The odds of the Falcons’ winning the Super Bowl have been downgraded to 1,000-1, and the team is given only a 1.399 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Neither of those mean the first season under coach Dan Quinn have been an abject failure. The Falcons, now 7-7 with two games left, will finish with a better record than in either of Mike Smith’s last two seasons (4-12, 6-10) but will fall well short of his first (11-5). The question is whether owner Arthur Blank will mandate more change amid another likely non-playoff season.
These won’t be easy decisions. There are many layers to the often debated scenarios of firing general manager Thomas Dimitroff and/or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, despite the let’s-do-this-yesterday ramblings that tend to saturate social media.
Here are the principles in the major decisions:
He has hired a new CEO to oversee his for-profit companies, including the Falcons. But little will change in the football operations because Dimitroff and Quinn still report to him. Blank, now 73, said he wants to take a step back, but that’s going to be difficult for a highly driven businessman who’s used to being hands-on. He also is opening a new stadium in 2017, which means there are personal seat licenses and season tickets to sell.
Blank, while brilliant in the business world, often is obsessed with image and perception. It follows he might feel compelled to make changes based on that and the need to sell tickets. But would he do that only one year after his football operations were remade?
He obviously is safe as head coach, he has control over the roster and if anything could gain more power in the organization. Overall, the results are mixed. He had the team energized and focused early, enabling the 5-0 and 6-1 starts. But neither he nor his staff could figure out a way to stop a slide that led to a six-game losing streak and likely submarined the season.
But let’s be clear about something: Nobody coming into this season believed 5-0 or 6-1 was a realistic. Nor did a six-game losing streak seem likely. It has been a weird year. But the Falcons’ over-under win projection before the season was 8 1/2. They’re on pace.
Quinn has done a good job with the defense, where the Falcons don’t have much talent. The pass rush remains a problem. But the biggest issues are on offense, particularly in pass protection, Matt Ryan’s play and the dynamic between Ryan and Shanahan. (More on that shortly.)
He is in the final year of his contract, so it’s logical that some conclude he will be gone. If he is fired, he won’t have any difficulty getting another job.
You can’t blame Dimitroff for the past two-plus seasons without crediting him for the first five (2008-12) when a perennial losing franchise and had five consecutive winning seasons, made the playoffs four times and reached the NFC Championship game once. Similarly, you can’t blame him for going 1-6 in the past seven games unless you credit him for going 6-1 in the first seven.
Here’s more reality than the people who want Dimitroff out won’t accept: While he obviously shares significant responsibility for roster problems, he and Smith were very much a team on all personnel decisions. It was Smith, a defensive coach, who pushed for the drafting of Ra’Shede Hageman in 2014, and it was he and former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan who believed they could create a strong enough pass rush in the 3-4 scheme with the additions of linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson (2013).
Dimitroff and Smith were partners, just as Dimitroff and Quinn are partners. Quinn has control of the Falcons’ roster and it follows exerts great influence on all draft picks and signings. That’s not to absolve Dimitroff of mistakes. Obviously, there have been plenty. But this never has been a one-man operation.
Quinn had his choice of head coaching opportunities. Dimitroff was one of the reasons he chose the Falcons. “Thomas was a really big part of why I wanted to be here,” Quinn reaffirmed two weeks ago. “The respect that I have for him and the partnership that I wanted to help create from a head coach to a general manager. We are in sync in every facet from the time that we got here, to go through every process together, to support that we give back and forth to one another couldn’t be higher for guy.”
Would Blank fire Dimitroff if Quinn wants him to stay? Would Dimitroff stay if he is offered only a one-year extension and has a three-year offer elsewhere? Would Dimitroff stay if Quinn is made president of football operations, signifying a further reduction in Dimitroff’s autonomy?
None of those questions are easily answered.
A few weeks ago I asked Quinn if he could guarantee that both Ryan and Shanahan would be returning next season. He said yes. But does somebody have to pay a price for the underwhelming production of the offense? If the Falcons do nothing, or make quarterback coach Matt LaFleur the sacrificial lamb, the message is that the Shanahan-Ryan pairing can work.
Shanahan’s play-calling has been questionable at times. Like a lot of offensive coordinators, he tends to be over-married to his scheme, regardless of the talents of his players. Having a little more of an open mind would help. But like in Dimitroff’s case, he only shares blame. Ryan’s decision-making and accuracy, particularly in the red zone, hasn’t been good, although the strong finish against Jacksonville last week was encouraging.
I’m still not convinced Shanahan will be fired. But I do believe he will need the backing of Ryan and Julio Jones, the team’s two highest salaried players, to be brought back.
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