VanGorder leaves, with more Falcons changes to come?

"Five! That's how many yards we're going to gain on this play!" (AP photo)

"Five! Five! That's how many yards we're going to gain on this play!" (AP photo)

Updated to reflect the news that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is leaving for Auburn.

After the Falcons thrashed Tampa Bay to close the regular season, a buoyant Michael Turner cast an eye toward the postseason and told reporters, “We just have to go out and play Falcons football.”

Question: What now constitutes “Falcons football”?

Power running? (Sometimes, but not all the time.) The hurry-up offense? (Sometimes, but not all the time.) Strict attention to detail? (In previous seasons, but not this.) The capacity to extract the best from a cadre of gifted players? (Not even close.)

The 2011 Falcons got caught in between — they weren’t the grind-it-out bunch of old,  but they weren’t the squadron of turbojets Thomas Dimitroff envisioned when he made his bold move to draft Julio Jones. The rookie receiver did his bit, but it was as if the Falcons never knew what to make of him. Sometimes they’d put him to work, but the Julio graft seemed forced. (Fun fact: Of the five plays that gained the most yardage in Sunday’s playoff game, all were made by the Giants.)

For the Falcons, the change has already begun. It was announced Monday that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is leaving for Auburn, which pays nearly as well as Arthur Blank. (Sorry. Cam Newton joke.) The bigger move stands to be the ouster of Mike Mularkey, whose middle name isn’t Malleable.  I can’t see him returning to coordinate an offense that lost all coordination against teams of comparable worth.

Mularkey did fine work with a rookie quarterback and modest resources back in 2008, but the Falcons are no longer that team. Used properly, Matt Ryan is among the NFL’s 10 best at his position, but he needs a better offensive line, and he needs a system that can actually allow the offense to hurry, as opposed to standing at the line for 30 seconds with everybody making amusing hand gestures. (The Falcons ran the only no-huddle offense capable of dulling the senses.)

For all Dimitroff’s good work, the general manager hasn’t built up his O-line. Drafting Sam Baker in Round 1 was a pick made from the need to give the rookie Ryan a chance, but after four seasons Baker still isn’t a left tackle of the first rank, and the rest of the line is no longer forceful enough to sustain a power attack. Like Mularkey, Paul Boudreau’s best work came three seasons ago, and Dimitroff’s incredulity at his team’s failures on fourth-and-inches mightn’t augur well for the line coach.

Besides, who cares about running the ball? Maybe the pendulum will swing back, but for now the best teams are those who throw it best. The Falcons have to stop babying Ryan, who’s tough enough to stand on his own. They have to let him take chances, to throw deep. To watch him this season was to see a good quarterback who’d been overcoached. That bizarre “drive” — 25 yards gained in 1:08 with two timeouts left unused — at the first half’s end Sunday was painful.

The defense, on the other hand, got better as it went. VanGorder didn’t manage to sustain a pass rush — the pricey free agent Ray Edwards was credited with two tackles against the Giants — but the D actually scored in the Meadowlands, which is more than we can say for the men of Mularkey. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton had big seasons. (Lineman Peria Jerry, alas, did not.)

If you’re a fan, the temptation after a blowout loss to close a disappointing season is say, “Fire everybody.” And do what? Start over yet again? Isn’t that what undid the Falcons for a decade after Rankin Smith Sr. determined that Leeman Bennett had reached his plateau?

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Said Dimitroff, speaking Sunday in the locker room: “There’s no question that after a game like this, you definitely need to take a deep breath and let your emotions subside before you analyze the whole operation.”

From the first, Dimitroff has insisted he and coach Mike Smith are “simpatico” in their approach. This was the first season in which in-house agendas seemed to diverge. Dimitroff drafted Jones because he envisioned his team being able to win games 35-31, but the Falcons rarely played that way. They were caught in a transition.

It’s time now to become what they were supposed to be. (It’s time to find a high-tech offensive mind — Mike Martz springs to mind, though his ego grates — to make this offense, as Roddy White boldly suggested over the summer, the Greatest Show on Turf.

As deflating as Sunday was, the greater truth remains: The Falcons don’t need to junk a design that has churned out four winning seasons and three postseason appearances, but some rebooting is warranted. A year ago the egregious loss to Green Bay made it clear the Falcons weren’t quite as good as 13-3. This playoff defeat proved the Falcons were exactly what 10-6 suggested — a team too talented not to make the playoffs but too disjointed to do more.

