The 2018 Atlanta Falcons were always going to let you down.
Whether it be in the doldrums of the Dawg Pound, a nail-biter against America’s Team, on the road in the Superdome on Turkey Day, deep into the recesses of December or in an ill-fated playoff game, this was never going to end well.
How We Got Here
The second the Philly weatherman called for rain in the forecast and that dad gum field got slippery on the doomed Thursday night debacle, the season was over. The team lost both of the 2016 draft crown jewels to a bad field.
The offense figured it out, sure, but the defense basically fell apart for half a season. Losing Ricardo Allen during the Saints game ensured that, as did not having Grady Jarrett, Takkarist McKinley and Derrick Shelby for stretches.
Sans Sunday, Vic Beasley’s down year hurts that too, as does the time it took Jordan Richards to get settled, the surprising struggles for Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, whatever was going on at linebacker (sans Foye Oluokun, who will go unblemished for this season, dang you), the edge group in general just disappearing and the questionable coaching/scheming decisions at times (why so much prevent, man).
Really, leave the offense out of this. Steve Sarkisian has made a gargantuan leap from where he was in 2017 and is now one of the more lauded coordinators in the NFL, regardless of the last two games. They’re doing what they’re doing with two reserve guards and Ryan Schraeder on a down year, too. They don’t have Devonta Freeman out there.
Or, y’know, maybe don’t blame any one person for this, even the ones who let you down. Blaming is a coping mechanism sports fans use to avoid looking at the larger issues that can’t really be fixed.
It’s easy to fix a busted hubcap. It’s harder to replace a totaled car.
The Falcons are broken right now, and only the sands of time and advancements in modern medicine will fix them. Heck, when they get healthy and see a fresh offseason of personnel decisions come through, they’ll go right back to being a horrifying Super Bowl contender with a quarterback playing in his prime and stellar depth. It’s not like this team we’re watching now is actually what we’re going to be seeing in the foreseeable future.
But you’ll have to be patient. You’ll have to let the experts do their jobs, like they have so many times before, and be willing to forgive where the mistakes have been made. These are humans, not automatons, prone to not signing the right guy here, not calling the right time out there, not making the tackle here, not getting the first down there. Yet we’ve seen enough to make us think they’ll figure this one out.
They’ll never be perfect, but we knew that.
The Quinn Problem
The soup du jour on today’s Falcons outrage menu aims at Dan Quinn, the architect behind the Brotherhood era of the Falcons. You know, the one that came a few plays away from winning a Super Bowl in its second year and won an improbable road playoff game in a third season that looked all for naught at one point (a season reeling from the end of the second).
Quinn is a marvelous culture builder, talent scout and developer and general leader. He’s a guy that draws talent to Atlanta (just two weeks ago, he landed Bruce Irvin), has helped stabilize a roster that looked all for lost after that 2014 slog and has engendered a team mentality that keeps guys fighting to the final whistle.
Does his situational coaching need work? Sure it does. It’s one of the hardest parts of the game to master, particularly when you have the pressure of millions of fans weighing down on you because of one little decision you make. Quinn must know, in his fourth season, it’s not his strongest suit, and outside council would be wise. The Rams just hired Jedd Fisch to help manage game time situational calls; the Falcons might stand to do the same.
But that’s really all you can say against Quinn, the man tasked with pulling the Falcons out of 28-3. Any calls for his firing are, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Quinn didn’t blow out Keanu Neal’s knee, stomp on Deion Jones’ foot or rupture Ricardo Allen’s Achilles. He didn’t take out Andy Levitre’s tricep. He didn’t miss key tackles that would’ve won close games. He didn’t underestimate Cleveland.
But this is where the blame game gets you, isn’t it?
Let’s just boil it down the simple fact that Quinn isn’t even all that responsible for the state the team is in right now. I don’t even know anymore if signing a veteran for the strong safety role would’ve even been good for long-term team culture.
It’s a program that doesn’t just preach next man up; it uses it to buoy the locker room. Everyone in there feels that they have a shot; it drives them to compete, grow close, fight for the Brotherhood. Maybe bringing in a veteran makes that message look phony when things get choppy.
Criticize Quinn’s situational coaching all you want. That’s fair. But it’s eating a guppie when there are bigger fish to fry.
The Falcons are fundamentally flawed as they are right now. With Jones looking to return here soon from his foot ailment, they’ll get a big part of that flaw fixed. They’ll probably scrape by once he gets completely healthy and go, say, 8-8. It won’t be good enough for the playoffs. That thought is in the past now.
But even if they had won a handful of games here and there, this team, as it stands, wasn’t good enough for the playoffs. They lost momentum early in the year and have fought to get it back. Winning the three straight looks nice on paper, but two of those were against cellar dwellers and one against a team that doesn’t look to be quite as good as the record showed.
This team can’t exactly be Quinn’s vision with the guys missing. Crossing your fingers and hoping what’s left will be enough doesn’t bring a ring home.
There is a lot to say, and we’re running out of air here. Just know that once the injury bug hit, this team lost the potential it had to make 2018 successful. That does not mean we’re stuck here, not at all, nor does it at all mean wholesale changes would do them any good.
The Falcons are fine as they are in theory, and will be for the years to come. It’s just not right now.
As much as folks don’t like to hear it, it’ll simply be a matter of waiting it out until better days are here again. Try to avoid getting too finger-pointy in the meantime.