The Atlanta Falcons have seen enough from Raheem Morris to make him the defensive coordinator beginning in 2020 and it's easy to see why.
At one point this season the Falcons were sitting at 1-7 and the defense ranked near the bottom in a number of key statistical categories. The Falcons had just lost their sixth straight game – a 27-20 defeat to the visiting Seattle Seahawks – and team owner Arthur Blank met with the media afterwards, stating that he was “extraordinarily disappointed” and that he would take "the next couple of weeks to evaluate things."
Then coach Dan Quinn made a bold decision and reshuffled his coaching staff heading into the second half of the season, including moving Morris, who had been coaching the team's wide receivers, over to defense to coach the secondary.
What has transpired in the weeks since has been truly remarkable. To truly appreciate it, look at where the Falcons ranked heading into Week 9:
- The Falcons' defense was giving up an average of 31.3 points per game and only the 0-7 Miami Dolphins were giving up more points a game at the time, allowing 34 points per game.
- The Falcons ranked 31st in the league in turnover differential, sitting at minus-11 on the year. The Falcons had just two interceptions and forced only two fumbles or 0.50 per game. The Cincinnati Bengals currently rank 32nd heading into Week 17 with 0.86 per game.
- The Falcons ranked dead last in the league in sacks with only seven. Defensive ends Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley had combined for just two at that point. For some perspective, the New England Patriots had a league-high 31 at the time.
- On third down, the Falcons allowed a league-worst 53 percent conversion rate.
- The Falcons' red-zone touchdown percentage rate was 69 percent, which ranked 31st.
All of it contributed to crippling slow starts for the Falcons, as they were outscored 144-50 in the first half of games through their first eight games.
On Nov. 4, the Monday following the Falcons' bye weekend, Quinn announced a trio of moves.
More importantly, Quinn gave up the play-calling duties and assigned them to Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. Ulbrich starting calling the alignments on first and second down while Morris called plays on third downs.
"There aren't many guys that could've come into the room as a head football coach this year in a 1-7 setting and reset the tone – just literally reset the tone," Falcons president Rich McKay said. "Took some ownership of why we were at 1-7 on himself, beyond just pointing at the players and saying it's on you. He turned the mirror towards himself and he just reset the mindset. And that's who he is."
The results have been astounding.
Not only have the Falcons gone 5-2 since Quinn made those changes, they've gone on the road and beaten two of the NFC's top teams – the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers – they've swept the Carolina Panthers.
- Over the last seven games, the Falcons defense has only allowed an average of 18.1 points per game, which is seventh best in the league.
- The Falcons have forced 13 turnovers in the last seven games, or 1.85 per game. The 49ers rank fifth heading into Week 17 with 1.80 per game.
- On third downs the Falcons have gone from the league's worst unit to No. 1, allowing just 27 percent.
- The Falcons' red-zone touchdown percentage is 42 percent, second best in the league.
- The Falcons defense has tallied 20 sacks in the last seven games (or 2.85 per game). And Beasley, who had just 1.5 sacks before the bye, is now just two shy of 10 sacks for the year. The Buffalo Bills rank 10th in the league heading into Week 17 with 2.80 per game.
In short, the Falcons are playing playoff-caliber football and demonstrating that they can beat any team in the league right now.
While Quinn deserves much of the credit for making the changes to his staff, Morris has proven that he's more than capable of leading the defense for the foreseeable future.
"I've been impressed with Raheem in his on-field coaching day-in and day-out," McKay said. "I don't even know what the phrase 'players coach' means. The nice thing about him is, if there is one, he is one. And the reason is because he's a communicator. He's out at practice every day communicating with all those players, rookies and veterans. And he's communicating in his own way to them. In other words, it's unique to them."