (worst since a minus ­155 differential in 2007, the year of Bobby Petrino), but not good enough to save Smith's job or keep Dimitroff from being put on notice. Smith was fired in December of 2014, after the former defensive coach saw his team lose 34–3 to the Panthers in the season finale.

Owner Arthur Blank held off from giving Dimitroff a ringing endorsement for his professional future, and assistant general manager Scott Pioli was given additional college scouting and draft responsibilities going forward. Those who remember Pioli's tenure in Kansas City more than his time with Bill Belichick in New England might view that move with some pause, and rightly so. "After reviewing all of our options, internally and externally, I have no reservations that this is the best approach to setting up our player personnel groups for future success," Blank said in a statement in early. "It maximizes the talents of Scott, allows for more time and focus on all areas of our football operations groups managed by Thomas, and is in line with other player personnel groups in the league." Dimitroff simply said that he knew he'd made mistakes, and that he knew he'd be scrutinized for them. That said, there was still a head coach to hire.

The Falcons did what the Jaguars did two years before: tabbed the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. They hired Dan Quinn in early February, hoping that Quinn's defensive genius and global view of the game can pay immediate dividends. Quinn was given tie­breaking control of the roster, and as he said at the 2015 scouting combine, his time in Seattle informed how much control a coach should have in the ideal situation. "It was a big factor," Quinn remarked about his relationship with Dimitroff. "I saw how closely connected that John [schneider] and Pete [Carroll] are. So, I thought if I had the opportunity that I could have a partnership with the guy that I wanted to be aligned with in all of the personnel decisions and do it together. When Thomas and I first met, it was one of those times when you met somebody and you thought, this could work. This is what I’m looking for. Now that we’ve started over the last few weeks, we’ve been in lock­step together. The line between his office and mine, the carpet has been worn out for sure." • .

The Falcons spent the off­season releasing offensive tackle Sam Baker, guard Justin Blalock, pass­rusher Jonathan Massaquoi and linebacker Prince Shembo. They agreed to go on without linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters. Receiver Harry Douglas was shown the door. Then, it was time to rebuild. The position of pass­rusher, long a bugaboo for Dimitroff, was ostensibly filled in free agency by Brooks Reed, O'Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn. Receiver Leonard Hankerson and tight ends Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki might be able to help the passing game, and Justin Durant should be able to help a thin linebacker corps.

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Then, it was time for the draft, which has become a mildly scary thing for Falcons fans in recent years. On paper, at least, the new Quinn/Dimitroff/Pioli triumvirate hit it out of the park. Atlanta selected Clemson pass­rusher Vic Beasley with the eighth overall pick, and Beasley has the explosiveness to excel in Quinn's scheme. LSU cornerback Jalen Collins, taken in the second round, could provide an outstanding bookend for Desmond Trufant. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman and East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy will add to the offense, and fifth­ round tackle Grady Jarrett looks to be one of the steals of the draft. It all looks better on paper, but Falcons fans have heard that before. Now, it needs to transfer to the field for the first time in three seasons.

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Grade: B

Best acquisition: Justin Durant, LB

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During his years with the Jaguars, Lions and Cowboys, Durant proved good enough to play each of the three linebacker positions in a 4­3 defense, and athletic enough to play nickel defense from sideline to sideline. Unfortunately, he's missed a total of 16 games in the last two seasons, including 10 games in 2014 with a torn bicep, but when he's healthy, Durant is a perfect addition to a Quinn­led defense that demands that its linebackers fly around the field with abandon. Durant amassed 49 tackles in just six games before last year's injury, and if he can keep that pace all the way through the 2015 season, he'll make his three­year, $10.8 million contract look like a relative bargain.

Biggest loss: Corey Peters, DT

Peters got a three­year, $10.5 million contract to play for the Cardinals in the off­season, which was a shame for Quinn, as Peters would have been an ideal undertackle in Quinn's fronts. Last season, Peters amassed two sacks, four quarterback hits and 15 hurries to go along with his 26 total tackles and 17 stops. Peters was even more effective in 2013, when the defense around him wasn't one of the worst in the league, and he'll be a key cog in Arizona's defensive fronts.

Underrated draft pick: Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson (137th overall pick)

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Though Jarrett was a highly productive player on the NCAA's best defense in 2014, his size, or lack thereof, must have dropped him on a lot of draft boards, because his game tape shows a player who displays a lot of first­round talent at times. When I watched the 6'1'', 304­pound Jarrett, I saw a player with tremendous explosiveness and determination, and thought the recent success of Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald would break the bias against tackles with less size than the ideal prototype. In any case, the Falcons have a great player here, and at quite a bargain— Jarrett's fifth­round deal will pay him $2.527 million over the next four years. Then again, Jarrett is the son of Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle, an undrafted player who starred for the team from 1987 through 2000, so maybe this was where Jarrett was supposed to be all along. "I'm just happy to be here in Atlanta," Jarrett said in May. "The draft is just a thing of the past. You can only control what you control. What I control is what I do out here and I’m just trying to be a better player and help this team win."

