Bad Coaching in the NFL: Farewell to Quinn-Sanity!October 13, 2020
The Atlanta Falcons have fired Dan Quinn, and while we wish him well, the C’mon Coach community has been dealt another crushing blow to content.
Aaron Rodgers did not really draw the Atlanta Falcons defense offsides by shouting “HARD COUNT” at the line of scrimmage. But he absolutely could have.
The Falcons finally fired head coach Dan Quinn on Monday after an 0-5 start that provided comedic memories which will last a lifetime: the onside kick of wonder and mystery, back-to-back epic fourth-quarter meltdowns, enough defensive lapses to fill a Pop Warner blooper reel, and a moment when it really sounded like the opposing quarterback purposely embarrassed the Falcons defense by announcing “I am about to fake you out” and then faking them out.
Under Quinn’s deteriorating leadership, the 2020 Falcons went from poorly coached to uncoached to apparently anti-coached. Their defense played like 11 of the kids on the basketball court who always fell for “I’m open!” and passed the ball to an opponent during pickup games.
It was totally believable the Falcons would fall for a hard count of “hard count” because Quinn is the kind of guy whose computer password is “password.”
The Falcons safe-word would probably be “safe word,” though it would be a bad idea for anyone involved with the organization to participate in any Fifty Shades of Gray-like naughtiness. (They would accidentally handcuff themselves to a bed until they starved).
Quinn’s most unfortunate Falcons legacy will not be the onside kick Unholy Roller, the apocryphal “hard count” or even 28-3, but immediate successors Raheem Morris (interim head coach and defensive coordinator) and Dirk Koetter (offensive coordinator).
Like most long-tenured head coaches, Quinn lost his best assistants to promotions (Kyle Shanahan) and sacrificed his worst ones (Steve Sarkisian) to hold onto his job, eventually filling his staff with blandly competent NFL lifers who have little to offer except experience and ambition.
Both Koetter and Morris are ex-Buccaneers head coaches, because the Bucs and Falcons have long shared a weirdly incestuous coaching/executive bond; if Greg Schiano had glommed onto Quinn’s staff, at least six opponents would have been decapitated while trying to kneel out the clock at the ends of victories, and both Koetter and Morris would need to barricade themselves in their offices for their own safety this week.
When the Falcons held a 26-10 fourth quarter lead against the Bears in Week 3, Koetter’s offense shifted into hurry-up mode because no one trusted Morris’ defense to preserve a 16-point lead. Morris’ defense, meanwhile, went into full panic mode and ended up drawing penalties and whiffing on tackles; it, too, did not trust itself to preserve a 16-point lead.
The Falcons coaching staff operated at cross purposes at the end of that game, and it cost the team a win and Quinn his job. That was a likely sign of things to come as Koetter and Morris run their units as fiefdoms for the rest of the year and coach for their next jobs. Matters would not have been much better under Quinn, but things are likely to get sillier in Atlanta before they get saner.
Still, the Falcons organization is an ideal landing spot for a new head coach: they have Matt Ryan, lots of offensive weapons and an owner who stays out of the way of football operations and has a slow hook when firing employees. (General manager Thomas Dimitroff was also let go on Sunday, and Dimtroff had been around for so long that it felt like he drafted Tommy Nobis).
Atlanta can now spend three months preparing for its coaching search, which is an awful long time just to find Eric Bienemy’s phone number.
Quinn was never as fun to roast as Adam Gase or Bill O’Brien, but he was ridiculous in his own way for the past three seasons.
And we’ll always have “HARD COUNT.” Even if it didn’t really happen.
Fullback Give, Fullback Taketh Away
It takes a galactic intellect like Adam Gase to take a play as terrible as the short-yardage fullback dive and make it worse.
Facing third-and-short in the red zone at the end of a rare successful offensive drive, Gase lined his New York Jets up in the I-formation and ordered a fullback dive to backup tight end Trevon Wesco, who had one previous NFL carry and exactly one collegiate carry to his name.
