Of all the changes to this Falcons team in 2015, none may be more significant than the changes at coach. It all starts with new head coach Dan Quinn, who comes with an impressive resume as a defensive guru. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith comes in with an extensive history of coaching in the NFL while new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan came in with some question marks, but some optimism nonetheless. How have these men fared so far in 2015?
DC Richard Smith
While coach Quinn is considered to be the "architect" behind the Falcons defense, it's coach Smith that is tasked with implementing those plans. Considering the bottom of the league status of the Falcons defense in 2013 and 2014, it's clear that this defense is much improved over last year. That doesn't mean they are a "good" defense just yet, but the improvements are pretty clear.
On the year, the Falcons defense is 22nd in overall defense, 25th in passing yards, 12th in passing yards per attempt, 9th in rushing yards, 3rd in rushing yards per attempt and 13th in points per game. However, the one area where the Falcons have yet to improve is in sacks, where they are 31st in the league.
Given the woeful nature of this defense last year, to improve by nearly 10 spots overall and to be in the top 10 in run defense is a significant turn-around. It's a promising start to the turn-around, and is hopefully just the beginning. Grade: A
OC Kyle Shanahan
Of any of the coaches we're covering, none may elicits a more volatile reaction than Kyle Shanahan. At the beginning of the year, the creativity of his offense was apparent and fans were ecstatic. However, after the last several games, some of those same fans are questioning whether he was the right hire and some are even pondering whether or not he should be fired.
The Falcons are currently 3rd in the NFL in total offense, 4th in passing and 10th in rushing. While the last few games have been difficult to watch, the overall season so far has been strong. This offense has turned Julio Jones into the league's top receiver and Devonta Freeman into it's top rusher. While Matt Ryan has not looked comfortable in this offense yet, there is reason to hope that will get better as the QB and coach figure out what works best for the offense as a whole.
It's easy to forget that this is a brand new system with some new pieces on the line and in the receiving corps. The real verdict should be reserved for the end of the season, to see if this offense can get back on track and begin turning in consistently good performances. But for what has been accomplished so far, Shanahan has mostly had a positive impact. It will be critical for him to help right the ship after the past few games, though. Grade: B
Head coach Dan Quinn
Once you're able to put away some of the ugly losses from memory, it's clear that coach Quinn has had a positive impact to this team. His renewed emphasis on teaching and fundamentals has paid off with a defense that is more aggressive and attacking. The players appear to respect Dan Quinn and love playing for him.
That doesn't mean Coach Quinn is faultless. He's made some confusing decisions, whether it was poorly called timeouts, somewhat suspect clock management or the infamous field goal against the 49ers. He's also appeared to be somewhat stubborn in his philosophies, though he's indicated in recent weeks that he'll consider making changes where necessary. If the offense continues to struggle, it will also fall on his shoulders to try and help find the solution if his offensive coordinator is unable to do so. Yet, none of these things should be unexpected for a rookie head coach - he is still learning the nuances of the position after all.
What's clear, though, is that coach Quinn has re-energized this franchise and has the trajectory pointing up again - and all of this in just his first season. So long as he can learn from his early mistakes, there's no reason to believe that Dan Quinn can't be a quality head coach in this league for a long-time. Grade: A
Taken as a whole, the Falcons 2015 season is off to a solid start. The early 5-0 start has cooled off, and the team has looked less impressive lately, but this is still a team that is performing above expectations. Fielding an improved defense has been critical for this turnaround. The team still needs to finish strong to keep these strong grades, but in total the 2015 season is off to a good start.
Overall coaching grade: B+
What are your thoughts on the new Falcons coaches?