Defense will be No. 1 key for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020

The Atlanta Falcons defense was way better in the second half of 2019, and it must continue in 2020.

A 1-7 start last season made it a foregone conclusion Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn would be fired during the bye week. But he survived, and the team went 6-2 down the stretch. Quinn is definitely still on the hot seat heading into the 2020 season, but what was behind the run during the second half of 2019?

Over the first eight games last year, the Falcons allowed 31.3 points per game. Over the full season, that would have been worst in the league. Over the final eight games, they allowed 18.6 points per game. Over the full season, that would have been tied for fourth-best in the league with the Chicago Bears.

During the bye week, Quinn notably gave up defensive play-calling to secondary coach Raheem Morris. That second half run got Morris promoted to permanent defensive coordinator after the season, a role that was left unfilled entering last year as Quinn took it over.

Over their first eight games in 2019, Atlanta forced just four turnovers and three of them came in one game. Over the final eight, they forced 16 turnovers with multiple turnovers forced five times. Naturally, the Falcons were a minus-11 in the turnover department in the first eight games and a plus-6 in the last eight games last year.

The Falcons came in toward the bottom of the league in sacks last year with 28. Salary cap constraints kept them from making any big splashes in free agency, but they did bolster the pass rush with Dante Fowler (11.5 sacks for the Rams last year). In a broader sense, a healthy season from safety Keanu Neal (four games played over the last two seasons) will go a long way toward the unit’s sustained improvement.

The NFC South now has Tom Brady, and the schedule is filled with plenty of other good quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees-twice, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins). So the defense will have to carry that second half run into 2020 for the Falcons to improve from 7-9.

If the defense is not up to the task, with a performance at least more along the lines of last year’s final eight games, the in-season firing that seemed imminent for Quinn last year will come this year. If he does make it to the end, another non-playoff season spurred by bad defense will surely lead to his firing.

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