1. Now that Dan Quinn's first season is over, what is your general assessment of the 2015 Falcons?
Andrew Hirsh: It's hard not to feel a little disappointed after the 5-0 start, but the Falcons definitely took a step forward this year. No, 8-8 isn't ideal, but it is a two-win improvement from the year before, and that didn't happen by accident. Although it usually takes more than 12 months to reap the rewards of a new NFL culture, Quinn was able to build a solid foundation—and by doing so, he's put the Falcons on the right track. So my general opinion on the year is a positive one.
Jay Adams: This is a team on the rise. Dan Quinn's team made progress in so many areas during 2015 that has been overlooked because of the way the season ended up going. The first thing point I want to make is that, before the 2015 started, any of us would have been thrilled with an 8-8 season. That's the first sign of progress. The Falcons were able to win games and finish games they may have lost a year or two earlier. Defensively, the team took major strides, although Quinn will be the first to admit that the unit is not yet where he wants it. The run defense went from worst in the league to one of the best in one year. Sack numbers were down, but the other numbers that account for affecting the quarterback were up. The coaching staff developed Ricardo Allen into a solid safety and got plenty out of rookie Vic Beasley Jr. near the end of the season. Offensively, the Falcons were able to move the ball. There was a scoring issue that's been well-documented to this point, but being able to move the ball consistently and effectively was something the Falcons did well in 2015. Overall, I think there's plenty to be excited about as we look ahead to next season.
Kelsey Conway:A team that fully believes in their head coach, players in the locker room and the future of the program. Although the Falcons didn't make the playoffs, the impact that Dan Quinn has made in his first season is immeasurable. When a team goes through a six-game losing streak, it's very easy to start playing the point the finger game .Not once during Atlanta's skid did any player vocalize or show their frustration in a negative way. That to me shows the leadership that the head coach has provided. Personally, I believe a culture change is one the hardest things to change, and for Quinn to be able to make his mark as quick as he did, and for it to be accepted in the way it was, I believe is very telling of where the direction of the team is. Also, the improvements the defense made cannot be ignored. For a majority of the season, the Falcons had one of the best run defenses in the NFL, even when facing some extremely talented running backs.
2. What do you think was the more encouraging change under Quinn?
AH: The developmental process he's installed. Quinn and his staff are committed to building from within, and that should help put together the kind of depth needed to win a Super Bowl. Quinn and the front office had a great draft last spring; UDFA signings like Robenson Therezie and Joey Mbu could be major contributors long-term. Given how much roster turnover there is in this league, it's important to commit a lot of time, energy and personnel to raw players with high ceilings. And the Falcons are doing just that.
JA: There have been so many things, but I think the culture has perhaps been the biggest change that's led to success. The philosophies that Quinn preaches to his team are passionate, infectious and effective. The team has bought in — big time. They believe in their head coach and that goes a really long way. Quinn has brought the locker room together and this is a team that is united under his vision for its direction.
KC: The consistency of the main philosophies of the program and how the players accepted them. Even though the Falcons had a turnover issue and protecting the football is at the core of the team's beliefs, the fact that for the most part when asked what the keys to success would be against an opponent, the answers always remained consistent in placing the emphasis on themselves, not the other team. Quinn has forced his players to believe that if they solely focus on doing their jobs to be the best of their abilities, success will come.
3. What surprised you the most in 2015?
AH: The streakiness. I don't think anyone expected Atlanta to start 5-0, and the six-game skid that followed was definitely not anticipated. Lots of people say the NFL season is a roller coaster ride, and that was certainly the case in 2015.
JA: I look no further than Devonta Freeman. At the beginning of 2015 training camp, we all thought there would be a big competition at running back between Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman — and there was. But all that changed in New York when Coleman, who began the year as the starter, suffered a rib injury. Freeman came into the fold and was a revelation. I think most people knew he was a talented running back, but I know I had questions about whether he'd be able to carry the load as the feature back. When I saw how his confidence grew and grew during 60 minutes of play against Dallas, I knew then that he was going to be something special. He was the most pleasant surprise of 2015 to me.
KC: I agree with Jay, the emergence of Devonta Freeman. I think back to the first time the official depth chart was released, and I remember the attention that swirled when Tevin Coleman was listed as the No.1 running back. To think of how much Freeman was able to accomplish, with that kind of start to his season, is a true testament to his work ethic and belief in his talents.
4. What was your favorite play of the year?
AH: Ricardo Allen's interception in Week 1. Atlanta's five consecutive winning seasons was an incredible time in franchise history, but thanks to the NFC Championship Game defeat and two straight losing campaigns, truly uplifting wins had been few and far between. Optimism was contagious after a great draft and an encouraging training camp under a new coach, and Allen's pick gave that optimism a sense of validation. The Dome was rocking; a national audience was looking on. And it ensured a promising start to the Quinn era. I'll never forget that play.
JA: When I think about my favorite play, the first thing that pops into my mind is Julio Jones' leaping catch in a Week 16 win over Carolina. Great plays are generally defined by difficulty or circumstance, but for me, it's all about how it made me feel emotionally. When I saw Julio go up for that ball, come down with it and then run into the end zone, it took everything in me not to jump out of my seat in the press box. It was a beautiful play and one I'll remember seeing in person for a long time.
KC: With so many thrilling plays, this is tough. But, I think if I had to choose, I would pick Robert Alford's pick-six in overtime against the Washington Redskins. With the score tied and the Redskins driving, Alford's play was so electrifying and intense; it's hard to forget that one.
5. What do you think the Falcons need to do to make the playoffs in 2016?
AH: The offense, namely Matt Ryan, needs to get more comfortable with the scheme. Atlanta's D got a lot better in 2015 and should only improve next year; the running game, led by Devonta Freeman, figures to be lethal once again. So if Ryan can return to his old self—and I'm extremely confident he will—the Falcons will be just fine.
JA: Stay the course. Again, progress was abundant in 2015. The right steps and strides were made. Now, it's important to build off that. Having a good haul in free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft will be key in trying to make the postseason in 2016.
KC: Eliminate turnovers and continue with a balanced attack on offense. Atlanta's defense will keep improving, and as long as the offense cuts down on the turnovers, I have full belief the Falcons make a big run next season. The mentality is there; the key players are in place and the coaching staff remains in tact. Everything seems to be where it needs to be for Dan Quinn's team to reach the playoffs.