Coach Dan Quinn has yet to face a Falcons’ season like this one. Sure, his inaugural year was peppered with avert-your-eyes moments — dropping a game against the Colts led by the dust-caked remains of Matt Hasselbeck comes to mind — but nothing has challenged Quinn quite like 2018.
Injuries. Ineffectiveness. Uninspired play. You can check all of these boxes on the Reasons 2018 Went Awry list. But this is not a preemptive postmortem of a year yet to be determined — there’s still a ways to the bottom and plenty of time to air our collective grievances and point fingers. The Falcons are 4-8 and are what they are: A bad football team with a bright future.
The Falcons possess a handful of young talent on both sides of the ball, and with nothing left to lose in a forgettable season it’s well past time to give them a shot. The only thing really on the line is draft position; and, well, they can probably help with that, too.
When heading into an event as important as the NFL Draft, it’s absolutely imperative to have a proper grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel you currently have in house. And there’s no better way to evaluate it than meaningful snaps in NFL games.
At 4-8, toss the rooks to toothless wolves.
So where should this beleaguered Falcons team start? Cornerback. Robert Alford has been downright dreadful so far, and second-round draft pick Isaiah Oliver is itching for an opportunity. Arguably a late first-round prospect, Oliver slid to the Falcons at 58th overall. He seemed a legitimate steal at the time, with the corner out of Colorado possessing the physical triumvirate that any coach covets: Speed, size, length.
Right now’s the perfect, consequence-free time to see what Isaiah Oliver can do against top-flight talent. Yes, he completely blew it against A.J. Green for a game-winner, but the best chance to coach up the coverage gaffs is to allow them to happen in real, NFL games.
Especially “meaningless” ones.
The Falcons snagged Oliver in the second-round to play outside sometime soon. With Alford’s abysmal season and his $8.5 million salary due in 2019 ($1.2 dead cap should they move on in the offseason, per Spotrac), that time could be coming sooner than later. Atlanta has four disposable games left to measure their level of confidence in moving on from Robert Alford. That can only be properly judged by Isaiah Oliver starting, learning, and taking his lumps.
The same has to be said for Deadrin Senat and Ito Smith. Both have looked solid in their limited snaps this season, and both deserve to showcase what they can do to close the year. Senat has looked stout in run defense, Smith seems to have the vision and nose for the end zone. Hell, with Justin Hardy’s nauseating 5.7 yards per punt return, give Russell Gage a shake in his stead.
It’s time to see what these young guys can do: Start ‘em.
Dan Quinn espouses The Brotherhood, but he should not succumb to brotherhood blinders heading into the final four games of his most difficult season as the Falcons’ head coach.
The Atlanta Falcons are currently eyeing a top-ten pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and in order to prioritize what they truly need, they need to get a solid look at what they currently have.
It’s been an awful season: Start ‘em.