Atlanta Falcons fans have been wondering for a long time whether or not someone can enact an offensive philosophy that can utilize all the weapons at their disposal. Mr. Mularkey had the likes of Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, and recently Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, but failed to make any dent on being a legitimate and fierce offense. The hope is that since Mularkey is gone from Atlanta that a new coordinator will take the new Atlanta offense to another level. Whether that actually happens or not is another story.
Here’s the facts: Koetter has superb talent on offense. He has Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, and Jacquizz Rodgers at running back, which can be extremely potent if used correctly. Turner can get you tough yards and for all the talk of him slowing down, he still gained over 1,300 yards rushing last year. Rodgers is an superb change-of-pace back who has shown great potential in the pass game. Snelling is a back who can do it all and one of the most underrated players on the entire team.
The Falcons wide receiving corps, particularly the top 3, have the potential to be as good as any in the league. Roddy White’s already made 4 Pro Bowls and is still one of the premiere receivers in the NFL. Julio Jones is no secret anymore and is poised to have a huge year. The greatest wide receiver in history, Jerry Rice, says that Jones is his favorite to have a breakout season. Slot receiver Harry Douglas may could the key to unlock the Falcons true offensive firepower. Sure handed Kerry Meier looks to be sewing up the 4th receiver spot and could be the next Brian Finneran if he can stay healthy. There’s a ton of competition for the 5th spot and whoever gets the nod will have surely earned it.
And then of course there’s the greatest tight end to ever play the game in Tony Gonzalez. New draft pick Bradie Ewing was the best fullback in the draft and can do it all, including running, blocking, and catching. Michael Palmer an excellent #2 tight end. The cupboard is stocked for new coordinator Dirk Koetter. The big question is can he utilize all the talent he has at his disposal?
This will be one of the most interesting aspects of Koetter’s new offense. Mike Mularkey relied exclusively on running Turner up the gut over and over and over and over with little variation or creativity. Those runs would net little to nothing, forcing Matt Ryan into the predictable third and long, with little success most of the times. Turner showed a little bit better agility in the pass game, but no one will confuse him with Ray Rice anytime soon. How many touches will Turner get, what types of runs will he get, and will he feature in the pass game are the biggest questions heading into 2012.
Many are expecting a big year from Rodgers with a new offense seemingly catered more to his style. Even though his stats won’t blow you away, he netted over 50 carries in Mularkey’s hyper-conservative offense. Although limited, Rodgers hauled 21 receptions and netted a 9 yard average per catch. It’s going to be very intriguing to see exactly how much Rodgers is used and in what capacity. Estimates are varying widely with fans with some thinking he may get up to 50% of all the RB touches, while others think he’ll play a similar role as he did in 2011. This much is certain: Rodgers stands to benefit as much as anyone in Koetter’s new system.
As mentioned in an earlier post, it will be interesting to see how Snelling fits into the running back picture. The jack-of-all-trades RB was thought by some to possibly takeover at fullback, but the drafting of Bradie Ewing essentially ended that speculation. Will Snelling get a third of the touches or will his role be reduced even further with the advent of Jacquizz Rodgers? No one knows, but it’s great to have Snelling as a Falcon the next 3 years, regardless of his role.
The 4 time Pro Bowler is still one of the best wide receivers in the game even though he’s over the 30 age limit. White can do it all: short, intermediate, deep routes, run after the catch, and find the endzone. With Julio Jones being more of the deep threat, #84 should have his lay of the land and has gone on record saying how excited he was in Koetter’s new offensive setup. Although Roddy dropped a few passes this year, there’s no reason to think he won’t get that fixed. The big question is whether or not there will be enough balls to go around between White, Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and hopefully, Harry Douglas?
Julio Jones is on everybody’s list for potential breakout starts in 2011, and for good reason. The former Alabama product had a fantastic rookie year hauling in 54 balls 959 yards and 8 touchdowns, including some plays that were ready-made for the highlight reel. The unbelievable diving catch against the Colts, the 80 yard afterburner TD also against the Colts, and the TD against the Bucs where he caught the ball, fell down, got back up, and fought off two defenders for a touchdown. All this while missing 3 games (basically 4 since he was injured very early against the Packers). AJ Green may have gone to the Pro Bowl, but Julio’s stats would have easily surpassed Green’s had he not missed almost 4 games. Pressure shouldn’t really be an issue after playing for Nick Saban and having to live up to “the trade” that most of the media completely obsessed over as a rookie. Jerry Rice has picked #11 as his breakout star of 2012. If his rookie year is the standard for Jones, can the former Crimson Tide take the next step? Can Koetter get creative on getting him the ball, likely facing heavy coverage?
One of the most frustrating things for Falcons fans the last few years has been the absence of Harry Douglas in the gameplan. The rookie form Jonesboro wowed in 2008 showing excellent ability in getting the ball and gaining yards after catch. Along with being a special teams ace, HD had a bright future and was going to form a lethal trio with Roddy White, then starting receiver Michael Jenkins, and Tony Gonzalez. He of course tore his ACL in training camp in 2009. He would need time to recover in all of 2009 and it was understandable that he may not get a ton of looks in 2010, but his absence last year was simply inexcusable.
As Douglas proved in the Saints game at home, the ability was there as he almost single-handedly led the Falcons to a comeback win. Of course once Jones returned from injury, HD was never heard from again. And therein lies one of Falcons fans biggest complaints with the previous offensive coordinator: he was either unwilling or unable to incorporate more than two receivers at a time. The idea of having Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Tony Gonzalez seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately, Mularkey found a way to get stopped, rather easily at times. Will Douglas finally reach his true potential under Koetter?
Even though Falcons fans are repulsed by their bounty-conducting enemy Saints, they have to admit that their use of all their weapons is pretty outstanding. They find ways to get all their offensive playmakers involved, including all their running backs and receivers. If Kerry Meier can stay healthy, he really can offer a great option as a possession receiver. Whoever wins the 5th receiver spot, such as Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, or James Rodgers, can surely bring a new dimension to the offense as well. Assuming Antone Smith makes the team, his speed would surely be welcomed in a backfield trio that doesn’t possess the homerun threat. Finally, rookie fullback Bradie Ewing can run and catch as well as block. Will Koetter look more like Sean Payton or Mike Mularkey in his use of his entire roster?
There were reports when hired that Koetter’s offense didn’t put a premium on tight ends and there was a chance that Gonzalez may not play a prominent role in his last season as a pro. Those reports will likely turn out to be unfounded as Koetter has said on several occasions how important the Hall of Fame tight end is to the offense. He may not be able to stretch the field as much as he used, but he doesn’t have to with White, Jones, and Douglas in tow. Falcons fans are hoping that their Beloved Birds finally give TG his long awaited and much deserved first playoff win. How will Gonzalez operate and be used in Koetter’s new scheme?
Maybe it’s just cautious optimism or the fact that fans need proof before believing, but there’s surely a little skepticism to the Falcons becoming a high-powered offense. Call it the “Mularkey Malaise” if you will. The talent has been there for a long time, but for whatever reason, the former coordinator (and perhaps Smith as well), just could not figure out a way to maximize all the offensive talent, especially against elite opponents. Most all fans are hopeful that the offense will finally take off, but there’s definitely a little bit of skepticism that will remain until they start seeing some cold-hard evidence of that actually taking place.
Some of that negativity from the malaise was apparent when the Falcons named Koetter. Not the biggest or most well-known name and all anyone could think about was the fact of him leading the last ranked offense in the NFL in 2011. Fans have warmed up to him considerably after hearing players themselves talk about the positivity, and by comparison, the inefficiency of the Mularkey era. Finally, this isn’t meant to be a hatchet job on Mularkey. The Falcons won a ton of games with Mularkey and had some outstanding bright spots including having winning seasons 4 years in a row, making the playoffs in three of them, gaining the #1 seed in the NFC, directing the Rookie of the Year in 2008, and sending countless players to the Pro Bowl. However, it became painfully apparent last year that the offense had peaked and regressed under Mularkey and he was unable to maximize his vast talent. Hopefully, Koetter is the man to take this offense to the next level.
1) Simple Leadoff: Will Koetter take this offense to the next level?
2) Where do you predict this offense heading in 2012?
3) Where does the Falcons offensive talent rank among the NFL?
4) How will / should Koetter use Turner in 2012?
5) What kind of role will / should Rodgers and Snelling play?
6) Will there be an odd man out at RB? Who would it be?
7) Can Koetter utilize all his receivers together?
8.) Will this finally be the year we see the true potential of HD?
9) Any chance guys like Meier and Antone Smith get touches?
10) What role will Tony Gonzalez play? Will he see his catches drop?
11) Are you suffering from the “Mularkey Malaise?”
12) What evidence will do you need to see that Koetter is getting it right?