Dan Quinn, through ups and downs, is known for keeping a positive mindset, and that held true after the the Falcons’ disappointing, season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Atlanta head coach, while obviously not happy with the result, saw promising signs as his team prepares for Sunday’s road game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think after going through it, after no preseason, there were certainly some questions that still had to be answered,” Quinn said of the opener. “I thought we improved certainly on the line of scrimmage on both sides. It felt that way in the game. Our run game, the play pass that comes off, some of the explosive plays, pass protection.
“Thought the same thing on the defensive side in the run game and finding ways to affect the quarterback more than we had in the past. I thought those two things were things that I liked. Heading into the game, we worked hard on tackling during training camp. We ended the game with five missed tackles. Those were some things, without preseason, that were on my mind heading into the opener.”
The offensive results, aside from an 0-for-4 showing on fourth down (one on a fake punt attempt), were promising from Game 1.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 37 of 54 passes for 450 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a 98.5 passer rating. The Seattle game marked the first time three Falcons — Julio Jones (nine catches for 157 yards), Calvin Ridley (9-130) and Russell Gage (9-114) — each eclipsed at least 100 receiving yards in a single game, while Gage posted career highs for catches and yards. Ridley’s two TD catches gave him 19 receiving TDs in his first 30 NFL games, tying him with Jones for the most by a Falcons player through 30 games.
Former Georgia star Todd Gurley, in his Falcons debut, rushed 14 times for 56 yards and a score. But when the Atlanta deficit got large quickly in the second half, the offense leaned more heavily on the pass and away from the ground game. The offensive line performance also was encouraging, Quinn said.
“I think heading in we knew having more balance in the run game was going to be a big piece of this,” Quinn said. “So in the first half I think maybe we were at 14 or 15 carries, somewhere in that space, to show we had more balance. I think that’s an effective part of what we’re doing. By and large I thought that group had put a lot of work in. We still mixed in a little bit of two guys at the left guard spot, sure you saw that, with Carp (James Carpenter) and Matt (Hennessy). We’ll continue that into where it solidifies one way or other.”
Atlanta’s pass rush, miserable for much of the 2019 season, also showed signs of life behind 1½ sacks from Grady Jarrett, a sack and a career-high six quarterback hits from Takk McKinley and ½ sack from new acquisition Dante Fowler. Despite that, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes — an 88.6 completion percentage — for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He completed his first 11 passes against an Atlanta defense that failed to force a turnover, a trend that plagued the team in last year’s slow start.
Much of the success stemmed from an uneven Game 1 from the secondary.
“I think we made it too easy in terms of disguise,” Quinn said. “That would be really more along the lines I would think of, of having multiple looks in coverage for a quarterback who is as accurate as Russ is. I’d say that’s for sure one that we’d like to have over and do different. More not just tighter but more adjustments, more variations, I would say.”
The defensive backfield saw the debut of first-round pick A.J. Terrell, and former Clemson star held his own in a challenging opener.
“I would say, No. 1, I just expected (Terrell) to play tough and aggressive, and he certainly did,” Quinn said. “At the end in the four minute, the double move got him on the slant where he was wanting to go defend him. They got him over the top. First-year players, there’s some that you don’t like it to happen. But you know that’s part of it, of their training, their development. I thought for his first time out, he challenged at the line of scrimmage, tackled well, played with the physicality he has in training camp.”
The secondary also was without injured cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
“Well, we definitely missed (Sheffield), there’s no question about that,” Quinn said. “The speed, the ability to match it up, that’s why Sheff has unique things. As far as his availability, it’s kind of on a week-by-week of where we’re at, seeing how he’s doing. I don’t have any updates (as off early in the week) regarding him from the game. We’ll see what it looks like for him this week. But we don’t anticipate it being a long-term issue.”
An improved defensive performance will be needed this week at Dallas. The Cowboys, coming off an opening loss, have one of the NFL’s most talented offensive units led by quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The secondary gets another test, too, from a receiver group with the likes of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.
“They’ve got a fantastic receiving corps,” Quinn said. “Terrific running back, and quarterback who is mobile, accurate on the run. Each game is different, the matchups are different. But some of the things that can carry over are the lessons that you learn from one week into another one. As we’re moving forward, I think that’s one of those lessons to make sure that we don’t miss.”