Despite having a head coach with a defensive background, the Atlanta Falcons have doubled down on their offence this offseason. With arguably the best skill position talent in the league, let alone the NFC, the Falcons looked to help that talent flourish with Matt Ryan under centre by targeting two offensive lineman in the first round – that was after signing three linemen in free agency. While they did draft a defensive end and a couple of cornerbacks, four of their seven picks were offensive.
Not only that, despite losing Tevin Coleman, their biggest losses (Bruce Irvin, Brooks Reid and Robert Alford) were on their already weak defence that allowed the fifth most yards and ninth most points a season ago.
It’s clear that Atlanta are going to live or die on their offensive production. Can they score 28 points every game to win? They’ll need to having allowed 26.4 points a game with more defensive talent in 2018. A minor factor on their side is that they’ll play only three games outside, though two of those are in Carolina and Florida – but all three are week 11 onwards; playing 15 games in good conditions will clearly help Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu all stay in rhythm.
That brings us to their most popular change of the offseason, the departure of Steve Sarkisian. Dirk Koetter returns as offensive coordinator after five years away. Atlanta went 23-25 when he worked with QB Matt Ryan previously, though Koetter was the mastermind behind the Falcons 13-3 record and earning homefield advantage in the playoffs in 2012. Just 10 wins followed over the next two seasons with much of the blame fell on head coach Mike Smith as his message ran thin but ultimately Koetter wasn’t blameless.
One thing that appears clear is that Koetter starts strong, with his team’s best records coming in his first season as offensive coordinator in Jacksonville and Atlanta as well as his time as head coach in Tampa. That being said, offensive production continued throughout his tenure, even if wins didn’t follow.
With the weapons that the Falcons possess there is no reason that Dirk Koetter’s four vertical offence won’t continue to succeed. At its simplest, it will push the safeties deep, allowing Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison space out of the backfield and isolate cornerbacks against Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley and linebackers against Austin Hooper. Whether that works in practice is another matter, but Koetter’s teams haven’t been short of offensive production since he first arrived in Atlanta.
Ultimately the Falcons have all the tools to be an offensive juggernaut in 2019, and if anything Atlanta need to look at slowing the game, and clock, down to improve their game management. But with a struggling defence that was barely touched in the offseason, there will be a lot of stress placed on the offence. That is unless Dan Quinn assuming the role of defensive coordinator, who led the Seahawks defence to Super Bowl glory in 2012, can bring significant improvement.
Dirk Koetter is definitely an improvement over Steve Sarkisian, who Matt Ryan succeeded in spite of over the last two years. Koetter will in all likelihood add to the offensive explosion, whether prolonged team success follows is another question entirely.
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