Koetter is out to upgrade the Falcons, one explosion at a time

Dirk Koetter at work: He likes the job, the screen and Matty Ice. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Dirk Koetter at work: He likes the job, the screen and Matty Ice. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

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

77 comments Add your comment

big b

June 20th, 2012
4:54 pm

Mark Bradley

June 20th, 2012
4:55 pm

Kudos, big b.


June 20th, 2012
4:57 pm

I’m pumped for the Falcons ‘new look’. First?

Tokyo Tom

June 20th, 2012
4:57 pm

Explosive play numbers are important- almost as important as stopping the other team on 3rd down. Any timeline on a column on how the defense is looking in minicamp?

Delbert D.

June 20th, 2012
4:59 pm

Nike’s new football cleats have C4 in them?

Delbert D.

June 20th, 2012
5:01 pm

The Screen Door is alive and functioning in Flowery Branch. Sam Baker.

Mark Bradley

June 20th, 2012
5:06 pm

Good line about Sam Baker, I must concede.


June 20th, 2012
5:11 pm

Like the positive voices I hear from Flowery Branch and look forward to an exciteing season–Go Falcons !!!!

Falcon Fan

June 20th, 2012
5:21 pm

Screens to Jacquizz are fine, well and good, but downfield passes to Julio will be the key to having an explosive offense. Hopefully the reports of Ryan’s improved arm strength are accurate. Go Falcons!


June 20th, 2012
5:38 pm

I like his attitude and I am also a fan of the screen-pass. This can only help take pressure off of the line and maybe keep our qb from becoming “road-kill”…

Judge Smails

June 20th, 2012
5:40 pm

Screens are definately a good way of keeping the pressure off Ryan. Our O-Line is not built for a traditional drop back passing game.

I think all agree that in order to have a great year, we need to keep Matty on his feet and not his A$$!

Ted Striker

June 20th, 2012
5:40 pm

He’s as humble as you, Mr. Bradley.

Rickster (channeling his inner Horshack)

June 20th, 2012
5:43 pm

ooh! ooh ooh! Mr. Koetter!

P. Bull Terrier

June 20th, 2012
5:45 pm

Give credit where credit is due, the ASG/Hawks were the ones who figured out the world is flat. They also figured out that you can play an NBA game with 5 forwards on the floor at once and that Joe Johnson is the league MVP. Just imagine what they could do with the Falcons.

Let's Go

June 20th, 2012
6:06 pm

The Falcons were very predictable on offense last year so if Koetter is able to change this up a little this team should be able to score some points with the weapons they have. Ryan, Turner, White, Jones, Rodgers, Gonzales all could have big years.


June 20th, 2012
6:07 pm

If the Falcons can get their OLine to perform, I think that they can get deep into the playoffs.


June 20th, 2012
6:08 pm

I really think this experienced staff is the one that will lead us deep into the post season. I truly think we’ll at least make the NFC Championship Game this season.

'"Explosive Offense"'

June 20th, 2012
6:29 pm

12 yards and a cloud of communication.


June 20th, 2012
6:34 pm

I wouldn’t mess around with a guy whose name is real close to Dick Cutter.

Bucky Badger

June 20th, 2012
6:48 pm

Got to admit it Jerry…That’s Funny:)

Falcons: Play 60!

June 20th, 2012
6:56 pm

“We want explosive plays’

oh no, not that “explosive” word again. They used it last year annnnd yeeeah


June 20th, 2012
7:04 pm

Please be good. Please, please, please succeed.


June 20th, 2012
7:05 pm

They just need to score in the red zone. How about more crossing routes with Douglas and Julio?


June 20th, 2012
7:13 pm

@Jerry and Badger. Or a name that has a blade (dirk) and cutting (koetter) implied.


June 20th, 2012
7:15 pm

I don’t think the Falcons should want to be the greatest show on turf. That kind of implies that they will be a one year or two year wonder. They should strive to be “The Greatest Dynasty in the NFL”. Meaning they will want to win 5 of the next 6 Super Bowls. 4 in a row.

1998 NFC champs

June 20th, 2012
7:35 pm

I love that Koetter wants to make the screen game a bigger part of the offense. If you look at some of the most groundbreaking offenses in NFL history, such as Walsh’s 49ers, Martz’s Rams and Payton’s Saints, throwing to the running backs was a crucial component to their successes. I don’t know why more coaches haven’t tried to copy that formula. The Falcons, with Jacquizz, clearly have the personnel to make it work. He’s Darren Sproles-like.

I don’t love Koetter’s resume, but I do like his stated philosophy. Let’s see what happens.


June 20th, 2012
7:36 pm

Interesting story, Mark.

Fixing Hawks impossible with Joe's contract

June 20th, 2012
7:37 pm

Our Falcons are Screwed!!!!

We’ll be begging for Mularkey back by the half way point.

Love ya, Matty Ice but you can’t throw deep


June 20th, 2012
7:53 pm

So, what you’re saying is 1) Same playbook + a few screen passes per game 2) Matt Ryan is running the show and Koetter isn’t about to second guess his decisions 3) When opposing D’s are stout, don’t expect a creative/ intelligent gameplan

Bradley Knows History

June 20th, 2012
7:54 pm

Mr. Knapp meet Mr. Koetter

Mike Vick had been successfully throwing bombs and deep outs from the shotgun with Dan Reeves, so Mr. Knapp knew the best way to take advantage of Vick’s talent was to throw dink ‘n dunks without installing a shotgun in minicamp.

Matty Ryan has been great in 15-yards or less, yet missed wide open WRs deep against Houston and everyone, so naturally, Mr. Koetter is excited about having him throw passes 16-yards or more.

