When he was Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn helped lead the Seahawks to three wins against the Panthers – including a playoff victory last January – in what Quinn called “absolute battles.”
Three-fourths of the way through his first season as an NFL head coach, Quinn’s Falcons team is in an absolute battle for its playoff life.
Quinn made history with the Falcons when he became the first coach to start 5-0 after his team trailed in the fourth quarter in four of its first five games.
That seems like a long time ago.
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Atlanta (6-6) has dropped six of seven games in the two months since the hot start, a stretch that has the Falcons clinging to their postseason hopes.
If the Falcons are to make the playoffs, they’ll likely have to win their final four games, including a home-and-home series with Carolina (12-0) in a 15-day span beginning Sunday in Charlotte.
“We started off well and then hit a major bump. For sure, our backs are against the wall. We totally recognize that,” Quinn said this week during a conference call. “But for us to do anything about the future, it’s about what we do right now. That’s really what the message has been for our team. If we look ahead to what we need way down the road, three games, four games, we’ll get all jacked up.”
Panthers coaches and players say the Falcons’ 4-3 scheme includes a lot of similarities to the Seattle defense that led the league in fewest points and fewest yards allowed in the two years Quinn was in charge.
Carolina wide receiver Kevin Norwood, who was with Seattle last season, said the Falcons play a lot of Cover 3 in the secondary and bring a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
But where the Seahawks had a three-time Pro Bowler in Kam Chancellor to line up at safety, Falcons safeties Ricardo Allen and William Moore are not in Chancellor’s league.
Which is to say, the Falcons might be running the same scheme that Quinn used during the Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, but the Atlanta personnel is not the same caliber.
“I think from a scheme standpoint there are a lot of similarities,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “I think from an attitude, how they play, they’re pretty aggressive. They’re active. They fly to the ball. So you can tell (Quinn’s) fingerprints are all over it.”
The Seahawks’ success against the Panthers before this season has been well documented. Beginning in 2012, Seattle won four games in a three-year stretch against Carolina, including the Seahawks’ 31-17 win in the divisional-round playoff last season.
The three regular-season meetings were all low-scoring games in which the defenses dominated.
But neither Quinn nor anybody with the Panthers was putting too much stock in those Seattle-Carolina matchups.
“Some of the games from the years past with Seattle and with Carolina were just absolute battles that went down to (the wire),” Quinn said. “I think the biggest thing, I am not surprised that they are off to the start that they are based on the fight and attitude that so many of the guys on their team play with. That is probably the thing that jumps off the tape to me is the attitude and style that they play with.”
While Quinn is running a similar system to the Seahawks, Rivera said it would likely take a year or two for the Falcons to fully implement it.
Olsen said the past Seahawks-Panthers games have not been a big part of this week’s film study.
“The personnel obviously is very different,” Olsen said. “From a personnel standpoint we just try to focus on their last couple of weeks. They play a lot of guys. They rotate a lot of guys. They have pretty good depth. So you’ve got a good idea of who’s in there in what packages and the different looks that we get.”
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, the league’s leading receiver, believes Atlanta can still make the postseason.
“Of course we’re a playoff team,” Jones said. “But we can’t look ahead.”
Norwood, the former Seahawk, said he liked Quinn when he was in Seattle and believes he’ll have success in Atlanta – even if it’s not this year.
“It’s always going to take time for a new coach to get situated in a spot. Not everybody can be a (first-year Florida coach) Jim McElwain, right?” Norwood said. “It’ll work itself out. Give it time. He’s a great coach. He’ll get it figured out.”