Cover 9@9: Blank on Falcons’ quick fall to the bottom of the NFL

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons owner Arthur Blank discusses the team after the 4-12 season and how it is ready to move on to the coach and general manager searches.

1. The No Spin Zone. Feb. 5, 2017, wasn’t that long ago.

Even though the Falcons did not win the Super Bowl on that infamous date in franchise history, the team’s future still was thought to be very bright.

The offense was intact, and the defense was full of young players in their first or second seasons in the NFL. The sky was supposed to be the limit, but the bottom fell out.

How did we get to a full restart of the direction of the team in such a short period of time. That was my first question for Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Monday.

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, the Super Bowl Falcons were ridin’ high in April. The 4-12 Falcons were shot down in May. Now, they’ve got to change their tune and get back up by June.

“We’ve talked about it a great deal internally,” Blank said. “Because a lot of our talent is still the same. It’s changed somewhat in terms of the offensive line, it’s changed a good bit. But we have some of the same young talented players on defense.”

Devonta Freeman fussing about his contract during the Super Bowl week set the tone. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan opting not to run the ball in run situations was costly. There was plenty of blame to pass around for the collapse.

In 2017, coach Dan Quinn did a good job of keeping the team together and somehow got them back to the playoffs.

The Falcons never recovered from the horrible start to the 2018 season that saw Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones sustain major injuries. The Falcons never could recapture their magic, and the offensive line started to collapse.

Blank has long preached about having a winning team that’s sustainable over a long period of time.

“I think it was a number of factors, some of which we can get our hands around, most of which we can,” Blank said. “It’s not due to lack of effort. It’s not due to trying. It’s not due to lack of planning on behalf of our head coach and coaching staff and our general manger.”

The Falcons’ shaky drafts caught up with them.

“I think we’ve made some mistakes in the draft which have hurt us, in my opinion,” Blank said. “I thought we made some mistakes in free agency, which is always very dangerous waters to tread in because you can pick a lot of – pick up some really good players, but you also – you’re always exposed to some other teams’ issues or players’ issues that we probably may not have fully dimensioned.”

Blank went on to state how the players competed hard for Quinn and interim coach Raheem Morris in 2020.

“Whether it be against a team like Kansas City or Tampa Bay,” Blank said. “The score got out of hand at the end. It was very competitive until the third quarter. Guys were fighting and fighting hard. I give them a lot of credit.”

He pointed to the close losses this season.

“In many cases they were by one critical play,” Blank said. “Usually it’s two or three plays that would cost us a game, but in many cases it was just a single play for us. Take the game against Kansas City, if (A.J. Terrell) holds on to the ball, the game is over, but that’s just an example.”

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell breaks up an incomplete pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill during the second half Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

He finally admitted that two 7-9 seasons and 4-12 was too much to take.

“The point is that none of that’s acceptable,” Blank said.

He promised a thorough review of the football operation and what went sideways after the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.

“Like everything in life, what we do is do an in-depth self-analysis, take the X-ray machine, examine all the bones, examine every aspect of our body, those parts that are good and need to be carried forward we’ll do that with them,” Blank said. “Those parts that need to be changed out, we will change them out because this is not acceptable.

“Whatever the reasons are, the results are not acceptable, and this is a results-oriented business, and we understand that totally.”

2. Younger coach gamble: Will Blank take a gamble on a young offensive wiz like Carolina’s Joe Brady, who is only 31?

Did a lot of people know who Sean McVay was before (the Rams hired him)?” Blank said. “The answer is probably not a lot of people. (Browns coach) Kevin Stefanski? Probably not. The young man (Kliff Kingsbury) that’s in Arizona. They were not household names, but they (have) become very successful and what have you.”

Blank, who will make the key selections, has an open mind.

“I think you have to do the research,” Blank said. “The thing I will say that I think is different, I do think — and this is a credit to the league and it’s a credit to the candidates and a credit to I would say the NFL generally — is that the extent of qualified diverse candidates in my opinion for both positions is deeper this year than I’ve seen in the past.”

