Goober Pyle

It’s ‘bittersweet’: In another win, Falcons look like team envisioned before the season

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https://theathletic.com/1386135/2019/11/17/its-bittersweet-in-another-win-falcons-look-like-team-envisioned-before-the-season/

 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two weeks ago, Dan Quinn said he told his team to treat the final eight games like a new season. The first one essentially went up in flames, with the Falcons stumbling to a 1-7 record. With a bye falling right in the middle of the season, the idea was to hit a proverbial reset button. The players were asked to forget about the horrendous start and to treat the final eight games like a new year.

Sure, it’s coachspeak to tell 63 players — including the practice squad — to start anew and forget what previously transpired. But with seven losses, what else was there for the Falcons to do? They bought in, started over and got back to work.

And during the past two games, with Atlanta’s 29-3 blowout over the Carolina Panthers being the latest example, the Falcons have suddenly started playing their best football. The defense, in particular, has startled the rest of the league by looking like it is among the league’s best units during these past two weeks.

The defense’s trajectory actually began to change in the second half of Atlanta’s 27-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, which came right before the bye week. Trailing 24-0 at the half, the defense held the Seahawks to only one field goal during the final two quarters. In a win over the New Orleans Saints, the defense gave up only three field goals. Through four quarters against the Panthers, only one field goal hit the scoreboard.

In total, Atlanta has allowed only 15 points and zero touchdowns during the past 10 quarters. That alone has the feeling of Atlanta playing like it’s a brand new team.

“A lot of times you grow weary trying to do the right thing when it isn’t working for you,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “But I feel we kept believing, kept the faith, and it’s working for us.”

Beasley recorded one of Atlanta’s five sacks Sunday, bringing his total for the season to four. He has recorded 2.5 sacks the past two weeks, with the team as a whole notching 11 sacks during this span. Including those final two quarters against Seattle, that’s 13 sacks in 10 quarters. Asked about the sudden uptick in sacks, considering Atlanta only had seven entering last week, Quinn showed off his humorous side.

“More cowbell,” he said, referencing the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Quinn, whose hot seat has started to cool a bit, was clearly in a much better mood after a second consecutive victory. He also didn’t want to make too big of a deal about these two wins. After all, Atlanta is still 3-7.

Much has been made when trying to figure out why Atlanta was struggling so much defensively. Here’s a team that isn’t devoid of talent on the roster. Many of the defense’s key players were on the 2016 team that nearly won Super Bowl LI. Therefore, it hasn’t made much sense as to why the roster performed the way it did the first eight games.

As the Falcons have gained some confidence the past two weeks out of the bye, it does appear this is a defense that has completely changed its thinking.

Ricardo Allen, speaking for himself, said there were times when he would try to make a big play instead of doing his job. Perhaps this could apply to some of his teammates, too. Allen referenced a deep post he surrendered against the Arizona Cardinals, in what ended up being a 34-33 defeat. Allen said he covered the play with the intent of trying to pick off the pass instead of sticking to his assignment.

Allen isn’t the only culprit of committing plays like that. For weeks, it seemed defenders were routinely out of position, with no one taking the extra necessary step to communicate a call. Offenses, in turn, made Atlanta pay.

This seemed to stop in the third quarter against Seattle. At halftime of that game, Allen said that the defensive leaders spoke up in the locker room.

“They jumped up on us early,” Allen said. “But we got into the locker room (at halftime), as a defense we were like, ‘Enough is enough.’ Everybody was like, ‘Let’s do our job. Let’s not all try to be playmakers. Let’s do our job and see what happens with that.’”

Since then, and with the benefit of a bye week to regroup and reset, this has been a more disciplined and fundamentally sound defense. The Falcons made Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen’s outing nightmarish. In addition to the five sacks, he took an additional five quarterback hits. He threw four interceptions, with Ricardo Allen, Desmond Trufant, De’Vondre Campbell and Damontae Kazee all recording a pick. Atlanta entered the day with only two interceptions for the year. It now has six.

The only offense Carolina could muster was getting the ball to all-world running back Christian McCaffrey, who totaled 121 receiving yards and 70 rushing yards. But those empty yards came in catch-up mode. From the beginning of the game, Atlanta had Carolina chasing from behind.

“We’re doing it at all levels,” Trufant said. “The D-line’s rushing, the linebackers are hitting and covering. And the back end, we’re covering and tackling in space. We’re just doing what we practice. What the game plan is, we’re executing. We’re playing with energy, we’re having fun. It’s starting to come together for us.”

It was one thing for the Falcons to defeat the Saints in a big rivalry game, which could be seen as a one-off moment. To replicate the performance a week later suggests that perhaps this team has turned a corner defensively.

