Flowery Branch – Dirk Koetter doesn’t come across as a guy who plans to reinvent the wheel or the screen door or even the screen pass. There’s not one whiff of Boy Genius about him, probably because he’s not a boy (he’s 53) and surely because a coordinator who at his last stop presided over the NFL’s lowest-rated offense has been served a heaping helping of humility.
But that’s OK. In football, “geniuses” tend to flame out quicker than you can say, “Mike Martz and His Greatest Show on Turf.” Koetter knows he’s not here to rip up everything; his job is to nip, tuck and tweak. As he said Wednesday, speaking after the morning session of Falcons minicamp: “Atlanta has won a lot of games the past few years. I’m in no position to second-guess anybody.”
So don’t expect him to bad-mouth his predecessor, the unlamented Mike Mularkey, or to proclaim that the Falcons’ offense, which under Double M had become a singularly ponderous thing, is now in defter hands. For one thing, that’s not the way professionals behave. For another, Koetter cares nothing about what happened before him; he’s interested only in today and tomorrow.
Koetter again: “My concern is, ‘How do we maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses?’ ”
Here’s his appraisal of inherited talent: “We have proven playmakers at running back, at tight end, at wide receiver and at quarterback. And we’ve got a nice competitive situation along the offensive line. We do have a good group of guys on offense.”
Five months on the job, Koetter already is crazy about Matt Ryan. Asked if the quarterback who has yet to engineer a postseason victory is cut from championship cloth, Koetter said: “Absolutely. Absolutely. The guy has everything you want and more.
“A lot of guys can throw it around the park, but I’m impressed by his work ethic, his dedication, his leadership — the way he talks to his teammates — and the way he handles the amount of pressure he’s under. He’s an excellent communicator. As an offensive coordinator, you love a quarterback who’s a good communicator.”
OK, there’s Koetter’s answer to one hot-button question. (Yes, Ryan is good enough.) As for the other:
His offense will incorporate screen passes. (Unaccountably, Mularkey’s did not.) “I just think the screen should be a part of any offense,” Koetter said. “I’ve been a big believer in screens my whole life. It’s a way to slow down a pass rush, and it’s a way to get the ball to your playmakers in space. I tell our guys, ‘Think of a screen pass as a punt return.’”
That does not — bad joke coming — mean Koetter’s offense will necessarily feature more screens than a mall cineplex. Yardage-wise, he’s agnostic. “I don’t care if Matt has to scramble for 12 yards,” he said, and that’s because he cares most about yards gained in chunks.
“We want explosive plays, whether they’re runs or passes,” Koetter said, and then he defined his terms. “When I think about explosive plays, I mean 12-yard runs or 16-yard passes. [Those yardage figures are minimums, please note.] Next to turnovers, 12-yard runs and 16-yard passes are the biggest factors in winning. If you have eight of those plays in a game, you’ll have a great chance to win.”
Koetter isn’t just talking out of his hat. (Actually, he was sporting a Spurrieresque visor.) He has seen the research done in Jacksonville, his previous place of employment, and by other NFL clubs. “Different people use different numbers for explosive plays,” he said, “but people who are way smarter than I am have determined that those are the important ones — 12-yard runs and 16-yard passes.”
Unlike some offensive coordinators, Koetter chooses to downplay his gray matter. Speaking of those crunched explosive-play numbers, he said: “I didn’t create those numbers, but I’m smart enough to figure out that they mean something. I didn’t figure out that the world is flat, either.”
Wait a second. Is the world flat?
Said Koetter, sheepish now: “I meant round.” Then he smiled. “Shows you why I’m a football coach.”
By Mark Bradley