Wesco was stuffed for no gain, and the television broadcast team ripped the decision, pointing out that there was a gaping cutback lane one step to Wesco’s right which any actual running back would have easily exploited for more than first-down yardage.
Le’Veon Bell is now back in the Jets lineup and having his usual impact: instead of being utterly futile, the Jets offense is now utterly futile while force-feeding an overpaid running back. Bell got the call on fourth-and-1, but the Arizona Cardinals knew the chastised Gase would downshift into ultraconservative tactics (it’s surprising that he didn’t try to punt from the 13-yard line) and stuffed the play for a turnover on downs.
One last note before we let go of the I-formation fullback give: the San Francisco 49ers ran it to perfection for a seven-yard Kyle Juszczyk touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Kyle Shanahan called the play on 2nd-and-5, not 3rd-and-inches, when the entire defense is stuffed into the interior gaps to prevent a short plunge. And Juszczyk is an experienced ball carrier who runs the ball 5-8 times and catches about 30 passes per year, not a tight end who wandered into the backfield for his fifth-career offensive touch.
Shanahan might just be a slightly better coach than Adam Gase.
That’s the type of controversial analysis you read C’mon Coach for.
Joe Judge, Special Teams Genius
C’mon Coach concedes that New York Giants head coach Joe Judge knows a lot about the kicking game: you don’t become Bill Belichick’s special teams coordinator merely by telling Stephen Gostkowski to aim between the two long yellow sticks. And Judge appears deeply committed to leveraging his special teams wisdom whenever he can, even though he risks outwitting himself when trying to outwit a foe like Mike McCarthy.
The Giants special teams caught the Dallas Cowboys by surprise late in the second quarter when holder Riley Dixon tossed a touchdown pass to a wide open Evan Engram on a fake field goal. Unfortunately, tackle Cameron Fleming lined up a full yard off the line of scrimmage, nullifying the touchdown with an illegal shift penalty. Lesson learned, Judge: you need to repeat instructions to Giants linemen six times to make sure they really understand them, and there’s no need to hurry when trying to catch the Cowboys off guard, because every Sunday catches the Cowboys off guard.
Judge got his special revenge when the Giants lined up to punt from the Cowboys 41-yard line in the third quarter. Cowboys defender Donovan Wilson appeared to be confused that an opponent was punting from the opposite 41-yard line (Is that even legal? Is this 1938?) and failed to race off the field before the snap, drawing a 12-men-on-the-field penalty. The Giants used the five extra yards to set up a 54-yard Graham Gano field goal.
Look for Judge to keep lining up to punt after crossing midfield in an effort to lull or baffle opponents into substitution penalties that set up long field goals. It may sound silly, but it’s better than letting Jason Garrett call plays.
Tick, tick, boom
Mike Zimmer’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 in the red zone while leading by five points late in the fourth quarter was an analytics toss-up. It’s easy to second-guess the call after Alexander Mattison threw away his shot at a first-down conversion, but the Minnesota Vikings were gashing the Seattle Seahawks up the middle all game, and a conversion would have sealed a victory.
Zimmer’s real blunder came on the next series, after Russell Wilson did his usual Russell Wilson stuff to get the Seahawks down to the 6-yard line with 56 seconds remaining. Zimmer should have called one of his two remaining timeouts so the Vikings could get the ball back with some time left after the Seahawks scored. Instead, he let 24 seconds tick away while Wilson lined the Seahawks up for their next play. By the time Wilson found DK Metcalf for a go-ahead touchdown, there were only 20 seconds left.