Looming question for training camp: Can Dan Quinn turn this defense around?

One of the primary reasons the Falcons hired Quinn to be their head coach is that he's a very creative thinker on defense. He's great at taking players at certain positions and helping them excel at others, and his players will tell you that few coaches have a better ability to get them to buy in. Now, Quinn's challenge is to take the defense that finished last in yards allowed, and 27th in points allowed, and 22 sacks, tied for second worst in the league, and turn it into something resembling what he had in Seattle. Not an easy task, but the ever ­optimistic Quinn is certainly up for the task. "It’s how well can you teach the guys to feature them and put them in the very best spot for them. That’s what the process is right now, to teach these guys ... It’s not really what we play, but how we play. The attitude and the style. That’s one of the things I can’t wait to connect with these guys." There's a lot of connecting to be done, and that's where Quinn will ultimately succeed or fail.

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I wonder why DQ was okay with that. Seems strange...

I always liked Corey Peters. Really solid player.

Me too. One of the rare few I liked on our D, actually. And like Farrar says, Peters would be an excellent fit in Quinn's style of defense.

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I wonder why DQ was okay with that. Seems strange...

I always liked Corey Peters. Really solid player.

Going from a 3-4 (sort of) to a 4-3 we already had a logjam of DTs, so I think it was money issue because we couldn't get rid of Jackson or Soliai. Also, I think in the end, we will be better off in the long run with Jarrett than Peters.

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Going from a 3-4 (sort of) to a 4-3 we already had a logjam of DTs, so I think it was money issue because we couldn't get rid of Jackson or Soliai. Also, I think in the end, we will be better off in the long run with Jarrett than Peters.

I trust Quinn, but I woulda got rid of Jackson. Never liked that signing from day 1. Peters is younger, better player and fit, and cheaper.

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The phrase "if they work out" should be eliminated from every offseason grade because it's true for every single team. If your team had the best offseason in the history of offseasons, but then all those players got hurt or were draft busts, then it would dramatically change how your offseason went.

All I can say is that I don't feel like the team has improved in an offseason more than this one in recent years.


I trust Quinn, but I woulda got rid of Jackson. Never liked that signing from day 1. Peters is younger, better player and fit, and cheaper.

But they play different positions don't they?

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Going from a 3-4 (sort of) to a 4-3 we already had a logjam of DTs, so I think it was money issue because we couldn't get rid of Jackson or Soliai. Also, I think in the end, we will be better off in the long run with Jarrett than Peters.

I agree. The need to sign LBs and a 4-3 DE in free agency - coupled with having two high-priced D-Tackles in free agency last year (Soliai/Jackson) probably precipitated letting Corey Peters walk.

good or bad (maybe bad) - that is likely what happened.

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But they play different positions don't they?

I think so, who the heck knows? Quinn's got former safety (Dez) playing CB and former CB (Allen) playing safety...... smile.png

But seriously, they are all gonna rotate around and Peters IMO would have been a better long-term fit for us. But as I alluded, I'm admittedly biased

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I think so, who the heck knows? Quinn's got former safety (Dez) playing CB and former CB (Allen) playing safety...... smile.png

But seriously, they are all gonna rotate around and Peters IMO would have been a better long-term fit for us. But as I alluded, I'm admittedly biased

I think Quinn has two former DB's finally playing in positions that accentuate their strengths. Plus Dez could be a cut canidate if he gets outplayed in camp and preseason.

I mourned the loss of Peters but drafting Jarrett and Beasly, then getting Clayborn and Schofield in FA made me forget all about it.

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I think Quinn has two former DB's finally playing in positions that accentuate their strengths. Plus Dez could be a cut canidate if he gets outplayed in camp and preseason.

I mourned the loss of Peters but drafting Jarrett and Beasly, then getting Clayborn and Schofield in FA made me forget all about it.

Good points.

I don't see Dez as anything more than a special teams guy. Jury is out on Allen too, but I like the out-of-box thinking on both players.

Jarrett definitely lessens the loss for me on Peters...

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Good points.

I don't see Dez as anything more than a special teams guy. Jury is out on Allen too, but I like the out-of-box thinking on both players.

Jarrett definitely lessens the loss for me on Peters...

He may do really well on special teams. If he's fast and can hit he'd be a great gunner. Weems, Stupar, and Dez could make us really good on ST. We already have the kicker and the punter.

I think we are about to field the best defensive front 7 we have in a long, long time. Not saying it's going to be better than the rest of the league, just saying it's going to be much much better than what we are used to.

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I think if we had re-signed Peters that Grady Jarrett may not have gotten picked by us...

agreed. there would have been no room for Grady - unless we cut loose Soliai or Jackson - which would not be altogether terrible except for the cap hit.

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