“We started slow. We weren’t executing like we are now,” Beasley said. “That’s really what it is. It comes down to execution each and every week. Last week, people probably thought it was a fluke. But we bought into the process, worked hard the next week and we came out here and performed well. We’ll go back and try to do the same thing against Tampa Bay.”

This recent turn of events doesn’t make it any less puzzling. If anything, it has a lot of people wondering how and why it took so long for the Falcons to play the way many expected them to before the 2019 season began.

Sure, moving Raheem Morris from coaching receivers to defensive backs turned out to be perhaps the best move Quinn could have possibly made. And allocating play-calling duties to Morris and Jeff Ulbrich has freed up Quinn to spend even more time with some of his other head coaching duties.

But it’s not like anything from a schematic perspective is different. It’s still the same defense. The calls, according to the players, haven’t changed. Atlanta is just a different team at this stage of the season. It no longer resembles the bad team that hit a six-game losing streak, which, barring a miracle, will be what keeps it from having a shot at a postseason berth.

“And that’s what makes it bittersweet, really,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “We’re finally playing the way we expected to play back in September. It’s not like we have new players or new plays. It’s the same thing. We’re calling the same thing back in Week 1.

“It’s just working.”

 

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19 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

Ricardo Allen, speaking for himself, said there were times when he would try to make a big play instead of doing his job. Perhaps this could apply to some of his teammates, too. Allen referenced a deep post he surrendered against the Arizona Cardinals, in what ended up being a 34-33 defeat. Allen said he covered the play with the intent of trying to pick off the pass instead of sticking to his assignment.

Allen isn’t the only culprit of committing plays like that. For weeks, it seemed defenders were routinely out of position, with no one taking the extra necessary step to communicate a call. Offenses, in turn, made Atlanta pay.

This seemed to stop in the third quarter against Seattle. At halftime of that game, Allen said that the defensive leaders spoke up in the locker room.

“They jumped up on us early,” Allen said. “But we got into the locker room (at halftime), as a defense we were like, ‘Enough is enough.’ Everybody was like, ‘Let’s do our job. Let’s not all try to be playmakers. Let’s do our job and see what happens with that.’”

THIS is exactly what I was talking about. It's exactly why I was putting so much blame on players and why I understood Quinn feeling perplexed. Guys were playing too much ******* hero ball and not trusting the guy next to them. They got away from that. They're doing their jobs and having fun doing it.

If you can read what guys are saying now compared to before and still claim the bad start was all "bad coaching," I don't think you're being honest with yourself. Just take a good hard look at what's been happening. Players are being more accountable and they're putting themselves where they need to be. Yes, Quinn handling DL/gameplan/execution is a shift from including playcalling, but he's doing that well. 

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23 minutes ago, Francis York Morgan said:

THIS is exactly what I was talking about. It's exactly why I was putting so much blame on players and why I understood Quinn feeling perplexed. Guys were playing too much ******* hero ball and not trusting the guy next to them. They got away from that. They're doing their jobs and having fun doing it.

If you can read what guys are saying now compared to before and still claim the bad start was all "bad coaching," I don't think you're being honest with yourself. Just take a good hard look at what's been happening. Players are being more accountable and they're putting themselves where they need to be. Yes, Quinn handling DL/gameplan/execution is a shift from including playcalling, but he's doing that well. 

Yep. Same. Everybody kept complaining but I kept saying most of these problems would exist with Belichick here. Guys blowing assignments and doing too much is on them. They suddenly aren't doing that, with some tweaks from Morris and Ulbrich, and they look like a totally different group. Prime example is Trufant getting embarrassed by AJ Brown for a massive TD vs this week DJ Moore burned him in a similar fashion but Tru ran him down and prevented a TD. That's all player execution. 

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3 minutes ago, vel said:

Yep. Same. Everybody kept complaining but I kept saying most of these problems would exist with Belichick here. Guys blowing assignments and doing too much is on them. They suddenly aren't doing that, with some tweaks from Morris and Ulbrich, and they look like a totally different group. Prime example is Trufant getting embarrassed by AJ Brown for a massive TD vs this week DJ Moore burned him in a similar fashion but Tru ran him down and prevented a TD. That's all player execution. 

The biggest player move was removing Kazee from the slot.  He was so terrible.  He isn’t nearly the FS that Rico is, but he isn’t a liability at FS like he was at nickel.  He is actually a plus player at FA.  And Sheffield is a huge upgrade over Kazee in the slot.  
 

And special shout out to Rico, who doesn’t have the build for it but is doing a great job in the box replacing Neal.

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14 minutes ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

The biggest player move was removing Kazee from the slot.  He was so terrible.  He isn’t nearly the FS that Rico is, but he isn’t a liability at FS like he was at nickel.  He is actually a plus player at FA.  And Sheffield is a huge upgrade over Kazee in the slot.  
 

And special shout out to Rico, who doesn’t have the build for it but is doing a great job in the box replacing Neal.

