unit possessed the necessary pieces for a sizable jump in 2017. Quinn’s faith was rewarded as
the combination of veteran leaders and emergent young talent allowed 52.8 fewer yards per
game (‘16 - 371.2; ‘17 - 318.4) and surrendered 166 fewer offensive points last season.
Atlanta’s defense jumped from 25th in 2016 to ninth in 2017 in yards per game and went from
27th to eighth in points per game. One of the major points of emphasis going into the 2017 season
was red zone defense. In 2016, Atlanta ranked last in the NFL allowing touchdowns on 72.7 percent
of its opponents’ possessions. The work the defensive unit did in red zone situations serves
as a prime example of Quinn’s focus on the details. The Falcons made a radical improvement in
red zone defense last season, vaulting up to fifth in the NFL with opponents finding the end zone
on just 45.8 percent of possessions inside the 20.
The 2016 season saw Quinn in his first playoff appearance as a head coach. He dispatched
his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, in the divisional round before closing the Georgia Dome
with a 44-21 defeat of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Despite falling to
the New England Patriots, 34-28, in the NFL’s first Super Bowl decided by overtime, Quinn built a
brotherhood poised to challenge the NFC’s top echelon teams for years to come.
That season, Quinn’s leadership helped produce six Pro Bowlers, including Ryan, running
back Devonta Freeman, wide receiver Julio Jones, Mack, outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. and
placekicker Matt Bryant. Ryan became the first player in franchise history to be named NFL MVP
and joined Jones and Beasley as Associated Press firstteam All-Pros. Additionally, Quinn earned
the NFL’s Salute to Service award for his commitment to honoring and supporting the armed
services and the military community.
Quinn’s influence on Atlanta’s young defense was clearly seen in 2016 as several first and
second-year players filled key roles on the unit. His impact was perhaps clearest on Beasley,
who took the NFL’s sack crown with 15.5 in his second year in the league – the second most by
a Falcon in a single season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Quinn’s defensive line
pedigree also helped lead to the emergence of Jarrett who tied a Super Bowl record by sacking
Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl. While second-year players like Beasley and Jarrett
emerged as playmakers, last season’s rookie class also made an instant impact. First-round pick
Neal and second rounder Deion Jones were both strong candidates for defensive rookie of the
year after finishing as the top two tacklers among first year players.
Atlanta’s young and improving defense was buoyed by the NFL’s top-scoring offense in 2016.
The Falcons captured their fourth NFC South title and secured the NFC’s second seed in the playoffs
following an 11-5 season. While the offense fired on all cylinders, Quinn’s defense showed
great strides over the final month of the season. Atlanta allowed 25.7 points per game for its first
11 games last season. Over the final five games of the regular season, that number dropped to
just 20.8 points per game. In playoffs, the defense held the Seahawks and Packers to 20 and 21
points on the way to winning the NFC title.
Despite falling just short of reaching the NFL’s pinnacle in 2016, Quinn began 2017 with Everest
mountaineering metaphor. His team had made a summit push and was forced back from the
29,000 ft. peak, but not all the way to zero, not to sea level. The Falcons opened the offseason at
basecamp, some 12,000 feet from the summit, where they would begin to acclimatize for another
run at the peak. Quinn focused his team on owning the process of preparing and improving.
Quinn earned his head coaching opportunity after becoming one of the NFL’s top defensive
coordinators. His philosophy centers around players that possess speed and physicality. The focus
on these two traits has helped Atlanta revamp its defense and strengthen its offense. Quinn’s
willingness to put his young defensive players on the field has seen the Falcons emerge as one
of the league’s top units.
In his first season at the helm, Quinn led the team to a 5-0 start, becoming the first coach in
ATLANTA FALCONS YEARBOOK 2019