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Seahawks-Falcons preview: 5 Qs, 5 As with The Falcoholic

Atlanta Falcons v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons meet on Sunday and I’m writing this intro from my phone so let’s get to it. Dave Choate, The Falcoholic, 5 Qs, 5 As.

Q: We expect the Seahawks to end Dan Quinn’s tenure with the Atlanta Falcons. 4.5 seasons, 37-34 record, the 2016 MVP and Super Bowl, but for some reason Quinn couldn’t build a respectable defense and that not only cost them the championship, it has plummeted them to a 1-6 record and 31st in points allowed. What is your best guess as to what Quinn’s blind spot was on the defense -- personnel, scheme, injuries -- and was there a more appropriate time to fire Quinn prior to now that Arthur Blank missed out on? Also, how safe is Thomas Dimitroff and why is he?

I think Quinn’s problems have been more nuanced than most would appreciate. The easy answer is that Dan Quinn picked the wrong players and his scheme and gameday decisions have been awful, and there’s validity to all of that.

But I think the real issue here is that Quinn believes in himself and his guys to an extent that has become crippling. Rather than accept that Vic Beasley is not an elite pass rusher and that money would be better spent elsewhere, Quinn kept him at nearly $13 million and vowed to fix him. Beasley has 1.5 sacks. Rather than trust Marquand Manuel after an injury-plagued 2018 helped doom the defense, Quinn assumed control of the unit himself and ensured that any defensive failings would fall on him alone. For each of the last two seasons, the Falcons have refused to make impactful additions to the defense even when injuries hit.

Those bets have failed. Now Quinn is left with a defense that leans heavily on guys communicating effectively, making open field tackles, and quickly closing to stop short throws in their tracks, and they’re doing none of those things. Quinn’s reputation as a defensive whiz is very much on the line here, because this defense has turned into such a nightmare.

It seems obvious now, but the best time to fire Quinn would’ve been when the team cleaned out his coordinators last offseason. There was little chance of Arthur Blank doing that, given the injuries last year and Dan Quinn’s success in 2016 and 2017, but certainly this year would have been more palatable as an adjustment under a new coach than...this.

It’s hard to get a handle on Dimitroff’s status. Blank has tended to promote or let executives walk instead of firing them, and his long-term attachment to Dimitroff may signal that he’ll just move into a part of the organization that isn’t so closely tied to football. If Blank is serious about starting over with a fresh regime, though, I think Dimitroff has to go given that the same issues that plagued the Falcons in 2008 (poor offensive and defensive lines, poor defense overall) are still plaguing them in 2019. The GM doesn’t get a pass for that.

Q: When you lose a lot and give up that many points, teams don’t tend to run very often. This is the case for the Falcons despite the fact that Devonta Freeman is still one of the highest paid backs in football. Does Dirk Koetter even try to establish something with Freeman, or have they waved the white flag on the run game and just told Matt Ryan to break the record for pass attempts?

Unfortunately, they have attempted to establish the run, but they haven’t exactly done a good job of it.

Per Pro Football Reference, more than half of the team’s carries (69 in total, or more than half the number of passing attempts the Falcons have gone for on that down) have come on 1st and 10, and the team is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on those totes. From there, they’ve run a further 30 times on second down, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry on those. That sets this team up, on average, for a 3rd and 3. From that down and distance, bizarrely, they’ve attempted to run just 8 times, unsurprisingly averaging 6.3 yards per carry there.

The biggest problem is that even that average is a little deceptive, because Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith have done the bulk of their damage on just a handful of big carries. The end effect is that Dirk Koetter is predictably running on first and second downs, setting this team up for unnecessary and/or long third downs. It just hasn’t been productive, and with the team so frequently coming from behind in the first place, the ground game really hasn’t had a chance.