Sheffield has been the biggest boon on defense. He's been very good for a fourth round rookie. Because without him, the nickel spot would still be a liability. 

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1 hour ago, vel said:

Yep. Same. Everybody kept complaining but I kept saying most of these problems would exist with Belichick here. Guys blowing assignments and doing too much is on them. They suddenly aren't doing that, with some tweaks from Morris and Ulbrich, and they look like a totally different group. Prime example is Trufant getting embarrassed by AJ Brown for a massive TD vs this week DJ Moore burned him in a similar fashion but Tru ran him down and prevented a TD. That's all player execution. 

Not 100 percent sure this week was on Tru. Looked like he jumped it knowing he had Kazee over the top. Kazee didn’t keep good leverage on the play. But that’s the awesome thing about having Kazee back there. He provides a different presence, a ball hawking presence.  Bree’s may not have thrown one last week but he didn’t take a lot of chances either and I personally credit a lot do that to Kazee. 

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46 minutes ago, vel said:

Sheffield has been the biggest boon on defense. He's been very good for a fourth round rookie. Because without him, the nickel spot would still be a liability. 

Yeah, Wreh-Wilson is terrible.

Sheff has picked it up much quicker than anyone could have hoped. 

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Only the Falcons could crap the bed and pretty much be a lock to not make the playoffs by week 8 then turn it around and look like dominant world beaters with no chance for this years team to do anything outside the regular season.

Almost like a season long reverse 28-3

This franchise only exists to find new ways to piss off it's fan base.

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46 minutes ago, ParanoidAndroid said:

The season isn't a total loss if we sweep the Aints while hurting their playoff position. 

If they go and win the SB, it won’t matter anyway. 

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2 hours ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

The biggest player move was removing Kazee from the slot.  He was so terrible.  He isn’t nearly the FS that Rico is, but he isn’t a liability at FS like he was at nickel.  He is actually a plus player at FA.  And Sheffield is a huge upgrade over Kazee in the slot.  
 

And special shout out to Rico, who doesn’t have the build for it but is doing a great job in the box replacing Neal.

and putting Ishmael on the bench.

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3 hours ago, Francis York Morgan said:

THIS is exactly what I was talking about. It's exactly why I was putting so much blame on players and why I understood Quinn feeling perplexed. Guys were playing too much ******* hero ball and not trusting the guy next to them. They got away from that. They're doing their jobs and having fun doing it.

If you can read what guys are saying now compared to before and still claim the bad start was all "bad coaching," I don't think you're being honest with yourself. Just take a good hard look at what's been happening. Players are being more accountable and they're putting themselves where they need to be. Yes, Quinn handling DL/gameplan/execution is a shift from including playcalling, but he's doing that well. 

Go back and re-read all the quotes from players during the 1-7 streak.  It's no different.  They were saying the same things.  Except with the added "we had a great week of practice" and "I don't know what the problem is".

2 games and some of you are willing to overlook the past 4.5 years is crazy to me.

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2 hours ago, athell said:

Go back and re-read all the quotes from players during the 1-7 streak.  It's no different.  They were saying the same things.  Except with the added "we had a great week of practice" and "I don't know what the problem is".

2 games and some of you are willing to overlook the past 4.5 years is crazy to me.

Overlook the past 4.5 years? As in the most competitive the Falcons have ever been in the playoffs? As in the era of the most dangerous Falcons teams we've realistically ever had?

And part of my point is that they're saying similar things. Rico used to say people need to do their jobs, now he's saying they are. There were ton of plays where our guys should be in the right positions to make plays and they weren't because they tried to play hero ball. Do your jobs and the plays happen. It's when you try to do too much that the first half of this season happens.

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5 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

But it’s not like anything from a schematic perspective is different. It’s still the same defense. The calls, according to the players, haven’t changed. Atlanta is just a different team at this stage of the season. It no longer resembles the bad team that hit a six-game losing streak, which, barring a miracle, will be what keeps it from having a shot at a postseason berth.

 

WTF did I just read? We are pretty much eliminated. 

636173205022185586-jim-mora-playoffs-cop

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3 minutes ago, Francis York Morgan said:

Overlook the past 4.5 years? As in the most competitive the Falcons have ever been in the playoffs? As in the era of the most dangerous Falcons teams we've realistically ever had?

And part of my point is that they're saying similar things. Rico used to say people need to do their jobs, now he's saying they are. There were ton of plays where our guys should be in the right positions to make plays and they weren't because they tried to play hero ball. Do your jobs and the plays happen. It's when you try to do too much that the first half of this season happens.

