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Who is to blame for Atlanta's poor 2019 season

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https://thedraftnetwork.com/articles/atlanta-falcons-blame-2019-season-dan-quinn-thomas-dimitroff

Blame Game: Who Is To Blame For The 2019 Atlanta Falcons

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By: Benjamin SolakDecember 18th, 2019

he good news is the Atlanta Falcons have won four of their last six games. They have beaten two of the top three or four teams in the NFC and took another top dog in their conference the distance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the 27-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8.

The bad news is the Seattle loss put them at 1-7, completed a six-game losing streak and effectually removed Atlanta from playoff contention before reaching the bye week. What the Falcons have done since is not too little, but it is certainly too late.

Placing the blame for Atlanta is tough. Dan Quinn was publicly on the hot seat during the bye week for a defense that couldn't stand up for itself and an offense that once again looked toothless. But when he survived the layover period, his team rallied to stun the division-leading and hated New Orleans Saints. After the most recent stunner of the once No. 1-seed San Francisco 49ers, it seems Quinn may have done enough to save his job for another year.

How much can you blame a guy who has made moves to get his team back up to fighting weight when they had nothing to fight for?

Similar questions can be asked for general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who finds Day 3 gems in the draft but can't seem to find guys for the trenches in a league that is increasingly paying the big boys up front. 

Similar questions again for owner Arthur Blank and for much of the Falcons roster and staff as the biggest problem seems to bounce weekly across different units, coaches and players.

Who is to blame for Atlanta's season? It's tough to say — and even tougher to say they don't have the capacity to turn it around in the near future.

DAN QUINN

The head coach has a lot of roles on an NFL team. He is as responsible for in-game clock management as he is for weekday orientation of his coaching staff on opponent prep; for consulting with his front office on personnel moves to his locker room leaders on team direction. So when it comes to blaming Quinn, we have to be careful and pointed in what he has done that deserves blame and how much of it truly falls on him.

The biggest concern is undoubtedly the defense. Across the first six weeks of the season, Quinn was the primary play-caller for the Falcons' defensive unit. He took on the mantle of defensive coordinator after firing DC Marquand Manuel at the end of the 2018 season. (He also fired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and STC Keith Armstrong in what was billed as a wholesale revamping of the coaching staff.) By Week 5, when the Houston Texans hung 53 on the Falcons and then gleefully proclaimed they knew what the defense was going to try, Atlanta was 31st in scoring defense and 23rd in total defense. 

The Falcons were horrible.

If you're a defensive-minded coach, you should be able to hire a good coordinator — and if you can't hire a good coordinator and choose to do it yourself, well, you should do it well. The defense didn't improve when Manuel was replaced by Quinn, it got worse.

To Quinn's credit, he has passed on play-calling responsibility to the committee of linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and secondary coach Raheem Morris, who was coaching wide receivers for the past three years under Quinn. The secondary has seen significant improvements, young players have begun producing with better consistency and the Falcons have quieted the Saints' and 49ers' offenses since the bye. Those are Super Bowl-caliber teams.

So everything is solved, right? Not really. 

The team is still thirsting for talent on the defensive line where Grady Jarrett labors as the sole bright spot obscured by the clouds of an ineffective Vic Beasley; an unhealthy, streaky Takk McKinley and average depth pieces in Tyeler Davidson, Allen Bailey and Adrian Clayborn. Desmond Trufant is likely to walk which means more attention goes on young CBs Isaiah Oliver (better in recent weeks) and Kendall Sheffield (functional in recent weeks).

And functionally, the team is still running Quinn's Cover 3, inspired from his days in Seattle. It is a familiar and inflexible scheme. It asks for a ton of work to diagnose, close and tackle from its underneath zone defenders — only Deion Jones stands out as a quality player in that regard. It needs a hole defender like Keanu Neal, who has lost back-to-back seasons to injury, and it needs to get pressure without blitzing.