Zimmer has a long history of misusing his timeouts, whether by failing to call them before the two-minute warning to get an extra play, using them at the wrong time to give opponents extra plays, using them to get his punt unit on the field (allowing the Bears to change their minds and go for a first down last year) or just burning through them before the fourth quarter. His Vikings are supposed to be a ball-control team that uses time-of-possession wisely. But often, “ball control” is merely code for I’m an old-school tough guy who doesn’t understand this fancy-shmancy clock stuff, so let’s just do things the way they were done in 1977. That would make a perfect team slogan for the 2020 Vikings.
Got Gadgets, Gotta Use Them
We haven’t heard much from the Jacksonville Jaguars at C’mon Coach so far this year, because: a) expectations are so low that we’re impressed when the show up for the game on time; b) they won their season opener against the Indianapolis Colts somehow; and c) offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is generally a clever play caller who is doing everything he can with Gardner Minshew, who looks like a legitimate NFL starting quarterback as long as you never actually watch him.
Minshew and Gruden moved the ball fairly well in their usual way (checkdown passes and plodding scrambles against a terrible defense) until they reached the red zone in Sunday’s 30-10 loss to the Houston Texans. That’s when Gruden reached deep into his bag of tricks and found a defective joy buzzer and a dead rabbit.
Facing 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Jaguars lined up with rookie Laviska Shanault at running back. Shanault is one of those gadget specialists whose uniform number should be “Pay attention to me! I’m a gadget specialist!” When Shenault lines up in the backfield, the defense knows he’s getting the ball; even the television broadcast team circled him for emphasis on Sunday. Sure enough, Shanualt caught a short swing pass from Minshew and was swarmed by four Texans defenders for a three yard loss. The Texans defense practiced against Keke Coutee for three-years, Coach Gruden: they know a wrinkle-play binkie when they see one.
Head coach Doug Marrone settled for a 24-yard field goal attempt after Shenault got stuffed. Steven Hauschka, the Jaguars’ fourth kicker this season (long story), missed it. The Jaguars got the ball right back on a Deshaun Watson interception, setting up a longer field goal attempt. Hauschka missed that one, too.
The Jaguars blundered back into Texans territory in the fourth quarter and faced 4th-and-1 from the 8-yard line. Minshew lined up under center, then suddenly sprinted out to left flanker. Rookie running back James Robinson took a direct snap, rolled right, scanned the end zone for an option pass while Texans defenders converged, fumbled after trying to re-tuck the ball to run and ended up flailing at the loose ball, batting it into the hands of J.J. Watt.
Shenault and Robinson are pretty good prospects. They deserve better than bumbling play calls like these.
This Week in Bill O’Brien Legacy Nonsense
Bill O’Brien may be out of the NFL right now, but he’ll never leave our hearts, and C’mon Coach plans to keep providing you with the absolute best in O’Brien-related programming for the rest of the season.
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Ryan Day are stuck with a running back tandem of David Johnson and Duke Johnson this season. Neither player is terrible, but they represent a considerable trade investment by O’Brien. And David Johnson eats up a $10-million hunk of cap space, so Crennel and Day have little choice except to try to get what they can from him.
David Johnson’s 17-carry, 96-yard stat line against the Jaguars looks impressive until you dig deeper and realize that he rushed 5 times for 48 yards when the Texans were munching the clock with a lead in the fourth quarter. He was his usual 1.5-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust self for most of the game.
Day also seems reluctant to insert the more versatile Duke Johnson on obvious passing downs, perhaps because he still hears O’Brien’s voice screaming in his ear, or maybe he just gets the two Johnsons mixed up. David Johnson was on the field to run an end zone corner route on 3rd-and-4 from the Jaguars 15-yard line early in the third quarter. He got open against a stumbling defender, but he was so slow out of his break that Deshaun Watson’s pass sailed past his fingertips.
Crennel suggested in Monday’s press conference that he may give Duke more opportunities than David moving forward. At any rate, it’s a good thing O’Brien is gone. The Cleveland Browns have a running back named D’Ernest Johnson who has been playing well in Nick Chubb’s absence. O’Brien would have been thrilled to trade a second-round pick for him.