Let me ask you...was that because of Quinn or in spite of Quinn?  Granted, the defense looked much better after the bye in '16, and the playoffs and I will give him the nod for that...but overall that team won because of our offense and raw talent.  Over time, Shanny left, and raw talent...for whatever reason...stopped buying in or was not put in the position to succeed or whatever, but we are talking about a coach who is 4 games over .500 for his career here and has never cracked the top 21 in terms of defensive dvoa.  What is he now, 1-13 against the AFC?  1-16?  I don't even know, something horrific.

I see your point, I really do...I was defending Quinn years ago, but he just hasn't delivered on his promise which is 1) a dominant defense and 2) consistency.  If anything he has gone the other way and it took his assistants to correct his role in order for this team and defense to succeed.

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3 hours ago, Falcanuck said:

If they go and win the SB, it won’t matter anyway. 

That cant happen cause we won't be in the playoffs

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30 minutes ago, athell said:

Let me ask you...was that because of Quinn or in spite of Quinn?  Granted, the defense looked much better after the bye in '16, and the playoffs and I will give him the nod for that...but overall that team won because of our offense and raw talent.  Over time, Shanny left, and raw talent...for whatever reason...stopped buying in or was not put in the position to succeed or whatever, but we are talking about a coach who is 4 games over .500 for his career here and has never cracked the top 21 in terms of defensive dvoa.  What is he now, 1-13 against the AFC?  1-16?  I don't even know, something horrific.

I see your point, I really do...I was defending Quinn years ago, but he just hasn't delivered on his promise which is 1) a dominant defense and 2) consistency.  If anything he has gone the other way and it took his assistants to correct his role in order for this team and defense to succeed.

With out Shanny he has 1 playoff win. What looks like 2 losing seasons and 1 winning season.

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26 minutes ago, MAD597 said:

That cant happen cause we won't be in the playoffs

Pretty sure that poster meant if we beat the Saints again, it could effect their standing in the playoff race... meaning we could directly be the difference between the Saints securing a #1 or #2 seed w/ a bye for the Wildcard round & playing games in New Orleans during the playoffs vs. them getting a #4 seed, having to play vs a WC team, & then go on the road for any remaining playoff games. So, while beating them may not do much for our season in the long run, it could greatly impact how hard the Saints' road to the SB is going to be this year.

The Saints have been great at home in the Brees/Payton era, but haven't had much luck going on the road come playoff time. Considering it's not out of the question that us beating them could potentially mean the Saints would have to go to Minny or Seattle (where the Saints have been beat & had their playoff runs ended on soul crushing final possessions in recent years), the Falcons upcoming game vs the Saints could actually be pretty significant. 

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48 minutes ago, athell said:

Let me ask you...was that because of Quinn or in spite of Quinn?  Granted, the defense looked much better after the bye in '16, and the playoffs and I will give him the nod for that...but overall that team won because of our offense and raw talent.  Over time, Shanny left, and raw talent...for whatever reason...stopped buying in or was not put in the position to succeed or whatever, but we are talking about a coach who is 4 games over .500 for his career here and has never cracked the top 21 in terms of defensive dvoa.  What is he now, 1-13 against the AFC?  1-16?  I don't even know, something horrific.

I see your point, I really do...I was defending Quinn years ago, but he just hasn't delivered on his promise which is 1) a dominant defense and 2) consistency.  If anything he has gone the other way and it took his assistants to correct his role in order for this team and defense to succeed.

I don't think that's the case at all. I think people are thinking Quinn has zero bearing on how the defense has played the last two weeks solely because of him having a lot of playcalling responsibility before that. Ulbrich's getting loads of credit for the defense despite also calling atrocities like the Cardinals and Rams games. Not to mention, Morris and Ulbrich have both said Quinn is still the one putting together the defensive gameplan. This is just allowing him to work more on the DL and penalties - both of which have been phenomenal.

I get you, because I blamed Quinn a lot for the first several games of the season. He also gets a lot of credit for the turnaround in my eyes.

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20 minutes ago, Francis York Morgan said:

I don't think that's the case at all. I think people are thinking Quinn has zero bearing on how the defense has played the last two weeks solely because of him having a lot of playcalling responsibility before that. Ulbrich's getting loads of credit for the defense despite also calling atrocities like the Cardinals and Rams games. Not to mention, Morris and Ulbrich have both said Quinn is still the one putting together the defensive gameplan. This is just allowing him to work more on the DL and penalties - both of which have been phenomenal.

I blamed Quinn a lot for the first several games of the season. He also gets a lot of credit for the turnaround in my eyes.

That's fair. I will also admit my stance may be greatly influenced by how upset I am that it took a 1-7 record to make these changes.

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4 minutes ago, athell said:

That's fair. I will also admit my stance may be greatly influenced by how upset I am that it took a 1-7 record to make these changes.

It was a ******* mess. Total mess. He was kinda flailing, trying to scheme guys into position and making things worse because it was all so confusing. But I think a lot of the changes were also the players taking ownership and starting to do their jobs.

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