Quinn is one of the most involved head coaches in the league, in regards to personnel acquisition — he and Dimitroff have their types. On the defensive side of the ball, no recent acquisitions, draft pick or free agent, stand out as particularly impressive. Damontae Kazee is heroically filling in for Neal as best as he can, but beyond that, early returns aren't good on the latest classes. If Quinn does not run a scheme that can maximize his players, or acquire players that can maximize his scheme, he will never again boast of the 2016 defense that helped propel Atlanta to the Super Bowl.

THOMAS DIMITROFF/CHRIS MORGAN/DIRK KOETTER/INJURY LUCK

This header? It's called cheating. Or, at the very least, hedging your bets.

The Falcons' offensive line is atrocious. It is 27th in adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders, and is allowing just over three sacks per game, which is tied for sixth-worst in the league. This is a lamentably familiar story for Falcons fans. The line hasn't been solid for years, and Dimitroff came into the season promising he would solve the problem.

And he tried. The Falcons made two first-round selections in Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom (14th overall) Washington tackle Kaleb McGary (31st overall). Lindstrom fell on injured reserve after starting the first week of the season and breaking his foot — he’s come back and looked fine, but his absence was sorely felt for the majority of the year. McGary started at right tackle and has occasionally looked solid, but he was a developmental athlete prospect coming out of the Washington program and has proven to be a liability at times. Like Lindstrom, McGary has also missed time after recovering from an existing heart condition in the preseason. 

The Falcons still have Jake Matthews at left tackle and Alex Mack at center as they always have but two players don’t make an offensive line. Atlanta tried to sign starting guards in Jamon Brown and James Carpenter during the offseason, but neither have impressed, and incumbent Wes Schweitzer was called upon to replace Brown in the starting lineup. That's seven years and almost $40 million between the two ousted by a first-round rookie and the incumbent they signed to replace.

So money didn't solve the problem. Neither did free-agent additions. So we turn to coaching. Chris Morgan has been the offensive line coach since Quinn was hired. The new capital poured into the position (draft and cap alike) should have given Morgan better tools to work with, but the product is still the same. It is worth mentioning the last time the Falcons' offensive line was good was in 2016 when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. Since then, Sarkisian and current-OC Dirk Koetter have kept Ryan in the pocket and worked with play-action far less successfully. Accordingly, the protection has suffered.

The offensive line is bad, and the dirty truth is there's a ton of blame to go around. You can't point fingers at just one spot, even if one person will inevitably take the fall. It will be interesting to see, if Morgan sticks around for the long term on the condition Quinn is retained.

THE TEAM LEADERSHIP

The Falcons have had a leadership issue in 2019. That's not to say Matt Ryan and Mack aren't strong veteran voices on the offense; or that Ricardo Allen and Jones aren't that on the defense. As a matter of fact, player-led meetings during the bye week helped spark the unlikely wins over the NFC South-leading Saints and the yet functional Panthers in late November. Allen and Jones were driving forces behind those efforts.

But Atlanta doesn’t have the veteran presences it once did, and accordingly, a young roster can spiral into frustration and easy mistakes when the going gets rough. Veterans like Trufant, Beasley, and De'Vondre Campbell were all the subjects of trade block discussions when the Falcons were on their six-game skid. Mohamed Sanu was actually sent away, and longer-tenured players like Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman never seemed interested in rallying the troops like Allen and Deion Jones did.

That's fine. Every player should be true to themselves and their role. But it took six games for the Falcons to bleed before someone started punching back in the locker room and, seemingly, a threat to Quinn's job was what provoked them. If Quinn is so beloved by his players they would fight for his job, it’s good news for Quinn and makes it hard to blame him for the team's demeanor and spirit.

But veteran leaders help right the ship before it skids dramatically into the top 10 of the draft order. They don't wait until the bye week and a six-game losing streak to put together a spirited campaign. The resurgence in Atlanta is admirable, but if the veteran players around in 2020 don't learn from the lessons of the 2019 struggles, they can expect a similar spiral should the going get tough next season.