By Mark Bradley

491 comments Add your comment

ViningsDawg

January 9th, 2012
1:31 pm

jjm

January 9th, 2012
1:31 pm

Vanakatherock

January 9th, 2012
1:31 pm

Please tell me they’re going to fire Mularkey.

Michael

January 9th, 2012
1:31 pm

First!

Tough loss. We’re like the Hawks – bound to be in the playoffs each year and bound to get knocked out early.

Mark Bradley

January 9th, 2012
1:34 pm

Kudos, ViningsDawg.

ViningsDawg

January 9th, 2012
1:36 pm

I agree, a new OC with a bolder vision for Matt Ryan would put everyone on the same page again

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:38 pm

Very sad that A Blank has not publicly fired Mularkey yet.
I know, its business and blah blah blah…

Does A Blank want to be elite or nice?

Look to the NY Yankees as the correct model. Fire coaches, cut dead weight players (I’m looking at you #28, and after a great run #33 is done.)
Loyalty in the NFL should be to winning. Not to saving face of the coaches who dont have a snowballs chance of creating a winning scheme.

Yesterday was more of the same obvious play calling we saw week 1 in Chicago. There was no evolution of the game plan week to week whatsoever.

I fully believe Matt Ryan can win a ring in a Falcons uniform. He will not do it with this offensive scheme.
I know Matt can hit a moving target, so why are all of the passing routes designed to run 12 yards and stop and stand there.

The biggest step forward this team can make is to ditch Mularkey.

chasjons

January 9th, 2012
1:39 pm

I’d like to see Mularkey gone and some retooling (if possible) of the offensive line. The irony was that our offense was the problem this year, not the defense. At least the last two losses in the playoffs have proven that we are not a championship team…yet. But, beats the heck out of where we were 4 + years ago.

JacketFanMarcus

January 9th, 2012
1:40 pm

Oh well, despite all the negativity about the Hawks (because of ownership woes), they’re the best sports team in town.

Not only are they winning playoff games, they’re getting to the next round.

And based on the start of this season, they’re probably the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference, behind the Heat.

And Georgia State basketball may be somebody else to rally behind too…gotta get our minds off of this depressing Falcons story!

Ed

January 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

Got to have a new OC but Matt Ryan’s got to step up and make throws in the big games. Roddy and Julio can only catch what Matt Ryan throws them.

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

It doesnt even bother me that you went for it on 4th down in each case. What bothers me is Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey not being able to learn from their mistakes. There are more plays than up the middle on 4th down behind an obviously weak OL.
In the Aints game, and in yesterdays game a simple play action fake and a slant would have fixed many problems.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

The Falcons for the most part has already reached their ceiling as currently constructed. Same for the coordinators. It would be a bold move for Blank (and Smith) admit as much as replace them.

Can’t replace the team as quick as you can the coordinators.

Herschel Talker

January 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

MB:

Outstanding article.

You have to make a choice and be what you’re going to be. Don’t draft Julio and trade the world to get him and then not use him properly. Complete foolishness.

Also, excellent point on the offensive line. They are a complete disaster.

HT

Joe

January 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

Matt Ryans arm strength is like the dirty family secret that all the falcons apologists wants to avoid. Ssshhhh, don’t talk about it!

Let’s blame the OC for not throwing it down field! Let’s blame the offensive line for not giving him flawless, long time protection!

Why don’t we ever blame Ryan for not having the confidense to throw into coverage? This isn’t college. Guys are covered every play.

If Malarky had a strong arm QB do people REALLY think the offense would be this short passing game?

