When Mike Smith tipped his hat and moved on from the Atlanta Falcons--with a shove out the door—the team had the duty of hiring a new head coach. They had some genuine pieces on offense, with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, a promising young back in Devonta Freeman, and even an aging Roddy White, while on the defensive side they had Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and...well, that was about it. There were still a lot of holes on this football club in 2015.
A big part of the problem was that the defense, for a better lack of terms, stunk. The pass rush was nonexistent. The players who were supposed to be the pass rushers were old and largely ineffective. The team wasn’t really drafting well. The Falcons had just fired their coach, so it looked as if the team was wasting the talents of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
In comes Dan Quinn
Some big names tied to the Falcons were Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, and Teryl Austin. Dan Quinn was another one, but the Seahawks were deep in the playoff race, so most Atlanta Falcons fans were clamoring at the idea of them pulling the trigger earlier and signing one of the other guys. Luckily for all of us, that did not happen and the team waited for Dan Quinn, the target of their search firm. The questions came in immediately: Was Quinn more of a beneficiary to the talent in Seattle or was he truly a good coordinator who could translate into a good coach?
In his introductory press conference, Dan Quinn’s very first words were: “I’m so fired up to be here.” You’ve heard that again.
He said “The brand of football we’re going to play is fast and physical,” and it should be noted, he touted that phrase four times in that first press conference. He constantly reiterated how important it is to connect with the players on an emotional level. He said how important it is to be balanced on offense. He said one of the team’s goals would be to try to be the best fundamental team, in terms of tackling, taking the ball away, and taking care of the ball. It’s all about the ball.
He mentioned that the defense wouldn't be too complex—”it isn't what we play, it’s how we play it” was his remark at the time—and that his sole goal was to become ‘tight as a group.’
It’s also worth noting that he personally mentioned current defensive line coach Bryant Young and what he learned from him in San Francisco. He also mentioned Jason Taylor in Miami, who might be a future pass rush specialist coach, maybe? In short, Quinn was enthusiastic and appeared to have the outline of a plan as soon as he arrived in Atlanta.
Did he stick to his plan?
- Fast and physical: Well, that was his repeated phrase in his opening statements, and drafting 3 linebackers with 4.5 or less 40 yard dash and less speed in Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Duke Riley set that tone. Adding a pass rusher with 4.5 speed in Vic Beasley, another pass rusher with a relentless motor in Takk McKinley, plus an intimidating safety who has a highlight reel of big hits in Keanu Neal...well, we’d say he wholeheartedly stuck with that plan.
- Connecting with the players, becoming tight as a group: Brotherhood is maybe the word associated with the Falcons right now. It’s etched throughout the facility, it has taken over the team’s social media accounts, and it’s mentioned in every huddle. The team is one. It isn’t a singular player. It’s the strongest connection in recent memory within this team, and it has everything to do with Coach Quinn’s original philosophy.
Balance: The Falcons run game before Quinn arrived was pretty non-existent, partially because they had a 4th round running back who had less than 500 yards from scrimmage the season prior, Devonta Freeman, and virtually nothing else.
Well, fast forward to now and Freeman is the highest paid running back in the league and one of the best receiving backs in the league as well. Add in Tevin Coleman in Quinn's first draft and you have the best running back duo in the league. The Falcons have a “pick your poison” run game that has to be accounted for, and which forms a true two-headed monster. And then of course you have Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and an emerging tight end in Austin Hooper, so the pass game surely cannot be ignored. Given that Dan Quinn is a defensive coach, we’d say the offensive balance has exceeded expectations.
Build through the draft: In another interview very close to the beginning of the hire, Quinn mentioned how the draft is very important. This was a head scratcher to Falcons fans who were around for the Jamal Anderson, Peria Jerry and other drafts. Safe to say, Quinn and company have crushed it.
Vic Beasley was Dan Quinn’s very first draft pick in Atlanta (also a side note, my Dog is named Beasley, and I named him not even a month after the Falcons drafted him) Two years later, Vic Beasley led the league in sacks and was a fumble machine,as well. Other notable starters who were drafted after Quinn’s arrival here: Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Austin Hooper, Wes Schweitzer, and you can’t forget Takk McKinley and Duke Riley in this past draft.
At first glance, it looks as if Quinn has gotten nine starters in three drafts. Not to be forgotten in the mix - Tevin Coleman, who’s apart of the best 1-2 punch at running back in football. Justin Hardy who is apart of a super deep wide receiving group. Jalen Collins who is a part of a deep defensive backs group. Also add in Kazee to that defensive back group as well. Let’s not ignore the eye for undrafted talent as well, as Brian Poole, who was undrafted has become the team’s nickel corner and has emerged as one of the better ones in the league.
- Get to know the players on this team and how to utilize them: Of course we knew about Julio, Matt Ryan, Trufant, Alford etc. But that wasn’t all of the players on this team. There has been a lot of turnaround within the draft, but there are some key starters that were just depth players or practice squad players prior to Quinn coming here. Ricardo Allen was cut, a practice squad guy, etc. at corner back. Now he’s the Falcons starting safety. De’Vonta Freeman was the Falcons back up running back prior to 2015, now look at him. The eye for talent, the knowledge on where to stick these pieces is something you have or you don’t, and Quinn simply has it. It’s refreshing to witness.
Overall, Quinn had a plan. It was to make this group as tight as a family, a brotherhood if you will, and that has been exemplified consistently. This team plays for one another and that 100% is what Quinn had set in mind when he was hired. His play style plan was FAST and PHYSICAL, and that definitely has come to pass. It’s evident in the way this team carries themselves. This team can be special.
Add into the fact that Quinn has killed the last three drafts, and you can’t escape the conclusion that this team is getting younger and can be around for a long, long time.