WHO THOUGHT THE VIC BEASLEY FIFTH-YEAR OPTION WAS A GOOD DEAL?

It wasn't, it is not, and it will never be. It could have been Quinn, Dimitroff or Blank. All I know is it was bad.

THE FINAL VERDICT

Each of the Falcons’ biggest culprits have been outlined, but who owns the greatest claim of credit for Atlanta's disastrous 2019 season? In order of most to least blame:

  • Quinn for a flailing defense, poor defensive personnel, bad coordinator hires and maybe some of the vacuum in the locker room
  • Dimitroff for leaving the offensive line unaddressed for too long then missing with his big money free agents
  • Morgan for the poor development of his offensive line over the last few years
  • Veterans for the leadership vacuum in the locker room
  • Everyone for picking up Vic Beasley's fifth-year option

How do the Falcons clean up this mess? Be sure to check back tomorrow, as TDN analysts Kyle Crabbs, Joe Marino and Benjamin Solak outline a plan to fix this team.

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Complacency after the Superbowl season, undisciplined week in and week out with gap assignments and blown coverages, inconsistent week in and week out, terrible against AFC teams, two busts at OCs after Shanny, a terrible defense in the first eight games that made peewee defenses look good, Koetters offense ranked last in first half scoring this season, and several long losing streaks the past few seasons.

Blame goes many places but these things I listed aren't new. It's been present all four years (except 16) for the most part. 

papachaz likes this

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Its just egos and too many voices telling everyone what to do.  TD has his views, Blank has his views, Quinn has his views.  They are all trying to mix and match a blend of everything.  After the bye, you can see how they simplified things and made it easier for everyone to execute.  The offense is literally a mix of Murlarkey, Koetter and Shanahan... Why in the world would that work?   

I think they have figured things out but they still let teams like the Bucs, deplete their whole game plan because of a scrambling qb

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Just now, The Smart One said:

It’s tough to fault him too much for this but Blank should have fired Quinn after the Super Bowl season and given Kyle the HC job. Kyle’s offense has been the only good thing during Quinn’s run as HC. 

Who called the offensive plays in the second half of the Super Bowl? Plus you don’t just fire someone and replace them with someone that already has another job lined up. 

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3 minutes ago, ya_boi_j said:

Who called the offensive plays in the second half of the Super Bowl? Plus you don’t just fire someone and replace them with someone that already has another job lined up. 

This isn’t about the Super Bowl. This is about recognizing that Shanny is a special coach and that Quinn is not and finding a way to keep that superior talent on your team. 

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3 minutes ago, The Smart One said:

This isn’t about the Super Bowl. This is about recognizing that Shanny is a special coach and that Quinn is not and finding a way to keep that superior talent on your team. 

You mentioned firing and replacing after the super bowl so technically it is about the super bowl considering Quinn was only 2 seasons on the job. You don’t just fire a head coach after a super bowl appearance. Plus, again, Shanny already had a job lined up. Explain how your scenario works. Don’t say pull a McDaniels. 

vel likes this

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More like Tampa when they fired I think Lovie Smith so that they could promote DK to HC so he wouldn’t leave. Like I said it’s hard to fault Blank too much there but Kyle was what made that team special not anything Quinn did. 

vitaman likes this

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36 minutes ago, octoslash said:

My brain says fire everyone from TD down...

but my gut tells me Blank will keep the entire staff for one more season. 

 

And raise ticket prices too

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It's easy to see what was happening. The offense was ready to roll. They needed a defensive minded HC to FINALLY address that side of the ball and become a complete team. Who better to hire than the guy from the Legion of Boom? Too bad he didn't bring Kam C, Michael B, Richard S, and a certain all time great Safety. If you aren't good at picking personnel it's never gonna work. 