Q: Seahawks can relate to underwhelming pass rush. Takkarist McKinley, 1st round pick, 1 sack. Vic Beasley, top 10 pick, 1.5 sacks. We know Adrian Clayborn’s probably not gonna do much more than have a sack every once in awhile, and then 6 sacks on a random day. Grady Jarrett got the big pay day and his thing isn’t sacks but certainly I’m sure it feels like a waste to have a defense this bad when you know Jarrett, Deion Jones, you just don’t know how many good years any player will have. Which front-7 players are must-keep starters for 2020 and which gotta go to the bench or the open market?

It’s a question we’ll be debating all offseason. The truth is that there are not nearly as many essential defenders as I would have liked to believe there would be before the 2019 season began.

Grady Jarrett is obviously one of them, given that he’s a one-man wrecking crew who pops off the page, so to speak, in every single game. He can’t do it himself, but even a moderately rebuilt defensive line should get him right back to producing at a borderline elite level too. I would add Takk McKinley to the list even though his production has been inconsistent and he’s not finishing his sack opportunities.

Beyond that, it’s Deion Jones and that’s it. Jones isn’t having his best season but remains an elite athlete who will thrive again when the defense isn’t falling apart all around him. Everyone else is, at best, a nice-to-have.

Q: Who is the one player on the Atlanta Falcons in 2019 that makes you say, “Despite everything, I’d tune in 7 days a week to watch this guy”? And which player makes you go, “I’d fire Dan Quinn for nothing else other than giving this guy that much playing time”?

A: It’s Julio Jones. That’s not to argue that Grady Jarrett isn’t worth watching every week, or that Deion Jones isn’t a joy even when he’s not playing his very best, but Julio’s the guy who usually comes up with at least one head-spinning play per game. Watching him largely dominate Jalen Ramsey last week despite the loss was, at the very least, a highlight. The years haven’t dulled his athletic ability all that much, and even if that inevitable decline starts to arrive in the next few seasons, he remains a savvy route runner and someone who can win with guile. Right now, still near the peak of his powers, he’s the guy most worth watching even while the Falcons are falling apart.

The other side of that coin probably has more than one answer, but it’s gotta be Vic Beasley. In fairness to Dan Quinn, there aren’t a ton of good alternatives to playing Beasley given the way they handled this offseason, but Beasley just isn’t bringing the juice as a pass rusher and Quinn seems to waffle between having him rush the quarterback and drop into coverage. Another team might find more value in the latter role for him, but given that Beasley soaks up a ton of snaps, hasn’t been stellar in any role laid out for him, and is making nearly $13 million this year, it’s hard not to be bitter about his role.

Q: What does a win on Sunday do for the Falcons: Does it save Quinn for another 2 weeks (bye after this)? Does it make you re-think just how bad this shitshow has been? Are you at the point where draft pick matters more than Ws? And if the Falcons did leap over the Dolphins and Bengals for the #1 pick, would you consider a QB?

It may very well stave off the ax for a couple of weeks or until the end of the season. Arthur Blank does not like to fire coaches mid-season, so it would be bucking a trend to part with Quinn at the bye. That said, he might do it if the Falcons lose because they’d be 1-7 and the stadium is already going to be embarrassingly empty on Sunday.

We are at the point where draft picks matter more, but the team remains unlikely to treat their games like that’s the truth, which means they’re unlikely to leap by the likes of Miami and Washington. The truth is that even playing like garbage as they are, the Falcons are probably too talented to lose out, and they’ll likely get it together enough to put themselves closer to the 5-10 range. That would still help them re-stock going into an offseason where they’re going to need to shed a ton of players just to get under the cap.

Bonus: I normally ask if you’ve heard of Michael Dickson, but Dave I feel like you’ve heard of Michael Dickson. If not, then please let me know. But instead, why don’t you tell me a player on the Falcons that I’ve never heard of. I won’t cheat and look at the roster right now. Who is a player on the falcons that I've never heard of?

I have heard of Michael Dickson and subscribe to his newsletter.

I may be off here, but Kendall Sheffield seems like the anonymous sort after starting just two games thus far in 2019. The 2019 fourth round pick is drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff for his progress and could be a big part of the 2020 cornerback corps, but for now he’s just a guy who is probably going to get roasted this Sunday.