The Falcons' defensive turnaround in the second half of the 2019 season might be one of the most underrated storylines of the season.
For the first eight games, the Falcons' defense looked nowhere near the unit coach Dan Quinn envisioned it would be when he took over as defensive coordinator following the 2018 season.
At 1-7 at the midway point of the season, Falcons coach Dan Quinn used the bye week to evaluate every aspect of his team and made a few changes to his coaching staff. After beginning the season as Atlanta's play-caller on defense in addition to his duties as head coach, Quinn realized he had taken on too much.
"Well, I'd say there was a lot of change heading into our season," Quinn said. "I certainly take responsibility for that. Three new coordinators, and for me certainly I felt like I took on too much at times as being head coach, defensive coordinator, trying to work with the D-ends. I learned that, and I fixed that. I wanted to make sure that I was able to do that, and I'm excited to get rolling."
When the Falcons returned from the bye week in early November, Quinn and his coaching staff infused some change on defense.
Linebackers coach and now assistant head coach, Jeff Ulbrich, and former wide receivers coach Raheem Morris, now defensive coordinator, would share play-calling duties on defensive moving forward. Ulbrich was responsible for play-calling duties on first and second down and Morris called third down and red zone defense.
Quinn continued to work closely with the defensive ends, his specialty as a longtime defensive line coach, and spent the rest of his time focused on the areas that needed more of his attention.
Between the number of players who stepped up in the second half of the season and started playing better combined with the coaching changes, the Falcons found their rhythm.
During the final eight games of the season, the Falcons had one of the league's top defensive units in a number of statistical categories.
To put the magnitude of the turnaround into perspective, here's a few key stats from the last eight games of the season:
- Third-down conversion percentage: No. 1 (38%)
- Points allowed per game: No. 5 (16.9)
- Total QB rating: No. 5 (78.7)
- Red zone touchdown percentage: No. 5 (38%)
- Total takeaways: No. 7 (13)
Here's where the Falcons ranked in these five categories in the first eight games:
- Third-down conversion percentage: No. 32 (53%)
- Points allowed per game: No. 31 (29.6)
- Total QB rating: No. 31 (117.3)
- Red zone touchdown percentage: No. 32 (66%)
- Total takeaways: No. 32 (2)
The Falcons went 6-2 to finish the year with an overall record of 7-9 and Quinn believes the way the team responded in the second half of the year has "laid a good foundation" for the future.
Over the next few months, Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will have some tough decisions regarding their roster moving forward.
And according to Quinn, everything is on the table to be evaluated to ensure the Falcons put themselves in the right position to get back to the postseason in 2020.
"For sure we're going to dig into every single part that we can evaluate and look at," Quinn said. "Nothing is not on the table. We're going to look at everything. Obviously having the start we did makes it almost impossible to get back and battle for what you want to. Like I said, I hate the results, but man, I learned a hell of a lot. I'm already ready to apply some of those lessons, but you don't get to do that just yet. There's nothing that we wouldn't look at to see how we can do it better."