Flowery Branch – We know what can happen when we assume, but here’s a case study. Outside consensus holds that the Falcons’ offense will be both expanded and expansive in 2009, what with Matt Ryan being an established pro and Michael Turner being a money back and Tony Gonzalez being aboard. Lots more plays! Lots more looks!
Said Mike Mularkey, the offensive coordinator: “We’ve taken out about 30 pages of the playbook. Last year we didn’t know who we had and what we had, so we put everything in. This year, from OTAs [organized team activities] on, we’ve said, ‘We don’t have to expand anything. We just have to do it better.’ And that’s we what want to do: Just do what we do good, and do it better.”
Those concerned that the addition of the All-Pro Gonzalez might induce Mularkey to overpass don’t know Mularkey. (And shouldn’t that be the title of the Falcons’ pruned playbook? “A Bunch of Mularkey”?) He wants to run the ball. “That’s always been my philosophy,” he said. But his guiding principle is even more pragmatic.
“We want to score every time we touch the football. There are no boards, no sheets, no objectives [posted in the offense's meeting room]. We don’t say, ‘We’re going to get 20 first downs and eight explosive plays [20-plus yards] or have 35 percent of something. If you score every time, every goal you’d shoot for is going to accumulate.”
Against every expectation, the 2008 Falcons mustered a first-rate offense from a rookie quarterback, a career backup tailback and an offensive line regarded in preseason as the NFL’s worst. They finished 10th in scoring, sixth in yardage, 14th in passing, second in rushing. The team that we figured — well, I sure figured — would need to win every game 17-14 wound up scoring 20-plus points 12 times in 16 regular-season games.
The 2009 offense should be better still, for many reasons. Chief among them: Gonzalez. “I know what his strengths are,” Mularkey said.
What are they? “Everything. He doesn’t get enough credit for his blocking. He’s one of the best blockers I’ve ever graded coming out of college. We’re not going to create a whole new offense for him, but we can move him around.”
Another misconception: The Falcons simplified their offense a year ago owing to their rookie quarterback. Mularkey: “The easy answer would be to say, ‘Yes,’ but I look back and we had more checks [audibles] going into the Detroit [season opener] than in any game I’ve ever been part of. I must have had confidence in him.”
Ryan’s potential? How high is up? “He grows from everything he does,” Mularkey said. “Even if it’s something he does well, he wants to expand it. He’s never going to get comfortable. He’s not settling for normalcy.”
Given that we on the periphery were so wrong about everything regarding the 2008 offense, are we right to expect bigger and better? “Teams are going to be a little bit better prepared for us,” Mularkey said. “But the thing I don’t know is if they can prepare for how hard we play. People ask how Michael can do what he does. He can do it because the rest of the team is running downfield knocking defenders off him. That’s hard to prepare for. I’ve never seen it anywhere else I’ve been.”
And here we pause to note: Mularkey worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers under Bill Cowher. That team had a defense to complement its O. These Falcons figure to need to score in bunches to prop up a fledgling D. But that’s another assumption, and we know all about those.