2017 provided plenty of reasons for optimism. After an unforgettable 2016 (for good and very bad), Dan Quinn avoided a predicted down season in part to a dramatically improving defense. Unquestionably one of the team’s best defenses in the last two decades, the young players could only get better.
Then they didn’t. Injuries were a big problem, but multiple players fell flat in 2018. When the Falcons needed someone to step up, most of the defense disappeared. The most worrisome problem has been the frustratingly inconsistent play from the team’s highly drafted pass rushers Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley.
The two first-round selections combined for an embarrassing 12 total sacks. Both players looked about the same as 2017, with Beasley obviously only a shell of himself since his 2016 season where he lead the league in sacks.
There is clearly a lot of blame to go around. Dan Quinn spoke to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic about defensive coaching and clearly placed a lot of blame on Marquand Manuel and Bryant Young.
As Quinn tells it, he churned through game film looking for problems. We know how that turned out as most top coaches, including Manuel, Steve Sarkisian, and Keith Armstrong are no longer with the team.
“The people who played the best were Grady (Jarrett) and Jack (Crawford),” Quinn said. “In the interior, I was impressed by their ability to hit it on the move, and both from the pass rush standpoint were active. They met the standard of what I was hoping for.”
“Past that, I didn’t think we met the standard.”
So that’s two out of …
“That’s really bad.”
Manuel was a former defensive back turned defensive back coach turned national embarrassment turned defensive coordinator. He got some great performances out of the secondary, but struggled to replace players lost to injury, never developed players like Duke Riley, and most problematic, failed to get results from top defensive line talent. He remains unemployed.
Bryant Young, the defensive line coach, stepped down after the season for family reasons. Young, similar to Manuel, was short of pro coaching experience when given the position.
Quinn’s quote can lead to this question: is Marquand to blame for Beasley and McKinley’s unimpressive seasons? Beasley’s 2016 was likely not repeatable, but we should not have seen such a significant drop off from a player with such outstanding athleticism. McKinley looked ready to take a big step after an impressive rookie season but looked like the same player.
Quinn admits there were a lot of schematic and coaching issues that resulted in the weak defensive line play. He must truly believe that, as defensive line additions were limited to signing Adrian Clayborn late in free agency and dropping a fourth-round pick on John Cominsky. Clearly, the defensive line was not at the top of team needs heading into the offseason.
How much did Manuel and Young slow down development for Beasley and McKinley? That’s a question we obviously don’t have an answer for. Quinn will focus on both players to get the defense back on track. The talent is there to turn them into a premium duo. Whether or not that happens in 2019 will probably determine Quinn’s future employment with the Falcons.