This missive concerns the Falcons, meaning that I’m duty-bound to cite 28-3, to note that Dan Quinn fired nearly every coach except Dan Quinn and to make an eye-rolling reference to DQ’s Brotherhood. With that out of the way, we can proceed to today’s topic, which is:
I like what the Falcons have done since they last played a game, and I stipulate that I make this assertion while under no threat to my personal well-being.
I like it when teams admit they have problems. Problems are part of life. (Apologies for going Dr. Phil on you.) The greatest glory is not in never falling — switching here to Confucius or Lombardi, take your pick — but in rising when we fall. Do I have a future as a Life Coach or what?
Back to the Falcons: They fired three coordinators on New Year’s Eve because they admitted what some of us on the periphery had been saying for two years. Namely, that their coaching was substandard. Maybe it took them a year longer to dump Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel than it should have, but to have canned both after Year 1 of their coordination could have been construed as a knee-jerk response. (Better to leave the knee-jerk stuff to professional jerks like me.)
Two years, however, constituted a Rubicon being crossed. (Apologies also for this turning into a Dale Brown count-the-references monologue.) Credit Quinn for doing something that could spawn a correction. Dirk Koetter is a better NFL offensive coordinator than Sarkisian; Quinn himself is a better NFL DC than Manuel. I’m unclear as to how Keith Armstrong mishandled the special teams, but Matt Bosher did have a couple of punts blocked last year, so maybe it was time for — this is me doing my energetic Quinn voice — a New Voice there, too.
We’d seen enough of Sarkisian and Manuel to surmise that their ways weren’t going to work. Koetter’s Way — I highly recommend the 1981 California-noir film “Cutter’s Way,” starring Jeff Bridges and the late John Heard — has worked here before. Of all the pro OCs Matt Ryan has had — the number is four or five, depending on whether you do the Grover Cleveland thing and count one guy twice — he seemed to hit it off faster with Koetter. So there’s that.
There’s also this: The one time under DQ that the Falcons’ defense has appeared of championship caliber was when they got closest to a championship, and that was when Quinn took over from Richard Smith after Thanksgiving in the season that yielded an NFC title. We didn’t know Quinn had done that until after the Super Bowl, but still: Even as it was happening, it was clear these defenders were playing in a way they hadn’t before.
In January 2013, Koetter’s offense had the Falcons leading San Francisco by 17 points in the NFC Championship game; in February 2017, Quinn’s defense had the Falcons leading New England by 25 in the Super Bowl. They won neither game. If we pair Big-Time Offense with Big-Time Defense and Koetter, unlike Kyle Shanahan that night in Houston, remembers to run the ball, might the Falcons up and win it all by the ridiculous score of 73-10?
Yes, this is getting ahead of ourselves. According to BetOnline, the Falcons have a 36.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, which is to say they have a 63.4 percent chance of missing the playoffs. The schedule is difficult, especially at the start, and this team is coming off maybe the least impressive 7-9 season — the Falcons didn’t beat a team that broke .500 — in the history of football. We might also recall that the 2016 Falcons were coming off a season that started 6-1 and ended 8-8 and were facing the NFL’s co-toughest schedule. They went 11-5.
Falcons fans will be debating the 2019 draft for the next decade — they’re fans; it’s what they do — but I have no problem with investing in the protection of the franchise’s greatest asset, who wears No. 2. I have no problem with trying to run the ball better. In my experience, loading up along the offensive line is usually a sound strategy. That’s unless you pick the wrong offensive linemen, and we can’t know that until … oh, at least the first five minutes of rookie camp.
Full disclosure: I’ve spent most of the time since Feb. 5, 2017, expecting the Falcons to mess up. I feel a bit different today. I know the Saints consider themselves the team to beat and will be driven by righteous fury, but if you saw New Orleans in person early and late last season — I did, FYI — you had to notice that the halting Drew Brees in the star-crossed NFC Championship game bore little resemblance to the dynamic version of September. Then again, he turned 40 in January.
The Rams are supposed to be the NFC’s latest greatest, but their Super Bowl no-show raised questions about Todd Gurley’s health, Jared Goff’s ceiling and Sean McVay’s case as the next Bill Walsh. Green Bay has a new coach, but Aaron Rodgers hasn’t taken the Packers to a Super Bowl for nearly a decade. Philadelphia no longer has Nick Foles as safety net. Chicago is relying on Mitch Trubisky. Seattle has staked everything on Russell Wilson. Dallas ranked 22nd in total offense. Minnesota fired its offensive coordinator in December and still missed the playoffs.
The one thing we haven’t been able to say about the Falcons lately is that they lack talent. They had to underachieve mightily to go 7-9. It’s hard to imagine the change in coaching structure — and the potential upgrade in the O-line — won’t yield a surge in performance. Should that happen (and it should), there’s room to move in the NFC.
I’m not saying they’re the odds-on favorite to win the conference. I don’t see Chris Lindstrom having that level of immediate impact. What I do see is that the Falcons seem better positioned to maximize resources than at any time since … well, 28-3. I’m not sure that constitutes full-blown belief, but I do feel rather less skeptical. And that’s the new me, always looking on the bright side of life.
(Disclaimer: This assumes the Falcons won’t lose in Minneapolis on Sept. 8. If they do, they should fold the franchise.)
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