The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff’s performance can be summed up in a statement released by the Falcons the Monday after the season concluded. Steve Sarkisian Fired, Marquand Manuel Fired, and Keith Armstrong Fired. Lets start at the top though.
Head Coach Dan Quinn came into the season with high expectations. Coming off of a year in which the Falcons went 10-6 eventually losing to the Super Bowl Champion Eagles in the Playoffs, the Falcons were expected to contend and have a shot at becoming the first team to play a home game at the Super Bowl. This never even came close to happening. The Falcons opened up in Philadelphia hoping to avenge the 2017 playoff loss but fell to the Eagles 18-12. Week 2 looked promising as the Falcons beat Carolina 31-24 and that’s when the wheels fell off. Injuries to Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Andy Levitre, Ricardo Allen, and Devonta Freeman proved to be too much to overcome. Weeks 3,4, and 5 were all losses to New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh and the Falcons quickly found themselves 1-4 and in trouble. Weeks 6,7, and 9 gave fans hope as the Falcons pulled off a 3 game winning streak beating Tampa Bay, NY Giants, and Washington. This would be the last time Atlanta would see .500 as they would go into an absolute tailspin losing 5 in a row to Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans, Baltimore and Green Bay. Now at 4-9 Dan Quinn’s job security was starting to be questioned and you started to feel things were about to change. The Falcons responded though and finished off the year with wins over Arizona, Carolina, and Tampa Bay to finish 7-9 and potentially saving Coach Quinn’s job.
Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s offense can be summed up in one word, “Inconsistent”. There were weeks that the offense flowed very well with a successful running game to open up the always potent passing game and it showed in the scoring. The team went through a stretch where it seemed like every trip to the red zone was a guaranteed score. None more evident in the game against Washington where the offense scored at ease in a 38-14 victory. But there were also games where the offense looked completely lost weeks 10-15 in the 5 game losing streak the offense put up 16,17,19,16, and 20 points. Sarkisian seemed to go away from using the tandem of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith which put pressure on Matt Ryan to carry the team through the passing game and so many mistakes were made. The biggest thing though that led to his firing at the end of the season was the comfort level of the coach and the franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. The two just never seemed to be on the same page and the frustration began to show on the face of Matt Ryan as the season progressed.
Defensive Coordinator Marquand Manuel unfortunately fell victim to being the coach of a unit devastated by injuries and not being able to coach up the backups to successfully fill in. The Falcons ranked 28th in the league in defense and saw disappointing numbers especially at the cornerback position as Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant both significantly regressed as the year went on as well as a horrible year for Vic Beasley Jr. Not all players had off years though. Damontae Kazee and Duke Riley both played well throughout the year but it just wasn’t enough for Manuel to keep his job.
Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong was victimized by the same thing over and over during his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons. The inability to find a kickoff and punt returner to set the Falcons up with good starting field position. Justin Hardy took the returns this year and made multiple mental errors by catching and running out balls that should have been touchbacks or fair catching balls that he should have let go for better field position. The Falcons averaged 7 yards on punt returns in 2018 and that might have been the final nail in Armstrong’s coffin. Matt Boshar and Matt Bryant had their always consistently good years and even Giorgio Tavecchio filled in well during Bryant’s injury. I think Keith Armstrong may have stayed had the other firings not occurred but might as well have all new voices at the top of each unit.
Overall I am going to give the Falcons coaching staff a grade of D+ because at times the offense did look respectful and Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher both had good years as always. It will be interesting to see what new voices on the offensive side of the ball and special teams to go along with Dan Quinn calling the defensive plays will do for the 2019 Falcons.
Bob Lancaster @bowlinbob