Falcons coach Dan Quinn dismissed defensive coordinator Richard Smith and Bryan Cox on Wednesday, moves that the team said weren’t motivated by the collapse against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The Falcons are considering three internal candidates to replace Smith: passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson, secondary coach Marquand Manuel and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. None of those coaches has ever coordinated an NFL defense.
Quinn was not available to comment on the staff changes. Smith and Cox did not respond to messages.
Smith is considering staying with the Falcons in an advisory role after guiding their defense the past two seasons. His departure should not have much impact on the Falcons’ defensive philosophy and strategy.
Quinn, a defensive coordinator with the Seahawks before getting his first head coaching job, is the architect of the defense. Quinn took on more game play-calling responsibilities during the 2016 season and the defense showed significant improvement after the team’s bye in Week 11.
After allowing 28.3 points per game and forcing 11 turnovers over the first 10 games, the Falcons gave up 19 points per game and forced 11 turnovers over the final six weeks of the regular season (not including nine points scored by Kansas City’s defense).
For the season the Falcons ranked 27th in points allowed per game, 25th in yards allowed per game and 21st in yards allowed per play. Their 22 turnovers forced ranked 16th among 32 NFL teams.
The Falcons played effective defense in playoff victories against the Seahawks and Packers. In the Super Bowl they held the Patriots to three points in the first half and nine points deep into the third quarter.
But the Falcons lost 34-28 in overtime to the Patriots while surrendering 31 points and 336 yards on 51 plays (6.6 average) after halftime. They couldn’t sustain what had been a strong pass rush against quarterback Tom Brady and their defensive backs were repeatedly beaten in man-to-man coverage.
Following the Super Bowl, and during a news conference two days later, Quinn said he believes the defense “ran out of gas” in the Super Bowl. The defense ended up on the field for 93 plays in part because the offense struggled to convert third downs, committed a turnover and continued to play at a quick tempo even after building the big lead.
Smith, 61, has been an NFL assistant coach since 1988. He was defensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2005 and the Texans from 2006-08.
Quinn retained Cox as a holdover from Falcons coach Mike Smith’s staff. Cox, 48, played linebacker for 12 seasons in the NFL and before joining the Falcons had been an assistant with the Jets, Browns, Dolphins and Buccaneers.
Smith and Cox join running backs coach Bobby Turner and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as departures from Quinn’s staff. The 49ers hired Shanahan as their head coach this week and Turner is set to join Shanahan’s staff.
Quinn hired Steve Sarkisian to replace Shanahan.
Falcons quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur also is expected to be hired as Rams offensive coordinator.