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Column: New coaching staff fixed "soft" Falcons

National writers have taken note of the drastic change in Flowery Branch.

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Fans have heard about Dan Quinn's energy since the day he was hired. Players and coaches have talked about the changes with the team for months. It was still surprising to see national media notice the clear difference.

NFL media reporter Jeff Darlington wrote about the new, tough Falcons. The article perfectly sums up the changes made in the Falcons organization, and how the win against the Philadelphia Eagles validated all of the hype surrounding the team.

No one is doubting that Mike Smith is the best Falcons coach in our team's history, but he did not do much the last few years to help the team win. The biggest and clearest issue had been the defense.

Let us not forget just how bad Atlanta's defense performed last season. On average, teams put up more plays and yards per drive against the Falcons than any other team in the NFL. You could easily make a case that Atlanta's D was the league's softest, most vulnerable unit. And so, when the Falcons are able to thwart a team that is constantly praised for its incredible pace, that's not just an impressive start. That's an incredible turnaround.

It is hard not to agree. The Falcons made more big defensive plays in one game than nearly all of last year. Even though this defense is still a work in progress, it has been impressive.

The question has rarely been a matter of talent and skills -- but rather, toughness and strategy. When you couple Quinn's culture with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's creativity, you already have remedied a bulk of those previous deficiencies. That's an oversimplified perspective, no doubt, but the premise holds some weight.

While a new coaching staff always brings a new wave of optimism, the early returns indicate that Quinn and Shanahan have the ability to get the most out of their players.

Quinn has turned a soft (yes, soft) defense into an attacking unit capable of keeping pace with Philly's up-tempo attack. The Falcons were tackling better than we've seen them do in years. And while they did, in fact, let the Eagles back into the game during the second half, a late third-down stop that led to a crucial missed field goal proved they weren't willing to lay down easy.

Quinn has obviously motivated the team, and Darlington points towards Shanahan as an integral addition that has improved Atlanta's performance. While Dirk Koetter was a clear improvement from the likes of Mike Mularkey, we saw what a true offensive mind could do with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

We saw it in the creative ways Shanahan deployed Matt Ryan, utilizing play action and a fast pace to turn an offense that has been so inexplicably boring into one that actually pushes the potential of its skills players. It is a reminder of Shanahan's schematic brilliance.

Not only were players used creatively, but the blocking scheme glossed over the lack of offensive line talent. After dealing with offensive line problems nearly every year in the Matt Ryan era, a new coach fixed that with some cheap signings a small trade.

The players appear to have truly bought into the "fast and physical" philosophy, and Quinn and Co. are putting the players in a position to make plays and win. Expect some struggles this season, but we will see far fewer stumbling blocks than expected.