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A deep dive into Dan Quinn, Part I: Why he was one of the most respected DCs in the game

Trying to figure out the Dan Quinn dilemma can be mind-numbing, but we’re going to give it a try.

2010 Seattle Seahawks Training Camp Set Number: X82772

Make him the next head coach or get rid of him altogether? Believe it or not, that is the range of feelings fans have had when it comes to Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. We all have our thoughts on who we think deserves the most blame in Big D, with Quinn being on a lot of people’s lists. But before we wave the white flag on another coach, we wanted to take a close look at all the information we have in front of us.

Quinn first garnered everyone’s attention from the incredible work he did with the Seattle Seahawks. He replaced defensive coordinator Gus Bradley who went on to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quinn inherited a talented defense with several young, athletic defensive backs who became known as the Legion of Boom because of their physicality.

While the table was already set for Quinn in Seattle, what he did was incredible. The Seahawks’ defense was vicious. In each of his two seasons with Seattle, the defense allowed the fewest amount of points each year. And in 2013, they allowed the fewest amount of points, the fewest amount of yards, and generated the most turnovers in the league, a feat that has only been done once before by the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears. Speaking of Super Bowls, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl in each of Quinn’s two seasons with the team, winning once when they absolutely destroyed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ record-setting top-scoring offense, 43-8.

After dominating in Seattle, Quinn was offered a head coaching job in Atlanta the following season. But unlike in Seattle, he did not inherit a talented defensive group. Before Quinn’s arrival, the Falcons were coming off two straight seasons where the defense gave up the sixth-most points allowed in the league. They were not good. Oftentimes they were in the bottom 10 in points allowed, and to this day, only twice over the past decade has the Falcons’ defense ranked in the upper half in points allowed and both times were under Quinn.

It’s important to note that Quinn didn’t transform the Falcons defense, but he did make them better. Before arriving in Atlanta, the defense was void of talent. They didn’t have a single defensive Pro Bowler the year before he showed up as all their talent was on offense (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, etc.). But that changed. In Quinn’s first two drafts alone, they selected Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and De’Vondre Campbell. Suddenly, they had some viable pieces and this young group of players helped improve the Falcons defense enough to where they could help their high-powered offense contend.

In just Quinn’s second season with the team, the Falcons were in the Super Bowl as he beat his former team, the Seahawks, and then Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers in the playoffs to get there. Despite Quinn being a defensive coach, the Falcons’ bread and butter was their offense. The talent was on offense both in players and coaches. Atlanta’s offensive coaching staff included Kyle Shanahan, Mike McDaniel, and Matt LaFleur, all of whom are current head coaches in the league. We all know what happened in the Super Bowl. Quinn’s defense gets a lot of heat for allowing the New England Patriots to come back, but we are also well aware that the Falcons offense couldn’t do hardly anything in the second half to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.

Following the Falcons' Super Bowl season, all the great offensive minds left, but Quinn’s team still was competitive. They lost a close divisional game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (puke) by a score of 15-10. It was a game where the Falcons let things slip away as there were some weird bounces and a huge four-down stand at the end of the game where the Falcons' offense couldn’t pull out the win. In five years from 2013 to 2017, Quinn only has one championship to his name, but he was so close to winning two more had he not been on the wrong end of two of the most late-game collapses in Super Bowl history.

The next couple of seasons were rough for Quinn. Injuries and an overall lack of talent in Atlanta made things challenging. Falcons owner Author Blank not only fired Quinn but also their general manager. It’s been three years and the Falcons have only gotten worse, finishing last or second-to-last in an NFC South division that is not very good.

One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and he was a welcomed addition to the Cowboys organization when he was hired to be the team’s defensive coordinator in 2021. Next, we’re going to take a closer look at his time in Dallas as we try to get a sense of whether he’s still one of the most feared defensive coordinators in the game.

To be continued...

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