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Falcons have nothing to lose in coaching-staff shake-up

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Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris talks making switch back to defense (0:46)

Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris talks making switch back to defense from receivers coach. Video by Vaughn McClure (0:46)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Most of the talk around the Atlanta Falcons this week has focused on coach Dan Quinn switching wide receivers coach Raheem Morris -- who is also the assistant head coach -- to the defense to work with a struggling secondary.

Will the move save Quinn's job and the Falcons' season? It's a long shot, yet undoubtedly worth a try.

Morris' energy is infectious. Those who have followed the team the past few years are familiar with the enthusiasm he instills in players and the intelligence he brings. He also offers 14 years of experience coaching defensive backs at the college and NFL levels. But the 1-7 Falcons, amid a six-game losing streak heading into Sunday's game against the rival New Orleans Saints (7-1), need more than a "Morris Miracle” to salvage what has been a miserable season.

Change was inevitable, particularly after team owner Arthur Blank held an impromptu news conference following a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8 and said every aspect of the coaching staff would be evaluated, including Quinn. Blank also said at the time he had no immediate plans to cut ties with Quinn despite a thunderous outcry from disgruntled fans.

Quinn had to sell Blank on altering some aspect of his program in hopes of triggering a spark. Quinn moved Morris back to defense, moved running backs coach Dave Brock to wide receivers in place of Morris and moved assistant Bernie Parmalee to running backs coach. There were no notable personnel changes among the players during practice.

When asked Wednesday how Blank received the news of Morris being reassigned, Quinn didn't answer directly.

"[Blank] said it well: 'You've got a lot of smart people there, and utilize every resource that you have,'” Quinn said. "Raheem and I obviously have been talking about that and the fact that this was the best thing to do for the team.”

Quinn revealed how Morris essentially expected the move, knowing how close the two are, dating to when Quinn coached the defensive line at Hofstra University when Morris was a safety.

"It doesn't affect just him,” Quinn said of Morris' switch. "There's a lot of moving parts that go into it. ... But having his energy to bring over to the defensive side -- we're just a few days into it -- but I thought the players did a good job of adapting to that, and the coaches as well. So it's been a good start.”

The question is, how will this adjustment make an impact? It's logical to think the only way Quinn can persuade Blank not to make a head-coaching change is by going on a historic season-ending run and finishing 9-7 or 8-8. The Falcons would have to win all or nearly all of their games in the second half. Six of those games are against NFC South opponents, starting with Sunday's road matchup.

Quinn typically talks about taking matters one game at a time, but he actually spoke a different language on Wednesday. He mentioned the next four-game block with back-to-back road games at New Orleans and Carolina, followed by home games against Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Blank likely would be impressed if Quinn were able to sweep the division-leading Saints in November while winning four in a row.

If Morris is able to ignite a secondary that has given up 15 pass plays of 30-plus yards and is a big part of the league's worst third-down defense, then maybe he'll be the one who deserves head-coaching consideration. Morris was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach from 2009-11.

Quinn emphasized his desire to have Morris help improve communication and technique, elements that were undoubtedly part of the assignments for defensive pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson and secondary coach Doug Mallory. There have been too many instances of guys not being aligned correctly or guys being out of position. It's on the players to know their assignments, but the coaches have to assume some of the blame, too.

Morris steps in with the Falcons set to face one of their toughest defensive challenges of the season in Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and a Saints offense that averages 24.4 points. The Falcons still have to face two of the top four scoring offenses in the coming weeks: San Francisco (third at 29.4 points per game) and Tampa Bay (fourth at 28.8).

Asked if he felt added pressure to be the savior of the defense, Morris didn't break a sweat.

"I don't think it's a savior,” Morris said. "It's more or less an 'all hands on deck.' [We] wanted to get some things cleaned up, get some fresh eyes on things.

"Make no mistakes about it, everything you do -- just like you guys -- you want to be the very best at what you do. I feel like I hunt to be that each and every time I go out.”

It's not all about what Morris can do for the defense, of course. Quinn has to be on top of his game as the defensive coordinator, even if he is distributing some of the playcalling -- primarily to linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. The virtually nonexistent pass rush has to improve -- the Falcons have a league-low seven sacks. And players such as linebacker Deion Jones and defensive back Damontae Kazee have to create turnovers the way they've done in the past.

"If we all do our 1/11, man, we'll be a hard team to fight against,” safety Ricardo Allen said. "It's got to be all the way, all together for 60 minutes.”