What I hope for all of us is that we make it through 2020 just as head coach Dan Quinn has sitting on one of the hottest seats in the NFL. How Quinn, who is entering his sixth year at the helm, has lasted consecutive losing seasons, including the tumultuous 2019 season where owner Arthur Blank began to further evaluate Quinn’s future, is truly an incredible feat.
We could only be so lucky to make it out of this year with the same gusto as Quinn, and as he prepares for a unique season ahead—I would imagine that already piping hot seat will be a few degrees warmer.
Atlanta’s second-half success was a bigger reason why Quinn is barely holding onto his position. Before the bye, the Falcons were 1-7 with a bottom-of-the-barrel defense. Some adjustments—like former wide receivers coach Raheem Morris moving back to work with the secondary—allowed Atlanta to take off. The team went 6-2 the remainder of the season and another year of late-season heroics saved Quinn’s job. The Falcons, again, have momentum heading into the offseason, but after two consecutive years without a playoff appearance and the now expanded field, anything less than a playoff berth will be a huge disappointment; Quinn’s job relies on it.
What does Atlanta need to do in order to call the 2020 season a success? It needs to take advantage of everything working in its favor and make it to the postseason. How the Falcons get there will largely depend on quarterback Matt Ryan and if the defense can continue to improve.
The Falcons have been reeling from that dreaded Super Bowl defeat in 2016, which saw them blow a 28-3 lead in the second half of the championship against the New England Patriots. Atlanta made it back to the playoffs in 2017 but has gone 7-9 the past two seasons. The Falcons can use the new playoff format to their advantage. In late March, the NFL announced it was expanding the postseason to a 14-team field, creating six total wild-card slots. In order to claim one of these spots, the Falcons must get out of a tough division.
Ryan is now up against not just Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints but also Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; both of the teams are eyeing deep playoff runs as well. This offense cannot afford to start picking up steam after the bye week. They have the talent in wide receiver Julio Jones and now running back Todd Gurley and tight end Hayden Hurst to bolster their attack.
Atlanta finished fifth in total offense last season (averaging 379.7 yards per game) but had the third-lowest rushing yards per game (85.1). Gurley’s addition will help here and Hurst will make up for the loss of Austin Hooper. Hooper had a large role in the Falcons’ offense the past three seasons which Hurst will need to quickly acclimate to in order to live up to his first-round selection.
What could plague Atlanta’s success is the offensive line. The unit enters the 2020 season 24th on Pro Football Focus’ preseason rankings, which doesn’t give much hope for good or even decent run protection. The Falcons had the worst pass-blocking (67.2) and run-blocking (58.2) grades in the Ryan era, according to PFF. Luckily for them, left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack return along with 2019 first-round picks right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary. Rookie Matt Hennessy will start at left guard and eventually be Mack’s replacement.
Another deterrent to a successful season would be a woeful performance from the defense. Morris was able to turn things around in-season; now with a whole offseason (and potentially then some) working with the defense again, there should be greater improvements.
In the latter half of 2019, the Falcons recorded 16 takeaways. Prior to the bye in Week 9, Atlanta had just four takeaways. The defense will have to work better at stopping the run—the Falcons allowed a middling 110.9 yards per game last season—and work in 16th overall draft pick A.J. Terrell, who will have to replace Desmond Trufant. Keanu Neal can hopefully return healthy to the new-look secondary and move back into his starting role. Dante Fowler Jr. also joins the defense after the last season and a half with the Los Angeles Rams. Fowler will likely play a similar role in Atlanta and help the team’s pass-rush.
Even with the fresh faces on either side of the ball, the key parts remain the same. If the Falcons can’t make it all come together, I’m not sure how Quinn will survive another season.
- Dec 01, 2022
- Nov 30, 2022