New head coaches, by the nature of their job, are expected to have a more global view of things when it comes to their football team. But there’s still the mind of a defensive line coach crammed inside Dan Quinn’s cranium, and that’s never going to change.
“When I see quarterbacks are able to throw it on time and they feel comfortable, it makes my skin crawl,” Quinn said Wednesday.
Sounds like a man who has watched Falcons’ game tape on an endless loop.
Quinn is the team’s new head coach and significant new voice in the draft room, and his impact will be illustrated by the team’s selections, beginning with Thursday night’s opening round. The Falcons need a lot of help, but there is no area they need more help than in the area of pass rush.
Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli was put in charge of the pro and college scouting departments in the front-office restructuring. He still answers to general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
But to a large degree, this is Quinn’s show. He has final say over the roster, and it’s logical to assume he would not have come here without having a significant voice in what players will be drafted.
He understood improving the pass rush was the biggest issue when he came to Atlanta after spending 21 years as a pro and college defensive assistant, the past two as Seattle’s coordinator. Nothing he has seen on tape since his hiring or on the field in a two-day minicamp this week has changed that opinion.
Nor should it. Since 2008, when Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith were hired for one of the NFL’s biggest renovation projects, the Falcons’ defense has ranked 24th, 21st, 16th, 12th, 24th, 27th and 32nd. The pass defense has ranked 21st, 28th, 22nd, 20th, 23rd, 22nd and 32nd.
Smith was fond of dismissing the team’s anemic sack totals as some trivial matter that only fans and media members obsessed over. I was never certain if that was spin or he really believed that. But since ranking 11th in sacks in 2008 — John Abraham had 16.5, nobody else had more than four — the Falcons have ranked 26th, 20th, 19th, 28th, 29th and 30th in total sacks.
Note to Smitty: There’s a connection there.
The Falcons need pass-rushers. Whether they come in the form of ends or outside linebackers doesn’t matter because the front seven largely has been a vast wasteland of blown draft picks.
Dimitroff has done a lot of things right. But finding and developing defenders in the front seven, particularly pass rushers, has been his biggest shortcoming. Since 2008, the team has drafted 13 defensive linemen and linebackers in the first five rounds (which seems like a fair place to cut it off). Only two can be viewed as a successful picks: middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (second round in 2008; keyed a strong run defense that fell off significantly after his departure in free agency in 2012) and linebacker/end Kroy Biermann (fifth round in 2008; productive in his first five seasons for a No. 5 pick, even if followed by a drop-off in two years since).
The Falcons spent first-round picks on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (underwhelming production relative to being a No. 1 pick, compounded by injury problems) and defensive tackle Peria Jerry (same).
They spent a No. 2 pick last year on end Ra’Shede Hageman, who seems to suffer from memory loss: He forgets he’s supposed to give effort on every play.
Others in the draft boneyard: Akeem Dent (third, ’11), Corey Peters (third, ’10), Prince Shembo (fourth, ’14), Malliciah Goodman (fourth, ’14), Lawrence Sidbury (fourth, ’09), Marquis Spruill (fifth, ’14), Stansly Maponga (fifth, ’13) and Jonathan Massaquoi (fifth, ’12).
I asked Quinn where he ranks the importance of a strong pass rush. He laughed.
“We may be talking about this position when we have the best pass rush in the league,” he said. “It’s a topic that’s near and dear to me because I know how important the quarterback is. When we can affect that guy and get him off the spot, I’ve seen firsthand the success you can have. You’re going after the one guy you’re not allowed to touch in practice.”
Quinn wants speed and quickness on defense, particularly in a pass-rusher’s first step.
“That’s the essence of pass-rushing: Can he beat a guy to where the (offensive lineman) is uncomfortable? If I can sit back and pass protect and wait on a guy, life isn’t as hard,” he said.
Clearly, he has seen the tape.
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