D

January 9th, 2012
1:42 pm

Ryan was lost in this game. he looked like a college qb playing in the nfl his first time. He was unsure to throw the ball several times. Brees and other great qb’s drop back and fire away. If there’s nothing there, they try to make something from nothing. Ryan either gets sacked or throws the ball away. He has no scrambling ability or know how to move to an area where he can get a pass away. After 4 seasons, this should be natural for him but it’s not. Roddy white is overrated and just as bad at his postition. he drops balls that saints receivers rarely drop. Turner is awful and if he plays with them again next year, i won’t watch a game. TD has been bad at his top draft picks. PJ was too old to take at the time and to injury prone. Baker was a blank. And his offseason acq of dunta and ray have been a disaster. It is time to start over with a new oc and dc and a new system that helps ryan cause this one stinks. And like i’ve said many times, throw a damn deep ball. 1 of 4 things happens. It’s caught. It’s incomplete. It’s intercepted or there’s a penalty. And with JJ here, it’s time to take that chance. Tired of this lazy boring predictable play calling

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:42 pm

@Ed,
how many balls did Roddy and Harry Douglas drop yesterday? The ball was there more often than it wasnt.
Roddy’s performance dropped off this year. Are we seeing more of the same guy who liked to party more than he liked to concentrate?

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:43 pm

I submit to you that if Sean Payton, Mike McCarthey, Bill Billechick had this same team, surely we would have scored more than 2 points!

That’s not the players. Its the coaching (or lack thereof).

boots

January 9th, 2012
1:43 pm

The modern-day NFL: you have your whole team built around your QB. For better or worse, Ryan is our guy and will be for a few seasons. We need to have an O-line that can give us a credible running game (which we once had). Turner is getting old for a RB, and that will be an issue soon enough. If we don’t make some significant changes, the road will be bumpy. TB and Charlotte are both getting better, and we are still a good distance (might as well be 4th & 1) from NO and GB. And as we now know, the Falcons are not good at moving forward even short distances when it matters.

cptzzggyy

January 9th, 2012
1:43 pm

I truly enjoy reading your columns & blogs & your insight & perspective on the ‘Dawgs & the Falcons. But, for the sake of the fans of those 2 teams, please make a New Year’s Resolution not to ‘pick’ them to do anything – not to win or lose a game, a division, an award or a pillow fight. Please do offer your thoughts on why they SHOULD win or lose, just don’t pick them to do so. I honestly believe this simple action on your part would be of greater benefit that any change in the front office(s) or coaching staff(s). Thanks for considering this request.

Rex Ryan

January 9th, 2012
1:43 pm

Let’s play Jets football!

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:44 pm

I further submit to you that the Falcons are to Good Teams what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globtrotters…..An EASY VICTORY. A JOKE!

gabugman

January 9th, 2012
1:44 pm

C’mon everyone, look on the bright side:
The Falcons set a record yesterday with as the only playoff team to ever end a game with 2 points!

As much as I hate to go there, I find Ryan and Mularkey the culprits in yesterday’s pathetic showing. Mularkey can’t be kept, his choices in play calling in critical situations is abysmal.

Having the luxury of the DVR, I was able to watch slo mo replays all day and Ryan just did not pull the trigger on wide open receivers at all! He has been an efficient QB for four seasons but if you want the play making ability of the premier teams these days, we have got to have a more accurate, quick release, strong armed QB with vision.

This all comes back to Mike Smith. If he can’t/won’t look at the problems that are glaringly apparent with this team and take action, then he should get the boot as well.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:45 pm

We need to change the RISE UP anthem to “Sweet Georgia Brown”

Chris

January 9th, 2012
1:45 pm

“It’s time for the Falcons to win a playoff game and they will” yeah how did that work out for you Mark Bradley. You are as typical as the rest of this town. Everyone is pom pom waving then promptly jumping off the bandwagon. Your comment about Julio and Roddy being superior to anything that the Giants have was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read.

StingerSplash

January 9th, 2012
1:46 pm

Watching the replays of the last futile quarterback sneak, I wonder how many times the Falcons actually practiced that from the time camps were unlocked and players could hit the fields following the lockout. You’re supposed to get your shoulder pads parallel to the ground and run behind those – assuming the offensive line can actually move the defenders the needed inch off the line of scrimmage – not stand there at an 80 degree to the ground. It was … ugly in so many, many ways.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:46 pm

I don’t who which a hate more…the fact that Author Blank (one the the best owners in the league) is not getting his money worth out of the players, or not getting his money worth out of the coaching staff and Thomas Dimitroff.

They both are ripping him off.

TroupDawg

January 9th, 2012
1:47 pm

Enough already for the “we’re going to learn from this” and the “process” !!!! If I hear another clown in Flowery Branch spew up that rock gut again…I’ll vomit.

