When Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced that coach Dan Quinn would return for the 2020 season, he mentioned one particular aspect that left him dissatisfied about how the 2019 season unfolded.
“If you were asking me, pressing me hard, what’s the major criticism I would have of the coach? I would say, and Dan would say … ‘Well, I probably should have made some of these changes sooner, ’” Blank said last December. “The second half record (of 2019) speaks to that and speaks for that.”
The Falcons started 1-7 but then won six of their final eight games. A common theme that led to that second-half turnaround was that Quinn moved Raheem Morris from receivers coach to the defensive backs room.
After a fifth consecutive loss to open the 2020 season, this time a 23-16 defeat to the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, change finally came. Blank fired both general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Quinn just before 10 p.m. Sunday.
Blank was not made available to reporters following Sunday’s latest loss. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution via text, “When we have something to say. I’ll say it.”
He said it - with authority - later in the day with the dramatic changes to the organization.
“Decisions like these are very difficult, but the previous two seasons and start to this one have been especially hard for me because of the deep love, admiration and respect I and my family have for Dan, Thomas and their families,” Blank said in a statement.
Throughout the offseason, the Falcons' stance was that the 6-2 finish from last season was indicative of how they would look in 2020. They only replaced two on-field assistants and kept the defensive play-calling structure intact.
Yet throughout this season’s 0-5 start, nothing has gone according to plan. They’ve been blown out by the Seattle Seahawks (Week 1) and Green Bay Packers (Week 4). They lost in excruciating fashion after holding double-digit leads against the Dallas Cowboys (Week 2) and Chicago Bears (Week 3).
Therefore, after Sunday’s game, Quinn was asked if he would make changes to his staff.
“No, I don’t,” Quinn said. “We’re going to collectively get fixed and address what we need to, but, collectively, we’ll all be part of that solution of playing better. Not one person. It’s all three phases, coaches, players, everybody, we’re in the same boat and in it together. All hands on deck to help. No need placing blame anywhere than right at one another to say what could we do better and that’s what we’ll do.”
Against Carolina, the Falcons’ offense, without receiver Julio Jones available due to a hamstring injury, was unable to move the field with much consistency. After running back Todd Gurley scampered for a 35-yard touchdown on the opening drive, the Falcons either stalled to punt or settled for field goals.
Although Jones wasn’t able to play, the offense still features a slew of first-rounders. The entire offensive line was selected in the first round — Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary were taken by the Falcons, James Carpenter was drafted by the Seahawks and Alex Mack was selected by the Browns. Receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end Hayden Hurst, originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, also were first-round selections.
And then there’s quarterback Matt Ryan, the former 2016 league MVP who was taken third overall by the organization in 2008. Despite what would be seen as riches on the football field, the Falcons — with the continuity the organization lauded throughout the offseason — could only muster 16 points against a Carolina squad that brought in a brand new coaching staff that was unable to work with the roster during the offseason.
Since Week 2, the scoring output, in terms of points scored, has gone from 39 against Dallas, 26 against Chicago, 16 against Green Bay and 16 against Carolina.
“I think No. 1, the explosive plays,” Quinn said. “That comes off the run game, comes off the play passes. It was certainly good to see Calvin’s involvement in the second half, for sure, but more than anything, just these explosive plays. Those flip the field. Those cause chances to get down in the red zone to get scoring plays. The big plays certainly need to be a bigger part of our game. That’s for sure.”
Defensively, the Falcons allowed the Panthers to convert 6-of-12 third-down opportunities and rack up 437 total yards. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns and saw clean protection throughout the game. The Falcons' defensive front failed to tally a sack.
From the opener through this week, not much has changed with the product on the field. The only difference is a limited number of fans were able to view the team’s performance in person Sunday.
Although Quinn’s players once again stated how much they have his back, that may not be enough to sway the Falcons’ ownership this time around.
“I think the guys on this team and in the locker room are really prideful, so there is no question that everyone is working hard,” Mack said. “There is no doubt that everyone is showing up ready to work. We just need to focus in and make sure that work is productive. Show up tomorrow and put the nose to the grindstone.”
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