Reminds me of when I was a wee lad.

A fine fellow named Dan Henning came from Washington where his tiny fleet footed QB was perfect fro rolling-out and throwing short balls. So naturally in Atlanta, he took big-armed no-knees Steve Bartkowski and tried to make him fit the roll-out dink n dunk offense.

A coach could look at the talent, and think how to best utilize it… or they could be winners like Henning, Knapp and Koetter.

Kill me now.


June 20th, 2012
8:42 pm

Yeah, his offense was real good last year with Jacksonville.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 20th, 2012
9:15 pm

We’ll see. Turner isn’t explosive and Rodgers hasn’t really shown that he is anything yet. How explosive this offense is directly depends on whether Matt Ryan can improve his arm strength. If he can’t do that, no amount of fancy play-calling is going to make this offense explosive.

Whopper Dawg

June 20th, 2012
10:08 pm

I have never heard such ballyhoo about a screen pass. If Smith were this enamored of that play, he should he instructed MM to build it into the offense.

A screen pass is not a bad play, but neither is it a panacea. I believe all of the DCs have seen it, well, for decades.


June 20th, 2012
11:40 pm

bradley knows history………..you are CORRECT………..lol


June 20th, 2012
11:47 pm

WHY would the falcons allow mike smith to bring a coordinator in from lowly jacksonville is beyond me. i know smith is from that nepotism………..i mean familiar team, but come on, this move reeks of mike smith having too much control of the offense……..


June 21st, 2012
1:27 am

If you want “explosive” plays …just redefine what you consider explosive. I’ve heard other teams talk about 20 yard+ plays being explosive or big splash plays. Not the Falcons…it’s 12yd runs & 16yd passes….and I assume 20 points a game will “high scoring” . . .i’m not buying this dink and dunk BS.

Noodle better get the ball downfield & into the end zone!

najeh dappenfart

June 21st, 2012
1:57 am

stick to basketball my Afro-American twin…hatin on White Ryan as usual! At least Ryan can handle simple play-callin while other QB’s can’t throw a plastic “bottle” in a trash can..

[...] also sat down with columnist Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. CLICK HERE for his [...]


June 21st, 2012
5:04 am

I’ve never once heard anyone question Mike Smith or Thomas Dimitroff about Mularkey’s ‘conservative’ offense in place for four years.

If it was such a nightmare that dragged Matt Ryan down why didn’t anyone ever ask the bosses?

Is it possible the answer was because they actually LIKED it and signed off on it? It’s either that or the Assistants run the show and the two bosses don’t. Which is the most obvious possibility?


June 21st, 2012
5:06 am

The new guy says the obvious, expected cliche answers and is praised. Big deal.


June 21st, 2012
5:41 am

Like it. At least he talks about how he intends to do it. Mularkey just had the attitude “shut up, I used to be a head coach, I used to be an NFL player…no one can question me, I am all knowing, all seeing….you fans don’t know anything, your only fans. I am a football man…I am special.”


June 21st, 2012
5:42 am

I would take anything an O coordinator says about his plans with a grain of salt. He would have you believe that Julio was drafted to run fly patterns with no thought of Ryan throwing to him. It will be interesting to see if Turner can get to the outside to catch one. The screen pass is not going to make or break a team, but as he Koetter said, it takes some pressure off because now D coordinators have to factor that into their game plan.


June 21st, 2012
5:48 am

If Mularkey was so bad for Matt Ryan and the Falcons with his conservative game plan why didn’t the Coach or GM speak up?

Why? Because the liked it and endorsed it.

Yet Mularkey has all the fingers pointed at him and his bosses go unquestioned.

Way to go media!

Me Too

June 21st, 2012
6:28 am

Ted, you are exactly right.

Why didn’t Head Coach Mike Smith use his authority to direct Mike Mularkey to use a more creative offense?

Because Head Coach Mike Smith is the one who directed Mike Mularkey to implement “Smitty Ball” known as “ball control”, “run time off the clock”, “play not to loose”, “run first offense”, “run on first down”, etc.

Dr. Warren

June 21st, 2012
6:53 am

I thought Thomas Friedman wrote a convincing argument on why the world is now flat. From my vantage at the moment overlooking Hong Kong harbour, watching ships come in from every part of the world, I tend to agree. This new OC might not be so bad.


June 21st, 2012
6:54 am

As long as he does not call a quarterback keeper on the two biggest plays of the season next year(one with an empty backfield?), I guess it will be an upgrade.

Jimmy Crack

June 21st, 2012
7:50 am

“Think of a screen pass as a punt return.”

I can’t wait!!

As Falcon fans, it feels like we were deprived of a major food group in our diet.


June 21st, 2012
8:01 am

I know it’s easy to sit back and second guess, but I did feel that the Falcon’s offense was very predictable the last two seasons. They’ve definitely got the tools in the ball handling positions. Hopefully the play calling will be a bit more creative. Also hope they can help the offensive line in the new scheme.


June 21st, 2012
8:04 am

Ted and Me Too, you makes a good point. No doubt much of the offensive woes rest with the head coach.

email profiling is wrong

June 21st, 2012
8:18 am

“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.”

Koetter’s first statement above seems to be an acknowledgement of Matt’s physical deficiencies (i.e. he can’t throw it around the park). Then he offers the big “but” extolling Ryan’s many intangible qualities. Kinda like “For a fat girl, you sure don’t sweat much.”

Not sure about Koetter’s claim that Matt handles pressure well.

Anyway, it sounds like Coach Dirk is describing the ideal qualities of a middle manager of a corporation, not an elite NFL QB.

This is the year for Matty Ice to either crap of get off the pot. A good quality for either an elite QB or a middle manager.