What we as fans “learned” this season is that the “process” doesn’t work!! Everyone see this except for the so-called experts in Flowery Branch. And poor old Arthur just looks lost.

Beast from the East

January 9th, 2012
1:47 pm

Vanakatherock,
Mike Mularkey is supposedly interviewing for the Jags HC job tomorrow…accroding to Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun.

Mark,
Who would have thought Tebow would notch a play-off win before Matt Ryan?

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:48 pm

@Joe,
Ive been at the games, Ive watched. Ryan has the arm strength. Ive seen him make the throws.
It doesnt matter how strong of an arm you have, if the routes are designed to run 12 yds and stop…

This has been pointed out many times. Even stated plainly by Falcons receivers…. “Sometimes they tell you its your week to block”. Its the OC who is the problem. Its the entire philosophy of the OC where you script the first 15 plays. Its the philosophy of the OC who has to “establish the run” in EVERY game. Even when you play teams that have crappy pass defense.

What we need is an OC who will task players with learning the playbook as it evolves week over week. Plays are dropped and plays are added based on who we are playing. Every week, EVERY player is involved.
Coaching is where this team is faulted right now.

Lazy and undisciplined is a reflection of coaching.

Dr. Warren

January 9th, 2012
1:48 pm

If the Falcons were what 10-6 suggested, how does that explain the 9-7 Giants flattening them? The truth is, the schedule was friendly to the Birds.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:48 pm

I would trade Matt Ryan AND Roddy White to whatever team is in position to draft Rober Griffing III>

However, Mike Mularkey would have to go! ! ! Otherwise it would be a waist of talent, just like Julio, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez

Scott

January 9th, 2012
1:49 pm

The only reason they made the playoffs was cutler got injured. If he doesn’t, they don’t make it. It was good they didn’t make it. Shows how inept they really are.

Falcon_Fan

January 9th, 2012
1:49 pm

Falcons need a new vision for the offense, hopefully Mularkey did not ruin his head coaching opportunities, if so, then fire him. Micheal Turner needs to loose about 25 Lbs in the off-season, so he can make quick cuts at the line of scrimmage to get a step on defenders, he is too slow. Van Gorter has got to loose the zone defense, we need some shut down corners from free agent draft to compliment Grimes. We need linebackers that can play zone and man to man.

StingerSplash

January 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

And I still hate Brian VanGorder.

RedandBlackPeachy

January 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

@ Joe—since Mularkey has never risen to the level of his reputation than regardless of the QB, we would be limited. If you take a good look at his history his best years have been the first year in any situation following someone who was better than him. Leave him anywhere and returns start to diminish. The Falcons are just the latest victim of that.

No Direction

January 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

100% Pathetic performance. Look for me next year- I’ll be disguised as an empty seat in section 225.

Rickster

January 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

Questions for MB:

1: Do three examples a representative sample make?

2: Would you like to amend/retract your column about Mike Smith being the “greatest Falcons coach ever?”(At least Dan Reeves made it to the Super Bowl.)

3: Have the Falcons been as successful because their talent is better than their coaching?

4. Would you please pick the Giants over my beloved Packers this weekend?

Thanks!

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

Fire Mularkey today and let him make his travel plans.

Mark Bradley

January 9th, 2012
1:51 pm

I have to admit: “We’ll get this corrected,” is beginning to grate on me, too, TroupDawg.

Shug

January 9th, 2012
1:51 pm

If the Falcons are looking for a new offensiver coordinator, why not think outside the box and delve into the college ranks. UGA’s own Mike Bobo would be a wonderful choice.

JB

January 9th, 2012
1:51 pm

Ryan looked scared all game…. does he have it in him to win a playoff game? Unclear… but they have to let him loose to find out.
Play calling was painful to watch. We definetely need a new OC to open things up. Oh, and some O-line help would be good as well.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:52 pm

Mark Bradley: “It is clear … that Mike Mularkey isn’t the man to maximize this personnel in the video arcade of neo-football……. it’s time for the Falcons to try somebody new.”

