With the Falcons Mini-Camp over, get ready for the worst part of the dead zone. Literally nothing will be going on for the next few weeks, but the Falcons training camp will only be a month from this Tuesday, so the light is getting close to the end of the tunnel. One thing that fans and the media alike often talk about when discussing a team and their coaching almost always focuses on the head coach and sometimes on the offensive and defensive coordinators. One part of the coaching staff that’s often overlooked are the assistant coaches, specifically the position coaches. This is a chance to look at the entire coaching staff, their track record, and how they’ve fared since being a Falcons coach. A look at the Falcons coaches:
Many fans were scared to death when news came down that Koetter would be the new offensive coordinator. All that most could think of was the fact that Koetter has just overseen the worst offense in the NFL. Well, judging on his first year as the Falcons OC, fans should worry no more. He led the Falcons into a new aerial assault that saw 3 offensive players head to the Pro Bowl (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez) and should have been four with Roddy White getting a snub.
They had two 1,000 yard receivers with Jones and White and were only about 70 yards from having three with Gonzalez hauling in 930 yards. He made it one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL and saw Matt Ryan have his best year as a Falcon and was even in the MVP conversation for awhile. The only things that need a little improvement are the running game, developing a killer instinct in the second half, and developing other receivers behind Jones and White, especially slot receiver Harry Douglas. Grade / Analysis – A; Koetter did a great job in year 1 and the only thing that kept it from being an A+ was the items listed for improvement.
Nolan did wonders for a Falcons defense that are perennial underachievers. He did a fantastic job against the elite class of QB’s including Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning, as well as beating Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Phillip Rivers, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick. He helped send two safeties to the Pro Bowl in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore and created an “amoeba” style offense that kept offensive coordinators guessing as to what was coming next. He vastly improved the Falcons secondary. He even helped the Falcons achieve the NFC’s #1 seed, as well as their playoff win in almost a decade.
Of course,the downsides were being poor against the run and the playoff collapses: blowing a 20 point lead in the 4th quarter vs. the Seahawks and a 17-0 lead vs. the 49ers in the NFC Title game. Both games at home in the Georgia Dome. He also failed to improve the Falcons much at all in terms of their pass rush. Maybe it’s been some on lack of personnel, but after a full season and slew of draft picks with “his type of guys,” he should be ready to make another leap forward in year 2. Grade / Analysis – B+ ; Maybe Nolan should get a little higher grade since it was his first year and a lack of personnel may have been the issue. But it could also be argued that it could be lower since the pass rush was essentially the same and the playoff collapses are hard to stomach.
This is where the adage of “coaching can make the difference” really applies. There was a little concern with Hill coming back to the NFL after spending so long in college football at Fresno State. However, he was a part of the “Cleveland ‘95” group that included Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Thomas Dimitroff, Ozzie Newsome, and Scott Pioli among many others. Hill took the same group of offensive linemen and made a supremely better unit overall. That’s also including the loss of starting RG Garrett Reynolds early in the season. He helped Sam Baker have his best year as a pro, which helped him parlay that into a nice new contract.
It certainly wasn’t perfect. Todd McClure showed his age, Tyson Clabo had a pretty down year overall, and the run game was non-existent at times, but when it counted most, the Falcons offensive line did their job in the playoffs, keeping Matt Ryan clean and providing a great rushing performance vs. the Seahawks. Hopefully that success will continue in year two with some young and inexperienced additions. The long haul may find it more challenging, for former OL coach Paul Boudreau had a lot of early success as well. Grade / Analysis – A+ ; Perhaps this a touch on the optimistic side, but the offensive line finally wasn’t the main bane of fans existence the way it usually is each season and Hill deserves all the credit.
Special teams is sometimes one of the more forgotten parts of the game. Punting, field goals, and PAT’s don’t get the attention of offense and defense, but it’s something that can easily be taken for granted. Most fans never think of these things until they go terribly wrong. Just ask 49er fans about their Super Bowl experience. Armstrong has been with the Falcons since Mike Smith came aboard and has produced extremely consistent special teams units. According to his AtlantaFalcons.com bio, his units have finished in the top 10 the last 5 years.
Matt Bryant has been money since his arrival and helped propel the Falcons to their first playoff win in a decade with a 50+ yarder, not a gimme. Matt Bosher has developed in a very fine punter and his coverage teams are some of the best in the NFL. Jacquizz Rodgers turned into a good kick returner last season, if not a homerun threat. One of the only things Armstrong hasn’t found is a consistently good punt returner. The Dominique Franks experience was a cruel joke. Maybe that gets fixed this year. Grade / Analysis – A ; Armstrong has been extraordinarily consistent and solid since his arrival and been a key part of the Falcons success.
Just a few weeks ago Robiskie was given the title of Assistant Head Coach. That’s a testament to what he has meant to the Falcons and their success since Mike Smith’s arrival. He has overseen Roddy White going to the Pro Bowl 4 times and should have been 5, as he was snubbed last year. Robiskie is roundly considered to have been integral in White’s emergence from potential bust to perennial Pro Bowler. The Falcons receivers have long been one of their best positions since Mike Smith’s arrival under Robiskie. Julio Jones earned his first Pro Bowl appearance after an impressive rookie year. Harry Douglas showed flashes as a rookie and it seems as though he’s lost much of that since.
It hasn’t been impeccable in every aspect. There was the Michael Jenkins episode, Kerry Meier could never make an impact, and Harry Douglas has seemed to regress since his rookie season. Robiskie also needs to find a replacement for Roddy White sooner rather than later. Maybe 2013 will find out whether Drew Davis or Kevin Cone could be the guy. Grade / Analysis – A ; Robiskie has been given a ton of talent to work with (White, Jones), but he’s also done a great job of maximizing that talent as well.
Brown has quietly been the running backs coach for the Falcons since Smith’s arrival. He oversaw Michael Turner’s great ride from 2008 to 2011 (it’s fair to say that Turner was at the end in 2012). Turner named an All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl two years (2008, 2010), as well as the NFC’s rushing leader two years (2010, 2011). It’s hard to argue with results. Even though the Falcons rode the Turner train a year too long, it’s hard to fault Brown for that. Jacquizz Rodgers has had a nice couple of seasons as a Falcon and almost eclipsed 800 all-purpose yards in 2012. Jason Snelling has been Mr. Reliable and supremely versatile for the Falcons.
Ovie Mughelli was a consummate Falcons while hal e was here and did a good job and now he inherits one of the best RB’s in the NFL in Steven Jackson. One fault that could go Brown’s way is not developing any other back other Rodgers over the last 5 years, but that’s not necessarily all his fault. Grade Analysis – A ; If you’re basing ratings on the performance of their respective position, than Brown gets high marks. 4 out of 5 years the running game has been successful. Although they haven’t developed a running back on their own besides Rodgers, they really haven’t drafted any.
Rest coming soon………….
This analysis and critique may seem a little unfair since it seems to scapegoat one person in a massive failure the past five years, but if you’ve paid attention over the years the net of blame has been cast far and wide. Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, Brian Van Gorder, the players themselves and even Rich McKay have received their fair share of blame over the past five years, so this is surely not out of range. The failure to produce one single pass rusher in 5 years has been a massive failure on every level, including the position coach. While it has been a total team failure with all sharing blame, Hamilton doesn’t get a pass. The only two defensive linemen that have consistently produced a pass rush (Abraham, Babineaux) were already on the team before Mike Smith and Co. arrived.
There have been high draft picks (Jerry, Peters), mid-round picks (Biermann, Sidbury, Massaquoi), late-round picks (Walker, Matthews, Robertson) and free agents (Edwards) and no one has stepped up to collar more than 4 sacks in any season. There have been plenty of position coaches that have lost their job when their position hasn’t got it done (Paul Boudreau – OL, Emmitt Thomas – DB). Maybe this finally is the year that the Falcons produce at least ONE pass rusher and an overall decent pass rush. He does get credit for the play of Abraham, Babineaux, and the play of Corey Peters and Vance Walker, but when looking at his entire body of work, it must be considered a very poor performance. Grade / Analysis – C- ; 5 years and hasn’t been able to produce one consistent pass rusher other than Babineaux and Abraham.
Lewis replaced longtime stalwart Emmitt Thomas in 2010. It’s difficult to assess exactly what impact that Lewis has had (or hasn’t for that matter) on the Falcons secondary. The highlights obviously include this past year that saw the Falcons rank as one of the top in the NFL in interceptions and sent two players to the Pro Bowl (Moore, DeCoud). Overall, it was one of the better DB performances of the last 5 years. The surprise of Robert McClain was a nice addition while also absorbing the loss of Brent Grimes. Even free agent bust Dunta Robinson seemed to have his best year as a Falcon.
The lowlights include being one of the weaker secondaries in 2010 and 2011. The Falcons were gashed and dashed through the air by quarterbacks and those images of 10 yard cushions still haunt Falcons fans. Chris Owens seemed to digress with the arrival of Lewis and Franks missed the roster cut, even though being a 5th round draft pick. Perhaps it’s a little harsh to single out Lewis with the pitiful pass rush, but that’s the nature of fans having no insight into Flowery Branch. Grade Analysis – C+ ; If 2013 is a repeat of 2012 than this grade will rise much higher, but if it’s more like 2011, than it will remain in below average range.
Piers has been the LB coach for the Falcons since Smith arrived back in 2008. Brian Van Gorder also coached linebackers while he was here for 4 years as DC. This is an interesting one to analyze. On one hand, the linebacker corps has been pretty consistent. Curtis Lofton was a great tackler. Stephen Nicholas has had his moments here and there and actually led the team in tackles last season. Akeem Dent showed some progress during the year. Mike Peterson came aboard and added some needed fire and leadership to the group. And Sean Weatherspoon seemed primed for his first Pro Bowl before injury. If nothing else, the LB corps has been decently consistent.
However, looking at the grand scope and entire body of work, the linebacker corps has been the exact opposite of “playmakers.” A recent post identified just how little of an impact the LB’s had on a game (lack of sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, passes defensed). Looking at the grand sum total, the stats were downright anemic as an entire unit. In addition to that, in year 6 the Falcons are apparently turning to practice squad players and undrafted free agents to fill out the roster. How can they be in that position after 5 years? Perhaps Thomas Dimitroff and the front office deserve much of the blame, but there have been a slew of players drafted that never made an impact (Robert James) or are no longer with the team. Grade / Analysis – C+ ; Between the fact that the Falcons are having major depth issues in year 6 and the lack of playmaking ability a B grade has to be out.