FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons have acknowledged that fixing the play in the secondary is key to a second-half turnaround.
Assistant head coach Raheem Morris was moved from coaching wide receivers to defensive backs on Monday.
Morris, a longtime NFL defensive backs coach who spent the previous three-and-half seasons coaching wide receivers, was out at practice on Wednesday barking out instructions and firing passes to the Falcons’ cornerbacks.
“You do whatever is required for the team,” said Morris, who was coached by Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as a junior at Hofstra. “Whatever we feel like is best for the team. Some new eyes, some new perspective on some techniques and fundamentals, some things that we wanted to clean up and help with, things he thought I could help with.”
Morris was all for the move, but wanted to check with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter first.
“If coach brought me over, he did it for a reason,” Morris said. “Coach Quinn is very easy to please. He’s one of those people that you want to go over and help as much as you can.”
Passing-game coordinator Jerome Henderson, who previously worked with the safeties, was with Morris. Defensive backs coach Doug Mallory, who previously worked with the cornerbacks, was working with the safeties.
Quinn said he wasn’t worried about titles.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Quinn said.
Owner Arthur Blank approved of the coaching staff moves.
“He said, you’ve got a lot of smart people there and utilize every resource that you have,” Quinn said. “Raheem and I talked about that and felt this was the best thing to do for the team.”
Running backs coach Dave Brock moved to wide receivers coach, where he was Morris’ assistant in 2017 and 2018 after serving as Delaware’s head coach from 2013-2016. Special teams/offensive assistant coach Bernie Parmalee moved back to coach the running backs, where he was for the 2018 season.
The secondary is the dumpster fire that Morris has been assigned to extinguish.
“No one is pleased with where we are at,” Quinn said.
The defensive backs aren’t creating turnovers, and there have been blown coverages and missed tackles galore.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant, who returned to practice from a turf toe injury after missing three games, has the team’s only interceptions with two.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t gotten them,” Morris said. “We knocked some balls out, but we haven’t been fortunate enough to get on some of them balls.”
The Falcons are minus-11 in turnovers, which is next to last in the 32-team league.
“Your turnover margin definitely affects your win percentages,” Morris said. “We are where we are because of that right now. That’s one of the main reasons. Now, that’s not everything, but it is everything for us.”
Morris wants all of the defensive coaches to stress the importance of creating turnovers.
“It’s something that we have to focus on, getting the ball back,” Morris said. “It’s something that we have to talk about in our rooms. Each individual coach. Everybody. Just like we did on offense about protecting it.”
Morris doesn’t approach the new assignment like he’s trying to save the season.
“I don’t know if it’s a saving thing,” Morris said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck mentality.”
The Falcons have given up 261.1 yards passing a game, which ranks 23rd in the league. The secondary has allowed 17 touchdown passes (28th in the NFL), and the team has given up 31 plays of 20 yards or more (23rd).
“You look at some of our communication errors and they are on the back side of plays,” Henderson said. “Like the boundary corner a couple of times. Teams, nowadays, they really stress you with a couple of things. Tempo to the line and that’s one of the (things) that got us the other day (against Seattle). Wait, wait and then sprint to the line and try to snap it fast. We had practiced that, but apparently we didn’t do a good enough job in getting it done.”
After teams make a late substitution, getting updated calls to players has been an issue.
“The other thing that has happened to us has been late substitutions,” Henderson said. “Then they substitute late. We change a play and then that field-side corner away from our bench didn’t get the call. We put in place a mechanism to help that to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore. So hopefully, that goes away.”
If Morris can tighten things up in the secondary, perhaps the defense’s pass rush can make some strides.
The Falcons’ seven sacks are last in the NFL.
“I remember going to the combine and being interviewed by Raheem,” Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. “I know that he was a DB coach there, too. Being able to have him back on our side, having that perspective from offense, can only help.”
Allen was on the defense in 2015, when Morris worked with the defensive backs.
“He finds out your strengths and your weaknesses by just studying you,” Allen said. “He’s going to make you do those on a different level. Yes, he’s going to always focus on your weaknesses to help you get better.”
Morris has his own coaching style.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Allen said. “He’s going to keep it 100. You’re going to know exactly your accountability to the play and your accountability to your brothers. He’s a straight shooter and he’s going to tell you what your part is and who was a part of the play.”
After firing defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel after last season, Quinn took over the play-calling. But Manuel also spent time with the defensive backs, who struggled at times over the first eight games.
His new job will require Morris to get the defensive backs on track and cut down or eliminate the blown coverages.
“He’s a great teacher,” Allen said.
So far, things have gone smoothly.
“It’s been good,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “A new set of eyes. A whole new perspective in the room. He has a lot of experience as a secondary coach in the NFL. I think he can contribute to the room and help us out a lot.
“He’s got a lot of knowledge for the back end of the defense.”