by Matt Karoly
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is not a complacent individual.
We saw it last year after the Super Bowl when he reshuffled his staff, parting ways with defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox. However, that wasn’t the only makeover the team would undergo, and the fruits of Quinn’s labor are finally coming to light.
The 2016 Falcons won the majority of their football games in pretty fashion. It was done with a high octane offense that scored points at a historic level. On the flip side, the defense did just enough to ensure Atlanta had more points than their opponent at the end of the day.
Knowing Dan Quinn’s roots stem from Seattle, does that really sound like his kind of football team? Sure, it worked to great success in 2016, but that type of game is not sustainable in the NFL. And Quinn recognized that.
Being able to win ugly the way the Falcons have consistently done this year makes them primed for any occasion. DQ echoed those words in his media session on Sunday following the Falcons 26-13 Wild Card win over the Los Angeles Rams:
“We’re equipped to play however we need to to win THAT game, and I love that about this group.”
On Saturday, the game called for a ball-control approach to limit the opportunities of the league’s top scoring offense. The Falcons executed that game plan to perfection, especially in the second half.
After Los Angeles seized back momentum with 10 straight points to end the first half, Atlanta came out of halftime with a purpose. The offense possessed the ball for 8:15 on the opening drive by virtue of 11 of the 15 plays coming on the ground. As Devonta Freeman put it, “the drive to start the second half changed the game,” despite it only ending in three points.
Beyond the scoreboard, that possession wore down a Rams defensive line that got after Matt Ryan in the first half. It also re-energized the Falcons defense and, more importantly, halted any momentum the Rams offense once generated.
Los Angeles did not get any closer the rest of the way and Ryan and company eventually put the game on ice with an 83 yard touchdown drive with under 6 minutes to go. In the end, all three phases deserve credit for limiting the Rams 29.9 PPG juggernaut to a mere 13 points.
The special teams set it off by forcing two critical turnovers in Rams territory in the first quarter; the offense possessed the ball for a total of 37:35; and last, but certainly not least, the defense harassed Jared Goff all night, holding him to his lowest YPA clip and third worst passer rating of the season. Keep in mind, Goff was third (7.98) and fifth (100.5), respectively, in both of those statistics in 2017.
Fortunately, the Falcons will not be facing a quarterback of that caliber in their Divisional round match-up versus the Eagles. Thanks to a season ending injury to Carson Wentz, Atlanta has the good fortune of facing Nick Foles instead.
With that in mind, Philadelphia does not intend to let their backup quarterback win the game for them. Rather, expect a game plan similar to the one they orchestrated in 2016 when they beat the Falcons 24-15 in Philly. In that contest, the Eagles played keep-away for 38:10 and ran for 208 yards.
But as alluded to in Quinn’s message to the media, this team is better suited to handle such a game this season. On Saturday, a national audience witnessed the “fast” element of the Falcons’ brand of football.
This week, it’s time they are introduced to the “physical” style that Dan Quinn has brought to the Atlanta franchise.
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo