It’s as classic a question for our Atlanta Falcons football team as the chicken and the egg argument. Do the Falcons coaching staff, and particularly the two coordinators, intentionally not design aggressive play-calling on offense and defense due to the lack of talent and speed to carry it out? Or are the coaches mostly to blame for the overly conservative play-calling that helped lead to a 13-3 season, but also a butt-whipping for the ages in the playoffs? It’s a challenging question and one that’s sure to get some good debate going. Since us laypersons aren’t privy to the inner-workings up in Flowery Branch, all we can do as fans is just make an educated guess as to which one it may be. Thought it might be helpful to break it down by position on terms of talent (or lack thereof) and determine which needs the most work: personnel or coaching………
A no-brainer here. Matt Ryan may not yet be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he certainly has shown that he’s capable of making things happen with his arm and his mental prowess. As many fans have mentioned before (including my own mother a long while ago), it appears that Mike Mularkey and Mike Smith preach all the time about giving the reigns to Ryan and letting him run the show, except their actions are quite different. Ryan was known as a gunslinger when they drafted him from Boston College and, even though he threw a lot of interceptions, he was a dynamic playmaker when allowed to air it out. One of the only games that Mularkey completely let Ryan run the show, he comes up with his best NFL game of his career against the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense (32/50, 316 yards, 3 TDs, 0 Ints). The Falcons may not have Jerry Rice and Art Monk lining up at WR, but they have enough talent to trust Ryan and let him run the offense. Sure, he may have some bad games, but the point is to let your franchise quarterback do his best if you truly believe he’s the franchise. Do any of these QB’s run a conservative, ball-control offense: Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Vick, Rivers, or Brees? Smith and Mularkey better figure out quickly that the Falcons will only go as far as they let Ryan take them. Culprit – Coaching, Hands Down.
This one’s a little tougher. A healthy Jerious Norwood (or any other speed back) may make this a different argument. Michael Turner just made his 2nd Pro Bowl in 3 years and is a grinding and tough running back. Even though he takes some time to going, if Turner goes over at least 50 yards rushing, than the Falcons usually win. On the flip side though, as Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Philadelphia showed, if you shut down the running attack and specifically Turner, than you’ll likely win. Unfortunately, Turner is completely one-dimensional which gives away what’s likely coming with Turner in the game. Jason Snelling is a more complete back who is excellent catching the ball out of the backfield, but there would be times when Snelling would go missing without designed play-calls to get him in the game. Although Snelling is much better out of the backfield, the two backs still are too similar. The Falcons will likely be in danger of losing Snelling if he seeks a bigger payday and more touches. Neither are capable of big breaks much anymore and certainly aren’t homerun threats. The Falcons got next to nothing out of 3rd RB’s Antone Smith and Gartrell Johnson. Again, it could be Mularkey and Smith’s fault for not getting them involved, but we’ll never know. The Falcons desperately need speed at the RB position. Culprit – Toss Up/Lean Personnel
Probably the most difficult to discern of all the positions. Do the Falcons really have any game-breakers here? Yes, Roddy White is a Pro Bowl player, but is he a true vertical threat anymore? Can’t know since the play-calling rarely ever tries to get White down field. Is Michael Jenkins really fast and tall and just can’t get downfield? Again, never know since Jenkins routes rarely go past the 12 yard marker and hooks and curls are the only routes Mularkey calls for him. Harry Douglas was a rookie phenom that did great in his first year, but evidently had a hard time getting back up to speed from his ACL injury in 2009. Or was it his fault since he was rarely integrated into the passing attack? Brian Finneran is certainly no deep threat and he seems to be maximized pretty well by Mularkey with his great hands and chain-moving ability. The most puzzling piece to the puzzle is certainly Eric Weems lack of use in the passing attack when he clearly has shown he has speed and good open field moves. If Douglas wasn’t getting it done, than give Weems a shot at the slot position, or better yet get both of them on the field at the same time. The Falcons may not have the best and deepest receiving corps in the world, but they certainly have one of the better ones in the league. This is unequivocally on Mike Mularkey and his conservative play-calling. You have one Pro Bowl quarterback armed with a Pro Bowl (and just named All-Pro) WR and a future Hall of Fame TE (and Pro Bowler) Tony Gonzalez and you finish dead last in the league in longest pass play and 31st in the league in passing plays over 20+ yards? The Falcons definitely could use a true deep threat to complement Roddy White and Jenkins may be better suited as a #3 receiver, but being near dead last in explosive plays in the NFL with 5 Pro Bowlers is inexcusable. Culprit – Absolutely Coaching.
Tony Gonzalez is headed for the Hall of Fame as soon as he hangs up his cleats and he’ll likely go down as the best tight end of all-time in the NFL. With that being said though, Gonzalez has seemed to lost a step or two in stretching the field the way he used to. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that because that’s what tight ends are supposed to do, but teams are increasingly counting on their tight ends to split the seams and get down field. It’s still unfathomable that Gonzalez didn’t get his first catch until the 3rd quarter in the playoffs against the Packers, and that’s on coaching. For the most part, Mularkey seems to get the most out of his tight ends. Justin Peele has some of the best hands of the team and is sneaky quick, but seemingly rarely used in the passing game. Michael Palmer is young, but has shown flashes of potentially being the next guy for the Falcons at tight end. After a few games of use, Palmer goes back into the famous shell that Mularkey seems to break out for so many players. The Falcons may not have pure speed at tight end, but they have pretty good depth to go with their future Hall of Famer. Culprit – Toss Up/Lean Coaching
-The post you’ve been waiting for…..why is this offense so conservative: coaching or personnel?
-Culprit – All coaching, all personnel, or about 50/50?
-What percentage would you assign for the conservative philosophy: (example – 70% coaching/30% personnel).
-Give your own position breakdown.
-Agree/Disagree with “Culprits” by position.
-Is Mularkey really trying to “mask and protect” Ryan or is this all on him?
-Do the Falcons have a ball-control offense because they have few-to-no gamebreakers?
-Has Mularkey maximized his less than speedy backfield?
-What should Falcons do for speed at RB: draft, free agent, or stand pat?
-If Falcons draft a speed RB, what round?
-Please explain the anemic pass offense: Mularkey or lack of talent outside of Roddy?
-Is the tight end position being maximized? Need for speed there?
-Does Mularkey refuse to throw deep and attack because he can’t due to OL?
-Is offensive line good enough or are upgrades needed?
-Who would you re-sign out of Blalock, Dahl, and Clabo?
-What should the Falcons OL look like in 2011?