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Dan Quinn likely to retain play calling duties, no matter who the next defensive coordinator is

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It’s a good move for the defense.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Our own Jeanna Thomas wrote a piece today for SB Nation that I strongly agreed with, and it has to do with why the search for a new Falcons defensive coordinator doesn’t have to focus on candidates with a ton of experience.

There came a turning point after the Week 11 bye, when the defense saw dramatic improvement. That can be attributed, in part, to the young players settling in and improving communication.

“I think after that bye week, we skyrocketed, and we’re a lot better defense now,” Neal told SB Nation prior to the playoff win over the Seahawks. “We’re a lot closer, it seems like, like our chemistry’s a lot better, and we’re playing more like a united defense, and you can see that.”

What changed after the bye? Per several reports in recent days, Dan Quinn took over the play calling duties in the back half of the season, which would seem to be the primary driver given that the team didn’t make any huge personnel changes over that span. Quinn’s success and comfort level with play calling makes it likely, as Jeanna suggests and I alluded to earlier this week, that he’ll continue to do so.

This is hardly unprecedented. Kyle Shanahan is planning to call his own plays on offense in San Francisco, and offensive and defensive-minded head coaches alike will take over these duties if they’re dissatisfied with what they’re getting from their coordinators. The fact that the Falcons were more successful after Quinn did so is not any great surprise when you consider how obviously gifted he is at building and maximizing the strengths of a D.

So we’ll assume that Quinn continues to call plays. That makes Marquand Manuel an obvious choice in a lot of ways. Manuel has never been a coordinator before, but he’s known for having a bright defensive mind and some of the character traits that Quinn truly covets. He’ll be able to take on the defensive coordinator role with Quinn actively responsible for calling plays, which means a less steep learning curve, potentially, for Manuel.

Quinn works well with Manuel and respects the way he approaches coaching up his players.

“It’s the communication, the training, he doesn’t back off,” Quinn said. “The players know that. They’re very perceptive. All players are. What can I get away with him? Not very much. We’ve got lots of respect for the way Marquand takes care of his side.”

Quinn also likes Manuel’s competitive nature.

“Yeah, his fire’s lit, and it does not go out. He’s a really passionate guy,” Quinn said. “Honestly, it’s just somebody that’s always constantly challenging to see if it can get done a little bit better. And honestly, that’s what the essence of a competitor is.”

Given that Quinn and Manuel have been working together for years now and this is one of the largest, most capable defensive staffs in the NFL, I don’t anticipate that Manuel will have any trouble getting up to speed if he gets the gig. I’ll reiterate that I hope he does.

Full stop: This will be a better defense in 2017. The only question is who will be at the helm.