And the Falcons Nation said: “AMEN Brother”

IlliniDawg

January 9th, 2012
1:53 pm

The plain fact is that this is statistically one of the absolute worst offensive lines in the NFL – both in terms of passing (QB sacks/knockdowns/hurries) and rushing (YPA/short-yardage/etc.). We knew they couldn’t pass protect, but now they can’t even effectively run block.

Ryan’s situation is somewhat like Jay Cutler’s and Jay Rivers’ – very good QBs who got the majority of the blame for checkered seasons due to s***y OLs. I know the QB gets paid the most and is the de facto leader of the team – but this is still a team sport, and no QB can overcome the kind of line play that ATL, Chicago, or SD had this season. Time for the OL players and coaches to “man up” and take responsibility for the mediocre offense this season.

Bradley smoking something

January 9th, 2012
1:53 pm

Ryan CAN NOT throw it deep!
Ryan DOES NOT try to throw it deep!
So we should assume Ryan DOES NOT like throwing it deep!

Since it was obvious LAST YEAR, moron Tommy Soul Patch never should have blown the draft for a WR?!?!?

JSS

January 9th, 2012
1:53 pm

Told you…
2 and half years ago that this could not run an effective screen game because you must max protect in the regular passing game. Players watch film, as Justin Tuck… That is why the Giants knew what was coming on 4th downs. It is also why you can’t screen, it is a key for any team with a competent DC and Mic LB. I can hear Jonathan Vilma calling the Falcons tendencies out to the Saints line. Dang if Boley didn’t do it too…. Every time they waited to make Ryan commit to a call… Bang!!!

Ueeediot

January 9th, 2012
1:54 pm

Anyone commenting that you should trade players to make your team better is a NFL moron.
Please show me where a team has traded for anyone who ever made a difference on their squad.

The NFL is built on draft and FA, period.

TD needs to show that his evaluations have improved.

Falcantz

January 9th, 2012
1:54 pm

Mark,
Agreed. Nice observations. The number of flaws exposed by this team while playing the high caliber opponents this season, will necessitate a closer scrutiny than Dmitroff and Smith have ever delved. Are they capable, meaning that folks and players will be held accountable?

lamac66

January 9th, 2012
1:55 pm

Watch, nothing will change and you fans will get the same bland post-game talk. You called yourself going from a smash mouth team to Air Coryell. That’s you’re problem. As much as the local press tried and the fans wished, Ryan is not Peyton Manning, Jr. Doesn’t have the arm. Don’t beleive me, check the data of his attempts and completions better than 25-40yds.

Everybody’s so nice and media friendly blah blah in reaction to what went down with Vick. That is what’s holding this franchise back. Fan base and media psyche is so fragile here. Ooooh, can’t say nothing bad about Ryan….pooh pooh his shortcomings and blame it on the OL and dropped passes by the WR’s.

Those excuses were not good enough for the previous QB and shouldn’t be good enough for this one. He needs a Manning or Brady OL and that would help.

Feature Turner and you’ll see some results when Peyton Manning,Jr..err uh, Ryan doesn’t have to throw 40+ times/game. The coaching staff and the OC is limited when you’re qb can not get the ball downfield with some accuracy.

Feature Turner, play action and screens and you may have some success in the playoffs. Yes Turner is no burner but when you give up on the run so quickly, you’ve played into the defense hands.

Falcons4Eva name for Sale

January 9th, 2012
1:55 pm

Dan Reeves is on 680 The Fan – Another Falcon apologist….d@mn why is he so passive and accepting of this crap of a team’s performance!

Sick of apologist……Where is CHARLES BARKLEY when we need him on the air during the Falcon broadcast.

Marcus

January 9th, 2012
1:55 pm

Your last line sums up both the Hawks and Falcons of the last 4 years…. and both have high-priced players at key positions (Abraham, D. Robinson) and very little wiggle room in terms of tradable contracts. We are good enough to make the post-season and avoid a single digit draft position (to gain an impact player) and have recently traded away 1st round draft positions, but lacking “something” to progress further than what recent post-season history has yielded.

Falcons issue is that we need a LT, WLB to replace Petersen/upgrade Nicholas, someone to generate pass rush (DE or OLB hybrid) and maybe a DB or two … and we only have a 2nd and 3rd round slots for 2012 until the laaaaaaaaaaate rounds of draft weekend. TD will have to break out his hardhat to dig up a gem who can be an impact player off the bat.