Dan Quinn's coaching staff came into Atlanta with high expectations. For two straight years, the team relied solely on their passing attack, as the defense, run game, and coaching were horrific. Mike Smith and company bumbled away their chance at very reachable playoff scenarios. If someone could produce a decent defense, improve the run game, and limit coaching mistakes, the Falcons would be destined for the playoffs.
Really, how often do new coaches get a team with a franchise quarterback and an elite wide receiver?
Early success, followed by failure
During Atlanta's 5-0 start, everything was working. Dan Quinn was in talks for coach of the year, and Kyle Shanahan was mentioned as the hottest head coaching candidate for 2016. Then the wheels fell off in a historic fashion.
Is this a great coaching staff that eventually struggled with a weak roster? Or is this another coaching staff that has no idea what to do when things don't go according to plan? Whether they are defined by their early season success, or late season failure, the pressure is mounting after only 16 games.
Arthur Blank's options
With Matt Ryan turning 31 and Atlanta's new
$700 million $947.7 million $1 billion $1.2 billion $1.4 billion stadium opening soon, the team has a small window for success. Can the coaching staff be given two more years without signs of serious progress? Ryan would be 33, and paying for the stadium would be difficult with lackluster PSL sales.
A new coach in 2018 would probably be looking for a rookie quarterback, and would of course need a few years to develop into playoff-caliber player, potentially wasting the best of Julio Jones' years. Fans would be looking at another multi-year rebuild, after so many prior multi-year rebuilds failed to produce consistent wins.
If Quinn can only produce another 8-8 season, does he deserve a third year? Arthur Blank has to be struggling to keep his patience after the team has fallen so flat since nearly making it to the Super Bowl.
Quinn managed to keep his coaching staff nearly entirely intact, but faces long odds to do that again if he does not reach the playoffs. The Falcons have a much tougher schedule in 2016, and need to make a sizable improvement to even match last season's 8-8 record.
What isn't helping? CB Jalen Collins is suspended four games, and the Falcons have not added any replacements. The team added only one pass rusher: the rotational Derrick Shelby. They added speed at linebacker, but Deion Jones would be one of the lighter middle linebackers in the league.
And lastly, Quinn kept the maligned Kyle Shanahan. The team's nosedive went hand in hand with the offensive collapse. Many critics (including myself) were unimpressed by the team's offensive adjustments throughout the season. The offense failed to produce more than 21 points after October 11th. The run game disintegrated, and the typically polished Matt Ryan looked like a confused rookie. Shanahan was believed to be responsible for naming Mike Person the last minute starter at center, and featuring Leonard Hankerson heavily in the offense despite his poor hands. Roddy White was oddly given a slew of offensive snaps, but was essentially a full-time blocker. The offense was more or less only 10 players.
Can the team bounce back? Absolutely. However, they will need everything to go right in order to make the playoffs. I think Quinn brings a lot to the organization that has been lacking. Players are excited to play for Quinn in a way I never saw with Mike Smith. I would doubt he gets booted after a mediocre 2016, but his coaching staff will likely not be as lucky. The offensive staff is predominately full of coaches that lack NFL experience, short of a few years with Shanahan in Washington.
If the team repeats 2015, I would expect it the offensive staff to be allowed to seek opportunities elsewhere. The defense looked pretty good in 2015, despite a severe lack of talent and investment. That should be enough to keep Quinn in Atlanta into 2017, regardless of his 2016 record.