On Sunday, I wrote a tweet about the interesting dichotomy between the two Pete Carroll disciples who got head coaching jobs in the last few years. Within the span of a handful of weeks, one of them was fired for posting the second-worst winning percentage of all-time. The other was going to the Super Bowl in only his second season.
Then came a barrage of predictably-nitpicky replies about how Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn went to very different situations.
First of all, that was not the point of the tweet. Sometimes a person just wants to observe something without grinding down every last detail. The simple version was just what I said: One coach got fired, one coach went to the Super Bowl. Interesting. To me, at least. But then I did start thinking about the teams that they “inherited.”
A brief look at the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 will indeed show you a 2-14 team that had a very long way to go to being successful. But by 2015, they actually had thrown a lot at the roster in the draft and in free agency. Call the Jaguars what you will, they have an owner who desperately wants to be good. They drafted a QB early, running back early, had two 1,000-yard receivers, a big name free agent tight end, draft a left tackle early, draft a safety early, huge free agent signings on the defensive line, draft a cornerback early ... none of it worked. By his final season, with the team he helped construct and almost entirely composed of players he had coached for their entire pro careers, Bradley went 2-12 before being let go.
He has to take some blame for that.
When Quinn took over the Falcons, he inherited a team that had gone 8-8 a year earlier and was outscored by six points. The year before that, Atlanta was 6-10 and had been outscored by 36 points. There’s been so much talk about Matt Ryan and Julio Jones already being with the Falcons when Quinn was hired, but is that really all there is to it?
Another note before we get started with all of the changes that have occurred since Quinn took over: In 2014, the Falcons were ranked 32nd on defense by DVOA. They were 31st against the pass, 30th against the run. Worst defense in the NFL. That is what he inherited and that is why Atlanta went with a defensive-minded coach.
Here are the changes he made on both sides of the football:
Matt Ryan. Great. This is a significant advantage that this head coaching vacancy had that most do not. That being said, Ryan had a career passer rating of 91.1 before Quinn arrived. He had gone 1-4 in the playoffs. His career-high for touchdowns was 32. His career-low for interceptions was nine. He averaged 13 interceptions per season. He didn’t have Kyle Shanahan as an offensive coordinator in any of the years with Mike Smith, none of the other guys in that position could really ever figure out to do. This season, Ryan had a rating of 117.1, 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and he’s already tripled his career playoff wins.
In 2014, the starting running back was Steven Jackson. Devonta Freeman was a backup fourth round pick who averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Under Quinn, Freeman has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored 27 touchdowns. He scored two touchdowns as a rookie.
Tevin Coleman was drafted in the third round in 2015, replacing Jacquizz Rodgers, and breaking out for 941 total yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Jones was there, but what else? I can point to a lot of All-Pro receivers who never went to the Super Bowl. They need help. When Quinn took over, Roddy White was 33. The number three was Harry Douglas. The number four was Devin Hester.
In his first season, Hester and Douglas were out, White was a year late on retirement, the entire group save for Jones was decimated. That’s why Jones got 1,871 yards last season, but it didn’t make them a complete team. They added Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, Aldrick Robinson, and incorporated Coleman and Freeman into the passing offense.
The offensive linemen he inherited was left tackle Jake Matthews, the sixth overall pick in 2014, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Then they added guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester in 2015, before signing key center Alex Mack in 2016. Quinn inherited two tackles that were fairly-well criticized, who then got a lot better.
In 2014, the defensive line included Kroy Biermann, Malliciah Goodman, and had Jonathan Babineaux as a full time starter. In 2015, they added Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett in the draft, Adrian Clayborn in free agency. The linebackers before Quinn arrived included Joplo Bartu, Prince Shembo, and Paul Worrilow as a full-time starter. Today, it’s outstanding rookie Deion Jones, Beasley, De’Vondre Campbell (fourth round rookie), and a handful of others. The moves with Jones and Beasley is enough to inspire hope for Falcons fans for the future of this defense. The also signed Brooks Reed in 2015, Dwight Freeney and Courtney Upshaw in 2016.
If Quinn was going to replicate the success of Seattle’s defense, he’d need his Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman. He did inherit Desmond Trufant (who went on IR after nine games this season) and Robert Alford (a decent, unspectacular corner) but no other safeties or corners of note. The Falcons drafted starting corner Jalen Collins in the second round and Ricardo Allen — a corner they converted to a starting safety — in the fifth round in 2015, then safety Keanu Neal in the first round in 2016. Injuries forced undrafted free agent rookie Brian Poole into starting duty this year as well.
The secondary he inherited was Trufant, Alford, and safety Kemal Ishmael. And Atlanta had only one of those guys for the playoffs.
Overall offense and defense —
Under Quinn and Shanahan, Atlanta’s offense had one of the all-time great seasons. He wasn’t specifically hired to “fix” Matt Ryan, because that wasn’t the Falcons’ biggest issue, but of course you always want to improve the QB as much as possible. With Quinn, Atlanta had a franchise-best season on offense. He inherited key players Ryan, Matthews, Jones, Schraeder, and Freeman. But added Shanahan, Sanu, Gabriel, Coleman, Mack, Levitre, Chester, and Hooper. Making many of the players he inherited, that much better.
Now back to that 32nd-ranked defense.
Last season, Atlanta improved to 22nd on defense, 22nd against the pass, 25th against the run. (Still by DVOA.) That’s a pretty big jump for a defense that was the worst in the NFL, and had very little talent outside of Trufant. This season, they dropped back to 27th, improving against the pass (19th), while getting worse against the run (29th). But look at all the talent. Mostly brought in by Quinn: Jones, Neal, Campbell, Collins, Beasley, Trufant, Jarrett, Reed ... and they did that without Trufant for half of the season.
Quinn “inherited” (aka ... crushed interviews and earned a job?) a middling team for a championship-less franchise that was barren with talent in 2014 outside of two guys most of fans knew about because of fantasy football. The Freeman thing didn’t start until Quinn. The Beasley thing didn’t happen without Quinn. The Deion thing never happens without Quinn. The Coleman thing never happens without Quinn.
The Super Bowl never happens without Quinn.
Let’s give him the credit he deserves. The NFC might belong to the Falcons for a few more years if their defensive players stay on the same trajectory.