Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn fired Marquand Manuel, the 39-year-old former secondary coach that he hand-picked to be the team’s defensive coordinator. Unfortunately Manuel was made a fall guy in a down season.
The 2017 NFL offseason was one of transition for the Atlanta Falcons. After the heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl, the Falcons were set to hire new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Kyle Shanahan being named head coach in San Francisco led to the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator. After taking over the defensive play calls mid-season, then firing Richard Smith, Dan Quinn elevated secondary coach Marquand Manuel to defensive coordinator.
Marquand Manuel was a promising up and coming young coach. As a player Manuel retired in 2009, so he is less than ten years removed from the field. It has been said that he has a special ability to identify with the players on their level.
Marquand Manuel has been credited with helping Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee successfully convert from cornerback to free safety. He’s also been essential in the development of strong safety Keanu Neal.
As a play caller the Atlanta Falcons enjoyed their best defensive season in many years, as Manuel dialed up the defenses. For the first time in a long time, the Dirty Birds ranked top 10 in total defense. In fact they ranked number nine in all of football. They also ranked eighth in scoring defense, allowing just 19.7 points per contest.
The 2017 Atlanta Falcons were good against the pass, ranking number 12 in the NFL. They were even better against the run placing eighth. In fact the defense was so stout, that Atlanta was undefeated when the offense scored 20 or more points in a game.
The Dirty Birds were enjoying their best defensive success in the Dan Quinn era. Marquand Manuel was said to be on the radar as a future NFL head coach. He was certainly one of the hottest young coordinators in the league, a potential young genius, a possible Sean McVeigh on the defensive side of the field.
Sadly the wheels fell off, in this the 2018 season. Injuries struck early and they struck hard. Pro Bowl players, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal went on the injured reserve list. Keanu Neal did not return. Ricardo Allen the other starting safety was injured for the season as well.
Stud defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was also injured for two games. The Atlanta Falcons were suddenly decimated with injuries. The next men up did not fare well at many positions. Linebacker Duke Riley and safety Jordan Richards were particularly inadequate replacements for Deion Jones and Keanu Neal.
Free Agent signee defensive tackle Terrell McClain was a bust replacing the departed Dontari Poe. Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff decided against trading for defensive reinforcements, stating that they had the men to get the job done in-house. In hindsight this was a major error in judgment.
With all of the injuries, the Atlanta Falcons defensive rankings plummeted. They fell to number 28 in total defense and number 25 in scoring defense. They ranked number 27 against the pass and number 25 against the run. The points allowed increased from 19.7 to 26.4. Atlanta allowed 30 or more points six times.
Pass rush has been an achilles heel for the Dirty Birds. Former top ten draft pick Vic Beasley posting only five sacks for the second year in a row, is a major reason for the Falcons pass rush being anemic.
Incredibly neither of the Falcons starting cornerbacks got an interception all season. With that being said, both players are veterans, so how much blame should Manuel carry? Rookie Isaiah Oliver seemed to develop nicely as the season progressed.
Free safety Damontae Kazee was the main bright spot for the Atlanta Falcons secondary. The work Manuel has done with him paid off, as Kazee finished tied for the NFL lead in interceptions. Journeyman Sharrod Neasman also played fairly well, after taking the majority of the snaps away from Jordan Richards.
As a whole, the Atlanta Falcons young defensive backs showed themselves to be competent under the tutelage of Marquand Manuel, with the exception of Richards who was acquired from New England at the end of training camp.
The main gripe that the Falcons fans had with the defense this season was the lack of aggressiveness. This defense however, is designed to get pressure from the front four, and not blitz much.
Surprisingly the Falcons blitzed more than they have under Dan Quinn, over the last three games of the season. With the increased aggressiveness and the return of Deion Jones, the defense improved, allowing just 18.7 points per game. And that’s including the final game shootout in Tampa where the defense allowed 32 points.
While it is a fact that the Atlanta Falcons did not scheme well enough to make up for the key injuries, should that all fall on Marquand Manuel? Certainly Dan Quinn being a defensive guru was not just allowing Marquand free reign of the defensive calls without giving his input.
With Quinn grooming Manuel as the defensive coordinator, it’s fair to assume the defense was being called to Quinn’s liking.
Quinn will now call the defense himself so there is no one else to pass the blame to. Hopefully he will keep the aggressiveness of the last three games. However the scheme is most cover 3 zone and cover one man, so schematically things won’t change much.
In the 2019 season with a healthy Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, the defense should bounce back, and Quinn will look like a hero for restoring the defense to prominence. Unfortunately he decided to let Marquand Manuel go to save his own job. In making Manuel the scapegoat, Dan Quinn failed him as a mentor.
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