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How Dan Quinn is and isn’t like former head coach Mike Smith

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In a disaster of a season, the comparison has become inevitable.

NFL: New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the Falcons’ 2018 season effectively over, and the team going through a four-game losing streak, head coach Dan Quinn has come under fire. Though the injuries to numerous starters are partly to blame, others have rightly pointed out some concerning trends. In fact, quite a few people have begun comparing this season to the 2013 season under Mike Smith, with many people making direct comparisons between Quinn and Smith.

Certainly, there are some parallels between Quinn and Smith that are worth discussing. There are some notable differences as well. I’ll take a look at some of the similarities and differences and what that could mean for the Falcons in 2019 and beyond.

The similarities

In-game coaching struggles

This is easily the most identifiable similarity between both coaches, and arguably the one that has fans the most frustrated. Mike Smith had some very bizarre and awful coaching moments (the Lions game in London during the 2014 season stands out) throughout his years in Atlanta. His management of the clock never seemed to get better during his tenure.

Sadly, Dan Quinn hasn’t been an upgrade in this regard. He’s repeatedly struggled with the use of timeouts along with some questionable in-game decisions (the field goal against the 49ers in 2015 was particularly bad). While some of it should be expected for a new head coach, this year has shown little growth in this area and is a legitimate area of concern, especially since this is Quinn’s fourth season.

Team meltdown after injuries

Both Quinn and Smitty had long stretches of very good team health that was eventually met with a disaster season. For Smith, that was the 2013 year. For Quinn, this season is the equivalent. In both cases, the team suffered injuries to key starters, though a debate on the quality of those rosters should be kept in mind as well.

For Smith, the 2013 Falcons fell apart en route to a 4-12 season and a top 10 draft pick. For Quinn, we are in the midst of what feels like a free fall. Another 4-12 season could very well be in line, though there is still time to improve to as good as 8-8.

In both cases, the injuries led to a meltdown of both seasons. Some of that is to be expected, but it’s a similarity that needs to be pointed out.

Failure to address trenches

This failure should really be shared with GM Thomas Dimitroff, but both head coaches absolutely bear some of the blame here. From 2008 until 2014, Mike Smith failed to properly address the trenches on a consistent basis. The Falcons struggled to rush the passer during his tenure, even with John Abraham on the roster until 2013. For a coach who was supposed to be defensive minded, it was a damning indictment.

So far, Dan Quinn hasn’t fared much better. While the offensive line has had some quality years in 2016 and 2017, the offensive line is aging out quickly with no clear plan for addressing it. More importantly, the Falcons have continued to struggle to rush the passer under Quinn, with Vic Beasley looking like a bust and Takk McKinley being inconsistent in his second year. It’s a concerning trend that the team absolutely must address this offseason if Quinn is going to differentiate himself from Smith in this key area.

Key differences

Draft success

Outside of the 2008 draft class, the Falcons failed to rebuild the talent on the roster during Mike Smith’s time in Atlanta. Again, GM Thomas Dimitroff deserves some blame here, but it was clear Smith didn’t have a clear and defined vision for what he wanted on his team. One particular moment stands out. When the Falcons traded up for Julio Jones, Mike Smith couldn’t stop praising Julio ... for his run blocking. It was a sign that Dimitroff and Smith weren’t on the same page and that Smith had no clue what to do with a talent like Julio.

Under Quinn, the Falcons have had far more success in the draft. Quinn has clearly established a vision for the team that has guided the draft process. While the draft classes have not been perfect, the number of high quality players they’ve landed in the later rounds stands in stark contrast to the repeated failures by Mike Smith in those areas. A player like Grady Jarrett would have been relegated to special teams duties only under Smith.

Player development

Along the same lines as above, Quinn has differentiated himself substantially in this area. Players like Ricardo Allen, Grady Jarrett, Deadrin Senat and Damontae Kazee have all gotten significant opportunities that probably would not have existed under Mike Smith. Quinn has assembled a far larger coaching staff in the hopes of continuing to develop guys further down the roster. Mike Smith leaned heavily on veterans and only gave young players opportunities when injuries forced him to or said players spent years “proving themselves” on special teams.

Playoff success

Of all the differences, this one may be the most critical. Under Smith, the Falcons suffered some of the most embarrassing and devastating playoff losses in team history. In fact, were it not for a miracle comeback against the Seahawks in 2012, Mike Smith likely would have finished his time in Atlanta with no playoff wins. For whatever reason, the Falcons never seemed capable of playing at a high level in the playoffs under Smith.

In contrast, Dan Quinn has produced a high level of success in the playoffs in his short time in Atlanta. One could argue the 2016 team had no business being as successful as they were, and yet they won handily against an experienced Seahawks team and absolutely thrashed a red-hot Green Bay team. Even the struggling 2017 unit went on the road and handled a dynamic Rams offense before losing a very close game to the eventual champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The difference in the playoff performances between these two coaches could not be more pronounced and it’s absolutely worth noting.

Final thoughts

This has been a very hard season for Falcons fans. The injuries have certainly been an issue, but Coach Quinn is not without fault here either. The comparisons to Smith have some merit, but the differences between these coaches need to be remembered as well. The 2019 season will be a critical one for Quinn to prove he’s not another Mike Smith. Let’s hope the differences noted are enough to produce a highly successful 2019 season.