ATLANTA – Although the NFL is currently in the midst of an offense-dominated era, Falcons coach Dan Quinn is focused in elevating his team's defense to a championship level.
Quinn, who recently assumed the Falcons' defensive coordinator role, knows a thing or two about directing championship-caliber defenses in the modern NFL. Quinn's Legion of Boom defense in Seattle dominated a Denver Broncos offense led by Peyton Manning that averaged 38 points per game in 2013, allowing just eight points and rolling to a 43-8 victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Quinn assumed defensive play-calling duties during the second half of Atlanta's Super Bowl run in 2016, and there was a belief among current and former players at this year's Super Bowl Opening Night that he could make the Falcons' defense formidable.
"He's a great coach," Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "He's obviously done well in the past, but he's going to take that defense where they need to go. He's a great coach and he knows that defense in and out."
Clayborn spent three seasons with the Falcons from 2015-17 prior to signing with the Patriots ahead of the 2018 season as a free agent. In his three years in Atlanta, Clayborn recorded 17 sacks, including a team-high 9.5 sacks in 2017.
Now back in the Super Bowl with the Patriots, Clayborn said he did not see much of a difference between the way things are done in Atlanta and New England, adding that "both programs are great."
Defensively, the Falcons are coming off a season that was largely defined by injuries. In their first two games, the Falcons lost starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen for the season and play-making linebacker Deion Jones for a majority of the year. Entering 2018, Atlanta's defense was considered a unit on the rise with players like Neal, Jones and Grady Jarrett emerging as legitimate NFL stars.
In taking over responsibility of the defense Quinn wants to completely mold it to his style. Internally, Falcons players have confidence in their defensive-minded head coach.
"He's very detailed [and knows] why he's calling certain plays," Jarrett said. "He's highly, highly prepared for any situation that will arise. I wasn't surprised to see that he wants to take that on and call it how he wants to … I felt like he did what was best for the team."
Before Quinn's on-field impact can fully be determined, he and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will have a number of questions to answer off of the field. Jarrett would seem to be right up there at the top of that list.
One of the top penetrating interior defenders in the NFL, Jarrett led all Falcons with 16 quarterback hits and eight tackles for a loss, and he finished second on the team with six sacks. Jarrett is a pending free agent, but fans need to look no further than Sunday's Super Bowl to see the type of impact a disruptive defensive tackle can have on a game.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the best players in the league and is fresh off a season in which he registered 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss and a whopping 41 quarterback hits. Jarrett has drawn comparisons to Donald for their similar style of play, and the Rams' All-Pro has been impressed with the Falcons' defender.
"We communicate through text or when we see each other in the offseason," Donald said. "He's definitely explosive, quick, makes a lot of plays. He's definitely an upcoming guy, for sure."
Dimitroff said after the season that Jarrett is a "priority" for the Falcons, and he's a player Quinn would likely want to see at the center of the defensive front as he seeks to shape Atlanta's defense into a group capable of making another run at a Super Bowl.
That molding is already underway, even if the fruit of that process won't be evident for many more months. As for the things that will be decided in the more immediate future, Jarrett remained cryptic about his contract discussions with the team.
"Everything will take care of itself."