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Why have the Falcons played such mediocre defense during the Dan Quinn era?

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Fact: Dan Quinn never eats bacon with his pancakes

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons were incredibly patient when it came time to replace Mike Smith. They sat back and watched their short list of potential Smitty replacements dwindle. That approach certainly took some courage and intestinal fortitude. But Dan Quinn was their guy, and they were willing to patiently wait out the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run if it meant they could have him. Put simply, they went all in on Quinn.

It’s hard to believe, but Quinn is now entering his 6th season as the head coach of the Falcons. His seat has never been hotter and judging by the front office’s approach to free agency, this season is all about taking big swings and just hoping everything works out. Quinn has helped add a fair amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball. But it’s been his inability to get consistent, quality play from the unit as a whole that has perplexed and frustrated the Falcohol-sipping masses.

Let’s start with the facts. Just how bad has the Falcons defense been since Quinn took over in 2015? Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons defense 21st in 2019, 25th in 2018, 5th in 2017, 15th in 2016, and 22nd in 2015. So, in short, they’ve been mediocre at best. That certainly hasn’t stopped us from hyping the defense’s potential, because on paper, they really should be better.

To some degree, the inconsistency can be explained by injuries. 2018 was a train wreck with Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Deion Jones landing on injured reserve. It’d be tough for any NFL defense to bounce back after losing 3 of its biggest stars. Given how well the defense played in 2017, 2018 was presumably going to be more of the same. Instead, without 3 of their biggest stars, the Falcons defense predictably regressed. In response, Quinn decided he was going to take over the defensive play calling in 2019. That ... didn’t work, resulting in the Raheem Morris/Jeff Ulbrich bailout during the second half of 2019. There’s reason to be optimistic about the Falcons defense in 2020, given what Morris/Ulbrich were able to accomplish over the second half of last season, but we’ve been burned by lofty expectations before.

The problem is that Quinn was supposed to have a transformative effect on the defense. He comes from a defensive background, having playing on the defensive line at Salisbury State University in the early 1990s. He coached defense for various college and pro teams for 2 decades before the Falcons hired him as head coach. He famously coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle, although in retrospect, Quinn was basically just handed the keys to a Ferrari and asked not to wreck it.

It’s hard to answer the central question without looking squarely in Quinn’s direction. There’s a distinct possibility that he just isn’t cut out for the job. That’s not an indictment of his abilities as a talent scout and position coach. But perhaps he just isn’t capable of having a transformative effect on the defense. I’d be remiss if I gave Thomas Dimitroff a pass, inasmuch as he’s failed to equip Quinn with the personnel he arguably needs to field a dominant defense.

What are your thoughts, Falcoholics? Is this all Quinn’s fault, or is he, at least in the part, a victim of his circumstances (i.e., injuries, front office shenanigans, etc.)? Discuss!