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Dan Quinn’s Falcons teams have had a streakiness problem

When considering whether DQ should be back, it helps to break down the way his Falcons teams have performed in his tenure, both by halves and quarters.

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The impossibly slow start the Falcons endured in 2019 killed the season. It has been easy, in turn, to destroy Quinn for not making changes quickly enough and for putting himself in the clearly untenable position of being the head coach and running the defense at the same time.

The way that first half has gone—and the way the Falcons have rallied in the second half—has led to understandable concerns about whether Quinn’s return in 2020 could be doomed by another sluggish first half.

Before we go any further, though, a quick reminder of what the overall season records have been under Dan Quinn. It’s worth remembering that they went all the way to the Super Bowl in 2016 and won a playoff game in 2017, but here are the baseline records.

2019: 5-9

2018: 7-9

2017: 10-6

2016: 11-5

2015: 8-8

Alright, let’s get to it.

2015-2019 by half seasons

I decided it might be worth looking at how Dan Quinn’s Falcons teams have typically started and finished over the course of his five year career, understanding that of course the 2019 season is not yet over. What I found is that there is no definitive pattern that suggests that these teams have or would necessarily have a bad half of football, based on what they’ve done in years past. They only have one sub-.500 record in a first half since Quinn got here, and only one other sub-.500 half overall.

Falcons Seasons by Halves

Year First Half Record Second Half Record
Year First Half Record Second Half Record
2019 1-7 4-2
2018 4-4 3-5
2017 4-4 6-2
2016 5-3 6-2
2015 6-2 2-6
Total 20-20 21-17

That’s pretty open and shut, then, right? The 2019 first half stands out as a major outlier, one driven by a combination of ugly play, Dan Quinn’s defensive play calling, and really poor offensive play thanks to bad blocking and Dirk Koetter. Get rid of Koetter, keeping improving that line, and let others call the plays and the Falcons probably don’t endure a 1-7 first half again next year.

If that problem doesn’t necessarily exist, should Quinn be back? This is where I will again vote no. To get a sense of why, purely in the vein of this argument, let’s break this down into quarters of each season.

2015-2019 by quarter seasons

Falcons Seasons by Quarters

Year First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
Year First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
2019 1-3 0-4 2-2 2-0
2018 1-3 3-1 0-4 3-1
2017 3-1 1-3 3-1 3-1
2016 3-1 2-2 2-2 4-0
2015 4-0 2-2 0-4 1-3
Total 12-8 8-12 7-11 13-6

This might shock you, but until the 2013 season—when in retrospect, the Falcons probably should have parted with Mike Smith—his Falcons only finished a four game stretch with worse than a 2-2 mark once. The wheels came off in a way that seems quite obvious now in 2013 and then again in 2014, when the team was wildly streaky and ultimately quite bad. Quinn’s Falcons have managed that feat seven times in five seasons, or six times more than Smitty’s group in his first five seasons. In each of the last two seasons, they’ve started the year 1-3, putting enormous pressure on them to improve quickly or drop out of the playoff race. Twice in the past two years, they’ve had an 0-4 stretch shortly after to truly drop them out of it, and battled back to vague respectability with .500 or better marks from there.

What does this say about Quinn?

You can slice this further, of course, and draw less arbitrary lines in the season to fit your own conclusions. But I think the big takeaway here is that Quinn’s teams tend to be exactly as up-and-down as you think they are, and that the only time this team was truly, consistently successful all season long was in 2016 when they had a historically great offense. What are the odds that’s coming back in 2020 with this coaching staff in place, especially if DQ decides to bet on the stability afforded by keeping Koetter around for a second year?

I would be uncomfortable betting on it. My stance on Quinn’s tenure with this team has not changed since it was obvious that he’d be returning: He needed a successful season, likely a playoff berth, to stay around beyond 2019. A couple of signature wins this year help his case, sure, but this team spent an enormous amount of money and draft capital this offseason to contend, not to have nine losses and pull of a couple big victories against the NFC’s leading lights late in the year. I’m not sure why Arthur Blank would look at the body of work from 2015-2019, with all those losing streaks and especially these last two deeply disappointing seasons, and bet things will change next year.

That streakiness suggests that the basic narrative underpinning Smitty and Quinn’s careers—that Quinn’s teams have had more talent and upside, but have struggled with discipline and consistency—is probably true. Given that Atlanta’s about to go into a tough offseason where they may have to bleed talent a bit to get their financial situation rightsized, keeping Quinn around would seem like a bet on stability with a coach who hasn’t been able to achieve it.