Well, the Atlanta Falcons have their new offensive coordinator. Several names were mentioned early last week that included Brian Schottenheimer, Brian Billick, Tom Clements, and Dirk Koettner. At the press conference, Thomas Dimitroff went out of his way to say they were under no deadline to hire the new coordinators. Early Sunday morning a report came out saying the Falcons had requested interviews for Tom Clements and Dirk Koetter, and literally no more than an hour later Chris Mortensen reported that the Falcons had in fact hired Koetter, the former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator.
Fans were absolutely shocked and blindsided by the news. Even though the Falcons top brass said they would conduct their search in private, the appearance was that the Birds didn’t even go through any process whatsoever when they hired Koetter. He obviously has had some success, but most have a hard time getting over him running the dead last offense in the NFL in 2011, regardless of excuses. A look at our new OC………..
Let’s just go ahead and get the ugly out of the way. Dirk Koetter ran the Jaguars offense for 5 years in Jacksonville. During that time, he helped the Jaguars to be one of the best offenses in 2007, hovered around the middle for the next 3 years, and had the bottom fall out in 2011. Regardless of reasons or excuses, the fact remains that the Jaguars were dead last in total offense and passing, and 28th in points per game. Surely, the Falcons front office understands fans concerns.
Even discarding the excellent year in 2007 and the terrible year in 2011, the bad news is that Koetter led the Jaguars to a very average offense in the middle years. In 2008, The Jags ranked 20th in total offense, 15th in passing, 18th in rushing, and 24th in points per game. 2009 saw the Jaguars hit almost identical numbers, and 2010 saw them finish 3rd in rushing, but 27th in passing. Some feel he’s never had the players in Jacksonville he now has in Atlanta, while others feel that good coaches find a way to make plays (see Tebow in Denver and TJ Yates in Houston). Was the goal to get a second coming of the guy who just left?
Looking past the train wreck of a year in 2011 in Jacksonville, where Jack Del Rio was fired mid-season and they had major quarterback issues, Koetter has had some success both in the NFL and in college. He learned under Dan Henning, who won two Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins, worked with Andy Reid for a decent amount of time, and was the main guy who built the foundation for Boise State’s success. Both Dan Hawkins and Chris Peterson worked for Koetter on his staff before they both had their own immense success as head coaches, where they continued a similar offensive philosophy.
In 2007, Koetter did prove he could get it done, where he directed the Jaguars to one of the best offenses in the NFL. That year saw the Jaguars offense ranked 7th in total offense, 17th in passing, 2nd in rushing, and 6th in points per game. They also beat the Steelers in the playoffs that year as well. He said in his phone conference that he is committed to a balanced attack, finding good matchups, vertical passing, and a good screen game. Some blame the talent as the reason for his mediocrity in Jacksonville, and it surely is true that he’ll have plenty of weapons at his disposal in Atlanta.
It’s understandable the Falcons front office didn’t necessarily want to air all of their business for the sports world to see, but the process they undertook also leaves a lot of room for speculation and assumptions. After getting reports of 4 candidates they were interested in (Billick, Clements, Koetter, and Schottenheimer), an update comes out Sunday morning that they had requested interviews with Koetter and Tom Clements. Literally no more than hour later, the Chris Mortensen reports that the Falcons hired Koetter.
Obviously we fans aren’t privy to what actually played out, so we have to assume that there really wasn’t much of a process at all. Speculation says that the Falcons basically knew who they would take and didn’t even really interview anyone else. Perhaps, Koetter “pressured” the Falcons into making a decision because Alabama and St. Louis Rams were interested. Who knows, because the way they conducted their search leaves fans with only rumors, speculations, and assumptions. Could they not have at least interviewed anyone else?
Another chicken v. egg argument headlines this hire. Some believe that Koetter’s poor production was only a product of a severe lack of talent across the board in Jacksonville. While others think that is no excuse, particularly for having the absolute worst offense in the league, according to total offense. Both sides of the argument have legitimate points.
It is true that the cupboard has been bare for Koetter in Jacksonville recently. He had one of the best running backs in the NFL in Maurice Jones-Drew and helped him get the rushing title this year, despite having no passing game whatsoever. That alone is at least somewhat of a testament to his abilities, where he find a way to run the ball even though all defenses knew it was coming.
His quarterbacks included David Garrard and rookie Blaine Gabbert, who had a dreadful season. Tight end Marcedes Lewis had a Pro Bowl year and broke the Jaguars single-season TD record in 2010, but outside of that, the talent has been thin. His list of receivers over the past 4 years is pretty forgettable: Dennis Northcutt, Matt Jones, Troy Williamson, Reggie Williams, Mike Sims-Walker, Ernest Wilford, Jason Hill, and Jarrett Dillard. He definitely will be getting way more talent in Atlanta than he ever had in Jacksonville.
Others believe that is no excuse, especially for finishing dead last in the NFL. There are numerous examples of coordinators doing well with not the most talent in the world. New Orleans seems to be able to make almost every 7th round pick and undrafted free agent in a productive player (Lance Moore, Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston). As mentioned before, Greg Knapp and Gary Kubiak had TJ Yates lead them to a playoff victory and gave Baltimore all they wanted. Of course Denver adjusted their offense to fit Tim Tebow (who many said could never win in the NFL), and that helped them to make the playoffs and beat the Steelers in the first round. Both arguments have valid points and only time will tell which side is correct.
Another one of the big concerns is whether or not Koetter will be a good fit with Matt Ryan at the helm. Koetter’s philosophy is very involved with the vertical passing game, which seems very interesting considering one of Ryan’s big weaknesses is his trouble with the deep pass. Most fans thought a west coast type of offense, which Ryan ran at Boston College, would be a better fit.
A final positive note to close on is to look at what Mularkey helped accomplish in 2011, a year in which most believe was a season of underachievement considering the plethora of talent on offense. Without trying to denigrate Mularkey, the offense had become predictable, stale, and most felt he couldn’t adjust to his opponent either during the game or in preparation.
All that being said, the offense still managed to put up some pretty decent numbers in 2011. They were 10th in total offense, 8th in passing, 17th in rushing, and 7th in points per game. Matt Ryan broke the franchise record for passing yards with 4,100+ yards and a personal best of touchdowns with 29. Michael Turner ran for 1,340 yards and 11 TDs. Roddy White caught 100 passes for 1,296 yards and 8 touchdowns, including another Pro Bowl trip.
Julio Jones got 959 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns while missing 5 games. Tony Gonzalez caught 80 passes for 875 yards and 7 touchdowns and another trip to the Pro Bowl. Jacquizz Rodgers, Harry Douglas, and Jason Snelling were all underused and Eric Weems and Kerry Meier were never used.
The point is that Dirk Koetter doesn’t have to be the best offensive coordinator to ever coach in the NFL, he only has to be better than his predecessor.
Have fun analyzing the Falcons new offensive coordinator