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Atlanta Falcons Hire of Dirk Koetter Has Me Concerned About Offense’s Direction

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Atlanta Falcons management seems to think Ryan can be a gun slinger. But evidence points to the contrary. What do you think?

I was holding off on writing a post on the Falcons until I could completely gather my thoughts. But before I even had a handle on what I thought of the Falcons disastrous showing in their one lowly playoff game-and what I’d like to see them do next-I find out that they’ve hired a new OC in the form of Dirk Koetter from the Jags. The mere thought that someone who coached that Greek tragedy the Jaguars call an offense would go anywhere near my precious Falcons caused me to panic immediately.

Wait, let’s go back. I actually had already began to panic when Brian Schottenheimer of 59-passes-for-Mark-Sanchez-in-one-game fame was mentioned as a frontrunner. AJC’s Jeff Schultz must have received a lot of panicked feedback from readers when he posted on Schotty because he mentioned to me on twitter that my reaction of “PLEASE GOD NO” had been the standard response. Thankfully, the Rams seemed prime to add Schottenheimer to their staff of apparent rejects. But even so, Schultz wasn’t as panicked as the rest of us when it came to Schotty. He did, however, share my disbelief about Koetter.

Schultz writes:

I’ve long made it a practice to not pre-judge coaches. We’ve seen enough examples of guys who can win the press conference but lose on the field, and vice versa.

That said, the Falcons’ hiring of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator isn’t going to spark any block parties.

Koetter has been working for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who this season finished 32nd in total offense, 32nd in passing and 28th in scoring – which wouldn’t be so bad if the NFL had, say, 100 teams and not 32. The assumption in Flowery Branch must be that there’s only so much a coach can do with Blaine Gabbert.

Koetter has been a known candidate from the outset. The news of his hiring was first leaked Sunday morning by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, and has since been confirmed by the team.

The second sentence of Koetter’s bio in the Jacksonville media guide begins, “Known for his expertise of the passing offense …” In his first season as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator in 2007, the Jaguars finished seventh in total offense, 17th in passing and sixth in scoring. That also was Mike Smith’s last season in Jacksonville, before he was hired as Falcons’ head coach.

But this is what has happened to the Jaguars’ offense since:

• 2008: 20th total offense (15th passing), 24th scoring.

• 2009: 18th total offense  (19th passing), 24th scoring.

• 2010: 15th total offense  (27th passing), 18th scoring.

• 2011: 32nd total offense (32nd passing), 28th scoring.

I think Schultz nails the concern about Koetter’s actual ability to do his job so I won’t touch on that here.

I’d rather talk about my concern that this hire seems to suggest that the Falcons are taking their offense further in a direction that Matt Ryan seems uncomfortable with (and Roddy White for that matter). When I mentioned that Ryan appeared uncomfortable all season to Schultz he countered with the fact that Ryan’s protection left much to be desired this year as in it factored into his struggles (I swear this twitter chat between Schultz and I was way shorter than it sounds here). I agreed with Schultz’s point; however, Ryan has some issues with throwing the ball that protection won’t solve. Protection won’t solve the speed of his release, nor will it put enough velocity on his balls to prevent them from floating into the receivers’ hands and chancing injury with every completion.

My hope for the Falcons was that they would focus on a two back two tight end system and reverse their decision to make the deep game their hallmark. The decision to hang their hats on the deep game was highlighted by trading an arm and four legs for rookie Julio Jones in last year’s draft.  A year later, the Jones pick has grown on me, but I maintain that Ryan has not shown himself to be the kind of quarterback that benefits all that much from having two deep threats. He is one of the worst QBs at throwing deep despite having TWO receivers that can successfully get quickly downfield and even jump out of double coverage.

What good is having Roddy White and Julio Jones with all that glorious athleticism if we can’t trust Ryan to zip the ball near their hands? On top of that, Ryan also doesn’t seem to be much for throwing guys open. Thus, he needs strong route runners with good timing and a strong intermediate passing game more than a strict run or high-degree-of-difficulty long pass game with its biggest surprise factor being the no huddle.

It may sound like I’m down on Ryan, and I promise I’m not really. I’m down on the Falcons’ strategy thus far. Early last week when Ravens QB Flacco was complaining about the media only respecting guys that throw all the time I think he had a point. If guys aren’t throwing constantly, the nasty “game manager” phrase comes up. Game manager has become the default derogatory phrase for quarterbacks people don’t think are good (just like “system QB’ has become the default way to insult a QB who has been successful). And I fear the Falcons have bought that thinking as well.

There’s no shame in emphasizing shorter passing routes and pushing a solid ground game. There’s no shame in a balanced offense. And there’s certainly no shame in building an offense around the quarterback you have-not the one you wish you had. Maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong and the Falcons will either balance the offense in Ryan’s favor OR Ryan will become the gun slinger the Falcons seem to think he is or can be. But right now the beginning steps in this very necessary Falcons overhaul has me really concerned about next year.






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