Grading Dan Quinn’s First Season

How did Dan Quinn’s inaugural season as the head man for the Atlanta Falcons go? A question undoubtedly asked by all Atlanta football fans, and certainly a question that should be asked.  Unfortunately for Quinn, he has some big shoes to fill as his predecessor Mike Smith, now the new defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, went an astounding 11-5 in his first season as the head coach in Atlanta in 2008. The Falcons were also the number five seed in the playoffs following the 2008 season.

Wins Losses League Rank for Points Scored League Rank for Points Allowed Rank for Yards Gained Rank for Yards Allowed Rank for Turnovers Lost Rank for Turnovers Forced Playoffs?
Dan Quinn’s 1st Season (2015) 8 8 21 14 7 16 26 16 No
Mike Smith’s 1st Season (2008) 11 5 10 11 6 24 8 28 Yes

The biggest discrepancy is that while both teams may have pretty equal in where they ranked in yards gained, Smith’s team was much better at getting points along with the yards, while you can see where Quinn’s team only had six teams commit more turnovers than they did. (Matt Ryan did have his worst year of his career in terms of turnovers lost in 2015 with 28 (16 INTs and 12 Fumbles). His previous worst was  22 in 2013.)

There are really several things to take into consideration when evaluating how a first-year coach did:

Did the team improve from a year ago?

Quinn went 8-8 in his first season, which is not a bad start, and certainly an improvement over last season when the team went 6-10.

Wins Losses Rank for Points Scored Rank for Points Allowed Rank for Yards Gained Rank for Yards Allowed Rank for Turnovers Lost Rank for Turnovers Forced Playoffs?
2015 8 8 21 14 7 16 26 16 No
2014 6 10 12 17 8 32 13 6 No

So yes, the record got better, but so did the defense: remarkably. In 2014, the Falcons gave up more yards than any other team in the NFL, while in 2015 they were right in the middle of the pack, which is an incredible turnaround. The offense still kept up the ranking of being in the top quarter of the league in terms of yardage, but of course the point total is not going to be as high when you turn the ball over as much as the Falcons did. (You might be sensing a trend in terms of what the Falcons need to work on in the off-season.)

How about in comparison to the other first-time head coaches in 2015?

In total there were just three: Todd Bowles with the New York Jets, Jim Tomsula with the San Francisco 49ers and of course Dan Quinn. Well, record-wise, Bowles led the way at 10-6, barely missing the playoffs in the final week of the season.

Wins Losses Rank for Points Scored Rank for Points Allowed Rank for Yards Gained Rank for Yards Allowed Rank for Turnovers Lost Rank for Turnovers Forced Playoffs?
Quinn 8 8 21 14 7 16 26 16 No
Todd Bowles 10 6 11 9 10 4 17 3 No
Jim Tomsula 5 11 32 18 31 29 4 31 No

Bowles’ Jets were the best in pretty much every category between the three newbie head coaches. His team did not quite gain as many yards as the Falcons or take care of the ball as well as Tomsula’s 49ers did, but there is no doubt that his team had the best season. Although that was not enough for Tomsula as he was let go after just one season.

On a slight side-note, in the only meeting between any of the three teams, The Tomsula held off Quinn in Santa Clara in Week 9 by a score of 17-16.

How about in comparison to all the head coaches who were in their first year with the team?

Along with Quinn, Bowles and Tomsula, there was Rex Ryan with the Buffalo Bills, Jack Del Rio with the Oakland Raiders, Gary Kubiak with the Denver Broncos and John Fox with the Chicago Bears.

Wins Losses League Rank for Points Scored League Rank for Points Allowed Rank for Yards Gained Rank for Yards Allowed Rank for Turnovers Lost Rank for Turnovers Forced Playoffs?
Quinn 21  14  16  26  16  No 
Bowles 10  11  10  17  No 
Tomsula 11 32  18  31  29  31  No 
Rex Ryan  12  15  13  19  12  No 
Jack Del Rio  17  22  24  22  17  12  No 
Gary Kubiak  12  19  16  29  Yes 
John Fox  10  23  20  21  14  13  28  No 

Kubiak obviously had the best season of all the new coaches being the only one to make the playoffs, and are now getting set to play the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Interestingly, only Ryan and Tomsula led their teams to worse records than the season before, as the Bills went from 9-7 to 8-8 and the 49ers went from 8-8 to 5-11. The Broncos record actually stayed the same at 12-4. The Bills ranked better offensively in 2015, but the defense regressed towards the middle of the pack in their rankings and as a team they did better protecting the ball while not forcing as many turnovers.

So how should Quinn’s first season be evaluated overall?

Quinn led the Falcons to an improved record and improved defense and still had the offense going strong, with really the only aspect declining being protecting the football, which is arguably the most important part of football. Committing a lot of turnovers is also kinda hard to put on a coach. He is not personally turning the ball over, but obviously is in charge of coaching the player to keep from doing that.

Quinn deserves a solid B for his inaugural season as an NFL head coach. To have expected anything more than a .500 season after the way the Falcons have performed over the past two seasons (they won a combined 10 games) would have been ludicrous. After the 5-0 start, a lot of writers and NFL personalities began to expect bigger things from the season considering the weak schedule, but that was too ambitious.

The Future for Quinn

Quinn appears to have the team going in the right direction, although next year’s schedule will be much more difficult, as the Falcons will have seven games against 2015-16 playoff opponents: two games against the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons should be considered to have had a successful season next year if they are able to reach .500 again.

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