Before the Falcons’ regular-season finale, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel were reflective about their plights with the team.
After a disappointing season that saw the Falcons go from Super Bowl contenders to missing the playoffs entirely, head coach Dan Quinn promised a sweeping evaluation of the entire football operation.
The Falcons (6-9) close out the season against the Buccaneers (5-10) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“From players to staff to everything, we want to make sure that we look at the body of work and get clear, concise evaluations on everybody,” Quinn said after the team slipped to 4-9. They’ve since won two games against the lowly Cardinals and against the Panthers and backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
They’ll closed out the season against a Buccaneers team that’s playing out the string with a cloud over head coach Dirk Koetter’s head.
Sarkisian, who’s completing his second season with the Falcons, did not want to discus is future.
“My goal and my focus right now is on Sunday,” Sarkisan said on Thursday during his weekly press conference. “That hasn’t changed since Week One. ... Deal with whatever we have to deal with after that.”
Sarkisian’s offense has sputtered this season as the offensive line suffered injuries and showed signs of age. The rushing attack has been porous and the Falcons are set to start their third left guard and possibly their sixth guard overall.
“My focus is on the game,” Sarkisian said. “You control what you can control in this business. It’s pretty simple. You control what you can control.”
The offense’s rushing attack enters the final game averaging 97.6 yards per game, which ranks 27th in the league.
“At the end of the day, we just weren’t consistent enough,” Sarkisian said.
The defense has been ravaged by injuries to key starters, most notably strong safety Keanu Neal and middle linebacker Deion Jones, both tone-setters for the unit.
Also, free safety Ricardo Allen, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and reserve Derrick Shelby suffered injuries and missed multiple games: Allen (13), Jarrett (two), Shelby (nine).
“It’s a part of the game and we all understand that, but when you lose two powerful leaders (Neal and Jones) such as those guys and it was not with their voice,” Manuel said. “It’s not the traditional big-time names (where) all that you hear and all they do is talk. These guys walk the walk. It was tremendous hard the entire season to be without them.”
Manuel, like Sarkisian, is a first-time coordinator in the NFL. After a strong first season, the Falcons are ranked in the bottom half of the league in all key categories: points allowed (25th), total yards (26th), rushing yards (27th) and passing yards (24th).
The turnover differential has been on a uptick since the return of Jones, who missed 10 games with a broken foot, four games ago.
In 2017, Manuel guided the defense to a top-10 finish in three of the four key categories. The defense improved from 27th to eighth in scoring defense, 25th to ninth in total yards, 17th to ninth in rushing yards and 28th to 12th in passing yards.
“I’ve coached this defense to best that it has (been) in 20 years,” Manuel said. “With that being said, everyone is being evaluated. Things of that nature will take care of themselves. As they always well. I understand this. We went out to do a job and we battled with the guys that we had.”
Manuel believes he did about the best he could with the players on hand. About the biggest mistake was trying to move Brian Poole to safety against the Bengals.
The move backfired and the Falcons had to scrap their plans mid-game and ended up losing with rookie Isaiah Oliver losing A.J. Green in coverage on the game’s final play.
“We went out and battled,” Manuel insisted.
Manuel has been with Quinn since the 2013 season. After a season at defensive backs coach, he was picked to replace Richard Smith as the defensive coordinator after the 2016 Super Bowl season.
Manuel was reflective when asked about his future.
“God always has a way of taking care of things he needs to take care of,” Manuel said.
With Quinn planning an evaluation of everybody, changes could reach down deep into his staff.
Here’s a look at Quinn’s full staff:
* Head coach – Dan Quinn
* Assistant head coach/pass game coordinator – Raheem Morris: He has been a head coach in the league and called his defense for a time with Tampa Bay.
* Assistant to the head coach – Steve Scarnecchia: Administrative position.
* Offensive coordinator – Steve Sarkisian: In his second year with the team. Most of the team’s money has been spent on offensive players. The unit failed to carry the team this season. Injuries were a factor.
* Quarterbacks – Greg Knapp: Hired to help improve the offense.
* Running backs – Bernie Parmalee: Completing his first year on the job. The running backs continued to get beat in pass protection.
* Wide receivers – Dave Brock: He helps with the most talented group on the roster.
* Tight ends – Wade Harman: He has done a great job with the development of tight end Austin Hooper.
* Offensive line – Chris Morgan: Will the team blame him for his unit getting old and the injuries to starters Andy Levitre (pectoral) and Brandon Fusco (broken ankle)? Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland were liabilities in pass protection and right tackle Ryan Schraeder got benched.
* Assistant offensive line – Kyle Flood: He helps with the unit that is perhaps under the most scrutiny.
* Offensive assistant – Justin Outten: Quality control who’s in his second season with the team.
* Offensive assistant – Chad Walker: Quality control in his third season with the team.
* Defensive coordinator – Marquand Manuel: Completing his second season in the position. Former NFL player from 2002-09.
* Defensive passing game coordinator – Jerome Henderson: Completing his third season with the Falcons. Came over from the Cowboys. Former standout at Clemson.
* Defensive line – Bryant Young: In his second season with the Falcons. He has done a great job with Grady Jarrett, but wasn’t able to push Vic Beasley back up to Pro Bowl status. Rookie Deadrin Senat is coming along well. Takk McKinley is still a work in progress.
* Assistant defensive line – Travis Jones: Finishing his first year with the team.
* Linebackers – Jeff Ulbrich: Original member of Quinn’ staff. Worked wonders with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, but couldn’t do the same with Duke Riley. Did a nice job with rookie Foye Oluokun this season, too.
* Secondary – Doug Mallory: Has not been able to get Robert Alford to trust his speed and cut down on the penalties. Rookie Isaiah Oliver is developing nicely. The plan to move Brian Poole to safety, a position he played in college, backfired. Damontae Kazee did an above average job at free safety for Allen.
* Defensive assistant/defensive backs – Charlie Jackson: Is finishing his second season with the Falcons. Has been with the Packers, Broncos and Rams.
* Defensive quality control – Aden Durde: Completing his first season with the team.
Special teams coaches
* Special teams coordinator – Keith Armstrong: His units have been solid although they didn’t get much from the kickoff and punt returners after letting Andre Roberts leave. Roberts, who signed with the Jets, was recently named to the Pro Bowl.
* Special teams assistant – Mayur Chaudhari: Completing his first year with the team.
Strength and conditioning
* Head strength and conditioning – Jesse Ackerman: In his third season with the team before working the college ranks at John Carroll, Iowa State, Texas and Florida. The Falcons built a new weight room last offseason, but a rash of injuries followed. The program must be re-examined.
* Assistant strength and conditioning – Jonas Beauchemin: Is in his 11th season with the team.
* Assistant strength – Brandon Ireland: He’s in his second season with the team.
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