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh cheers on his team from the sideline during the first half Nov. 1, 2020, against the Seahawks in Seattle. One year ago, Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy missed out on the coaching carousel despite being coordinators of the two Super Bowl teams. The two figure to be near the top of many of the lists of possible head coaching candidates again this offseason when the NFL is hoping some new rules lead to more opportunities for minority coaches. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

3. Who’s been interviewed for GM post: Former Houston general manager Rick Smith, Falcons director of college scouting Anthony Robinson, Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown.

4. Who’s been interviewed for HC post: Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady has been cleared to be interviewed by the Falcons.

5. Lindstrom named All-Pro: Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom, who started all 16 games and played 1,123 offensive snaps (100%), was named to Pro Football Journal’s All-Pro first team.

The Pro Football Journal is widely respected and dedicated to reporting mainstream and esoteric aspect of the professional football. The blog is written John Turney, a pro football researcher and writer.

Here’s what he had to say about Lindstrom:

Chris Lindstrom of Atlanta is the right guard and Nate Davis one of Derrick Henry’s run blockers is Second-team. Lindstrom did get beat once by Chris Jones (in Week 16) but then Jones could get nothing else on him so the Chiefs sent the shifts away from Lindstrom so Jones would be away from Lindstrom.”

Lindstrom was ignored when the Pro Bowl teams were released.

Washington’s Brandon Scherff, Green Bay’s Elgton Jenkins and New Orleans’ Andrus Peat were the guards on the NFC team. Scherff and Jenkins were the starters.

In the AFC, Indianapolis’ Quenton Nelson, Cleveland’s Joel Bitonio and Pittburgh’s David DeCastro were the guards. Nelson and Bitonio were the starters.

Lindstrom was one of the few bright spots for the Falcons in 2020, when they finished 4-12.

Lindstrom was taken 14th overall in the 2019 draft out of Boston College. He suffered a broken foot that year in the season opener at Minnesota. He came back and played in the final four games.

Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo was named to PFL’s All-NFC team.

6. Best odds: Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and former interim coach Raheem Morris have the best odds to secure the head coaching job, according to odd set by BetOnline (www.BetOnline.ag, Twitter: @betonline_ag).

Bieniemy is 3 to 1 to become the “Next Atlanta Falcons Full-Time Head Coach Hired.” Morris is 4 to 1.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a 25-to-1 long shot.

Head Coach Odds

Next Atlanta Falcons Full-Time Head Coach Hired

Eric Bieniemy 3/1

Raheem Morris 4/1

Brandon Staley 5/1

Todd Bowles 5/1

Robert Saleh 6/1

Brian Daboll 7/1

Lincoln Riley 7/1

Josh McDaniels 10/1

Byron Leftwich 12/1

Matt Eberflus 12/1

Dabo Swinney 14/1

Jim Harbaugh 14/1

Arthur Smith 16/1

Greg Roman 16/1

Dennis Allen 20/1

Tony Elliott 20/1

Nick Saban 25/1

7. Future deals: The Falcons signed 11 players to reserve/futures contracts Monday.

Cornerback Delrick Abrams (Colorado), offensive lineman Willie Beavers (Western Michigan),quarterback Kurt Benkert (Virginia), running back Tony Brooks-James (Oregon), wide receiver Greg Dortch (Wake Forest), kicker Elliott Fry (South Carolina), defensive back T.J. Green (Clemson), defensive tackle Chris Slayton (Syracuse), defensive back Chris Williamson (Minnesota) and offensive lineman Willie Wright (Tulsa).

Matt Schaub (left, with Vick lining up at running back) was a backup with the Falcons from 2004-2006. He showed enough potential in spot appearances that some fans called for him to play more instead of the spectacular but erratic Vick. Ironically the Falcons traded Schaub away in March of 2007, then found themselves in need of a quarterback after Vick was lost to the federal dog-fighting charges.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

8. Schaub to retire: Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, who’s played in 14 games over the past four years as Matt Ryan’s backup, will retire from the NFL, owner Arthur Blank said Monday.

Schaub, 39, who was drafted by the Falcons in 2004, has played 16 seasons in the NFL.

He served as Michael Vick’s backup before he was traded to the Houston Texans in 2007. He was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Texans and guided them to the playoffs in 2011 and 2012.

Over his career, Schaub started 93 of 155 games. He completed 2,148 of 3,348 passes (64.2%) for 25,467 yards, 136 touchdowns and 91 interceptions. He finished with a career passer rating of 89.5.

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Atlanta Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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