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FRI OCT. 2, 2015
The Falcons Can Finish
Atlanta is 3-0 despite trailing in the fourth quarter of all three games. Here’s how coach Dan Quinn has helped his team find an extra gear late. Plus, thoughts on Thursday’s OT thriller and 10 things to watch in Week 4
Weekend Watch: Week 4
The MMQB's Peter King takes a look at this week's slate of games and picks three for you to keep your eye on.
So today, in advance of Atlanta’s home game with Houston on Sunday, is Finish Friday around the Falcons. “Finish” is a word you hear a lot around the NFL. Like, “Play 60 minutes. You’ve got to finish.” It’s a cliché, certainly, because almost every team throws around the word daily. Hourly.
Rookie coach Dan Quinn uses it around the Falcons as much as any coach I can recall. Maybe it’s doing some good. In the fourth quarter of all three games this season, Atlanta has trailed—by three at Dallas, by 10 at the Giants, and by one to Philadelphia. Atlanta won all three games. The players attribute it to the Quinn mantra. On the sideline in the second half at Dallas last week, players and coaches kept saying, “Finish! Finish!”
What Quinn will do today—actually, he does this every day—is lean on his assistant, Steve Scarnecchia, to find some good “finish” material. Sometimes this is from boxing (he’s shown players the end of a Mickey Ward-Arturo Gatti slugfest), MMA (Ronda Rousey) or even arm-wrestling … or when a women’s runner in the 2008 Big 10 600-meter indoor championship race fell before the last lap, and got up and began running to try to catch the pack.
“Think she’ll catch ’em?” Quinn called out.
“NO!!!” voices answered.
So here came Minnesota’s Heather Dorniden, sprinting this last lap around the indoor track, gaining and gaining and passing the Penn State girl and here she came, and all of sudden the room was screaming, “GOGOGOGOGOGOOO!!!” And Dorniden nipped her teammate at the finish line. What was impressive was the look on Dorniden’s face. Impassive. Like, This is what I do. I do not give up.
“I don’t care what sport, what competition it is,” said Quinn after Thursday’s practice. “I want these players to see there’s usually another level you can make yourself go to. It’s in you. Find it.”
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Quinn is one of the new modern teachers of the game. He’s not much of a yeller. He’s an intense encourager more than anything else. In Texas last Sunday, the Falcons looked like they might get blown out, even against a team without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. At halftime Dallas led 28-17. The Cowboys had 295 yards—with Brandon Weeden playing quarterback. If there was any time Quinn would be justified in reading the riot act to his team, this was it.
“I don’t care what sport, what competition it is,” Quinn says. “I want these players to see there’s usually another level you can make yourself go to. It’s in you. Find it.”
But he didn’t. One witness said Quinn was fairly calm at halftime and said in a strident voice but not a particularly loud one: “Okay, we got punched in the mouth. Now, let’s go find out who we are. Remember what we say: You don’t win the game in the first quarter, or the first half.” Dallas scored zero points, and gained 52 yards, in the second half. Atlanta scored 22, and gained 259 yards.
“Dan is incredibly adept at getting his point across to a group of young men,” GM Thomas Dimitroff said Thursday from the side of the practice field. In the background I could hear “I Feel Good” by James Brown. Quinn, borrowing from old mentor Pete Carroll, has loud omnipresent music at practice. “They buy into positive, passionate, authentic, which is what Dan is. This generation does not respond to black-and-white handouts.”
Video is key. Video, plus communication.
Cases in point: Before the year, he and his staff made up DVDs for all 90 players on the roster of what they do well and what they need to do better for the Falcons to be winners. Even veteran players got this instruction. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, the most senior Falcon (he was coached by Jim Mora and Bobby Petrino), received some tips on the technical aspects of his use of his feet and hands. And Quinn told him he wouldn’t be playing as much as he was accustomed to. Not because Quinn didn’t think Babineaux was playing well, but because, as Quinn said, “I don’t want them gauging their play, or thinking they’ve got to save something, or pacing themselves.”
Now, the Falcons have eight linemen who have played at least 40 snaps. “It was smart,” said Babineaux. “Now I can go all out on every play and I know the other guys are good too, and we’re not losing anything when I come out.”
Against pass-heavy teams, the cub package might feature quicker players like Adrian Clayborn at three-technique, and Vic Beasley and Babineaux. Against running teams, Tyson Jackson, Ra'Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett might get heavy reps.
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When Quinn was recruiting ex-Buc Clayborn in free agency, he asked Clayborn to trust him. He told him about moving edge rusher Michael Bennett inside in some packages when he was with the Seahawks, and how much it helped Bennett. “If you just let me earn your trust,” Quinn said, relaying his conversation with Clayborn last winter, “and let me play you over a guard so you can use your quickness to get into the backfield, I think it’s going to be great for you.” Clayborn’s got one of four sacks for Atlanta so far; it’s too early to tell if the experiment will work long-term. But on pass-rush downs, with Clayborn inside and O’Brien Schofield and Beasley outside, that’s the kind of multifaceted rush this team hasn’t had the past couple of years.
So can the Falcons last? Is 3-0 a fluke? Probably not … because the schedule is manageable (they don’t play Carolina until weeks 14 and 16, and no league powerhouse is on the slate in the final 13 games), and because Matt Ryan has the kind of weaponry that can play explosive football. This is a very interesting team right now. And we haven’t even mentioned that Julio Jones is off to an historic start.
“I’m having the best time in my life playing football,” said Babineaux.
In Quinn’s world, that’s the idea.
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