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Is Dan Quinn the right head coach for the Broncos?

Mythbusting three prevalent narratives about the Cowboys defensive coordinator

The Denver Broncos are in the midst of their 17th search for a head coach in franchise history. While general manager George Paton is in the mid of meeting with 10 candidates to replace Vic Fangio, multiple reports from NFL insiders such as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Tom Pellissero have maintained that Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is the favorite for the job.

With Quinn the longstanding frontrunner for the position, Broncos Country has been abuzz dissecting his resume. As the only former head coach under Paton’s consideration, there’s a lot to digest, and with ten candidates for the position it’s only natural to pick favorites. As is typically the case with such discussions, certain narratives start to form as people take sides and some are more substantial than others. I thought it a good time to examine the most prevalent ones.

Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons offense declined without Kyle Shanahan

After former defensive coordinators Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio, there is some concern that another defensive-minded head coach won’t do enough to help the offense. Quinn was the Falcons’ head coach from 2015 through the first five games of the 2020 season. During that time he employed three offensive coordinators. The most notable was his first: Kyle Shanahan resigned from his position as the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator to take the same job in Atlanta.

During 2015, Shanahan’s offense was fifth in the NFL in yards per game while only averaging 21.2 points per game, which ranked 21st in the league. The Falcons offense was perfectly average by RBSDM’s Estimated Points Added (EPA) metric and they ranked 22nd by Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).

In 2016, the Falcons’ offense caught fire and would go down as one of the best in NFL history. They finished second in the NFL in yards per game behind the division rival Saints, but led the league in yards per play. Additionally, their 33.8 points per game was the most in the league, and they finished first in both EPA and DVOA. Quarterback Matt Ryan won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award as the Falcons outscored opponents on their way to Super Bowl 51, which they ultimately lost in overtime after achieving a 28-3 lead. Shanahan became the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach the following day.

The day after Shanahan left for San Francisco, Quinn hired Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to replace him. Sarkisian coordinated the Falcons offense for two seasons. In 2017, the offense averaged 357.8 yards a game, which ranked 11th in the NFL. They scored 21.6 points per game, which ranked 15th. The Falcons’ offense remained a top ten offense by advanced stats, ranking eighth by EPA and the ninth best by DVOA. Things improved in Sark’s second season as the Falcons finished sixth in yards per game, ninth in points per game, eighth in EPA, and ninth in DVOA. He was fired after Atlanta’s regular season finale, a 34-32 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On January 8th, Quinn hired the Bucs’ former head coach Dirk Koetter to be his third offensive coordinator. It marked the second time Koetter would call plays for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones after he coordinated the offense from 2012 through 2014. Koetter’s first season saw the Falcons’ offense improve to fifth in the NFL in yards per game, but the scoring offense declined with Atlanta averaging just 23.8 points per game, which ranked 13th. The advanced metrics also took a downturn: Koetter’s offense ranked 13th in EPA and 15th in DVOA.

The Broncos defense will remain a strength under Quinn

The general consensus is Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell helped the defense punch above its weight despite a constant onslaught of injuries during their three years in Denver. Edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb only played five games together across those three seasons and the Broncos still finished with a top ten scoring defense twice. With a little health luck, next year’s defense will take off like the Cowboys did in 2021, right?

During Quinn’s first year as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, the Legion of Boom became the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to allow the fewest yards and points in the NFL while leading the league in takeaways. Not surprisingly, they also finished first in EPA and DVOA on their way to holding what is arguably the greatest offense of all time to eight points in the Super Bowl, The 2014 defense remained very strong, though not quite historic. They allowed the least yards and points in the league but came away with 23 takeaways, which was the twelfth lowest mark in the NFL. They finished second in EPA and fifth in DVOA.

Quinn’s most recent work as defensive coordinator with the Cowboys surely helped him garner interest around the league as a head coach candidate again. In his one season in Dallas, the Cowboys defense went from the fifth worst scoring defense to seventh best, while leading the league in takeaways.

The Falcons defense was never a consistent strength during Quinn’s time as the head coach. The best single season performance came in 2017 when they finished eighth in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed per game, but their advanced metrics lagged behind: Atlanta ranked 18th in EPA and 17th in DVOA. Every other year was notably worse by the numbers and the bottom seemingly fell out in 2019 when Quinn took over as the defensive play caller. Before he ceded control to coordinator Raheem Morris, the Falcons ranked among the worst defenses in the league and had a 357-snap sack drought that lasted four entire games and parts of two others.

The Falcons didn’t draft well during Quinn’s tenure

Quinn was the second head coach Thomas Dimitroff hired after he became the Falcons’ general manager in 2008. He was hired to replace Mike Smith, who compiled a 66-46 and the best three-year regular season stretch in franchise history record before back-to-back seasons led to his ouster. Twice during Smith’s tenure as head coach, Dimitroff was named NFL Executive of the Year by The Sporting News. At the time he received his second reward in 2010, the Falcons had just posted a 33-15 regular season record, the third best three-year mark in the NFL. During Quinn’s tenure as the Falcons’ head coach, Dimitroff was in charge of six NFL Drafts:

2015

1. ED Vic Beasely

2. CB Jalen Collins

3. RB Tevin Coleman

4. WR Justin Hardy

5. DL Grady Jarrett

7. OT Jake Rodgers

7. DB Akeem King

2016

1. DB Keanu Neal

2. LB Deion Jones

3. TE Austin Hooper

4. LB De’Vondre Campbell

6. iOL Wes Schweitzer

7. WR Devin Fuller

2017

1. Takkarist McKinley

3. LB Duke Riley

4. iOL Sean Harlow

5. CB Damontae Kazee

5. RB Brian Hill

5. TE Eric Saubert

2018

1. WR Calvin Ridley

2. CB Isaiah Oliver

3. DL Deadrin Senat

4. RB Ito Smith

6. WR Russell Gage

6. S Foyesade Oluokun

2019

1. iOL Chris Lindstrom

1. OT Kaleb McGary

4. CB Kendall Sheffield

4. DL John Cominsky

5. RB Quadree Ollison

5. CB Jordan Miler

6. WR Marcus Green

2020

1. CB A.J. Terrell

2. DL Marlon Davidson

3. iOL Matt Hennessy

4. LB Mykal Walker

4. Jaylinn Hawkins

7. P Sterling Hofrichter

Five members of the draft classes above made at least one Pro Bowl during Quinn’s tenure as the Falcons’ head coach: defensive linemen Grady Jarrett, tight end Austin Hooper, edge rusher Vic Beasely, safety Keanu Neal, and linebacker Deion Jones. Five Dimitroff draft picks Quinn inherited also made at least one Pro Bowl over this time: wide receiver Julio Jones, quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman, cornerback Desmond Trufant, and offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Ryan, Beasley, and Julio Jones also made first-team All Pro teams during this time.