And those saying we should have fired Quinn and kept Shan, come on! Name another coach that went to the SB n got fired besides Jimmy Johnson and that was mutual. They simply thought they had the players to have any scheme work and they were wrong. Then the injuries. No excuse this year 

FalconsIn2012 and Schwarzwald like this

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16 hours ago, KetzlKoatl said:

It's easy to see what was happening. The offense was ready to roll. They needed a defensive minded HC to FINALLY address that side of the ball and become a complete team. Who better to hire than the guy from the Legion of Boom? Too bad he didn't bring Kam C, Michael B, Richard S, and a certain all time great Safety. If you aren't good at picking personnel it's never gonna work. 

And those saying we should have fired Quinn and kept Shan, come on! Name another coach that went to the SB n got fired besides Jimmy Johnson and that was mutual. They simply thought they had the players to have any scheme work and they were wrong. Then the injuries. No excuse this year 

Coaching is by far #1 on the list. We had Gono there as the 3rd OT all year...and he is a better OG than anyone else not named Lindstrom who was on IR? TD tried to get guys to fit what Mularkey/run game wanted to become; under DQ's vision.

It doesn't work. We've had randomness on offense, no run game, and DQ waiting until the Houston debacle before getting Ulbrich more involved and the Bye before leaning on Morris in his natural role as a DB coach..instead of the WRs who needed how much help again?

Just wow. He didn't manage the staff well...

BUT....to his credit he has the Defense turned around. I don't trust the offense under Dirk calling plays unless Dirk CHANGES...and that includes everyone digging in to help the run game become not just 'better' than terrible but actually consistent...but I want a better OC period. I don't think if DQ stays we will get that wish...maybe Mularkey get promoted? :ninja:

FalconsIn2012 likes this

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41 minutes ago, Schwarzwald said:

Coaching is by far #1 on the list. We had Gono there as the 3rd OT all year...and he is a better OG than anyone else not named Lindstrom who was on IR? TD tried to get guys to fit what Mularkey/run game wanted to become; under DQ's vision.

It doesn't work. We've had randomness on offense, no run game, and DQ waiting until the Houston debacle before getting Ulbrich more invovled and the Bye before leaning on Morris in his natural role as a DB coach..instead of the WRs who needed how much help again?

Just wow. He didn't manage the staff well...

BUT....to his credit he has the Defense turned around. I don't trust the offense under Dirk calling plays unless Dirk CHANGES...and that includes everyone digging in to help the run game become not just 'better' than terrible but actually consistent...but I want a better OC period. I don't think if DQ stays we will get that wish...maybe Mularkey get promoted? :ninja:

I think you wanted to improve his head coaching resume that's why he was moved to WR coach.

Geneaut likes this

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The answer is Dan Quinn. He is the problem. Defense sucked this year with him as DC then got better when he removed himself but this goes back further than this year. He is a defensive guy and can’t fix the defense. He and TD keep making mistakes. We signed Brown and Carpenter and then drafted 2 OL bc I guess other spots on the roster didn’t need help. Lastly, his OC hires have been a disaster but hey he was the one unimpressed with Matt LaFleur’s and Mike McDaniel’s work. Oh let’s not forget Mike LaFleur was also on that staff.  

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A heavy part of it was what was acceptable in the locker room. I've said it multiple times, players don't count each other's coins, but they definitely see who's getting paid, for what, and what it takes for them to get the same pay day. Vic Beasley Jr. being allowed to coast on 5 sack seasons and make $13MM set the standard. It's one thing to believe in developing your guy, but that one year pay day eroded any degree of hard work to earn a pay day. 

Throw on top of it, paying Brown, Carpenter, and Sambrailo several millions and you set the standard that subpar play was acceptable and that's exactly what you got the first half. Players didn't take it seriously because they weren't being shown to. It's human nature. 

Francis York Morgan likes this

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