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By Mark Bradley Never fear, Falcons fans: It’s (Greg) Knapp time! 1h ago, January 23, 2018 1 Curtis Compton/AJC Mr. Vick and Mr. Knapp in 2006. It’s as if the Atlanta Falcons are trolling their constituency now. Coming off one of the worst-coached games in team history – which is saying something – they’ve filled their one coaching vacancy by hiring … Greg Knapp. Important note: Knapp is returning only as quarterbacks coach – at least for now. He will not be the offensive coordinator. (He hasn’t filled that role for any team since 2012. He didn’t work in the NFL last season, having been fired as QB coach by Denver in January 2017.) You’ll recall that, as Falcons OC under Jim Mora, Knapp sought to graft the West Coast offense onto the unique-in-NFL-annals skill set of Michael Dwayne Vick. This lasted three years, one of which was very good, results-wise, if not necessarily sustainable. The Falcons of Vick/Knapp/Mora reached the NFC championship game in January 2005. That coaching staff would be fired on Jan. 1, 2007, having gone 15-17 since playing for the conference title. The reason that staff was canned was because Vick, who was the franchise, had regressed. In the cold light of hindsight, we might wonder if this was due to him leading a second life in Virginia, one that involved dogfighting. On that New Year’s Day, all we knew was that Mora/Knapp hadn’t come close to maximizing one of the game’s great talents. That in mind, the Falcons hired a head coach who would surely take Vick and his team to greater heights. Bobby Petrino lasted 13 games, none of which involved Vick. But enough Memory Lane. Since the loss in Philadelphia, commentators with a more nuanced eye than yours truly have lined up to rip Steve Sarkisian, whose offense managed 10 points, none in the second half, in a playoff loss to a team working behind its backup quarterback. That those same Eagles annihilated Minnesota 38-7 and saw Foles strafe the NFL’s best defense for 352 yards passing Sunday will come as cold comfort. The Falcons had their chance – first-and-goal from the 9 – and blew it. If we’ve learned anything from the Eagles’ astonishing run to the Super Bowl – astonishing when we consider that the NFC’s No. 1 seed was a home underdog in both playoff games – it’s that coaching matters. Philly’s Doug Pederson has taken Foles and made him, miracle of miracles, into a Super Bowl quarterback. Sarkisian took Matt Ryan, who would have been last year’s Super Bowl MVP if the award had been given after three quarters, and had him throw a shovel pass with a postseason game on the line. And now, once again, comes Greg Knapp. To be fair, Dan Quinn made an odd coaching decision two offseasons ago – moving Raheem Morris, a career defensive man, to offense – and the Falcons landed in the Super Bowl. But it’s now clear that the architect of that giddy season, above Ryan and Quinn and everybody else, was Kyle Shanahan, who no longer works here. (We note, for the zillionth time, that the architect also undid his creation by not running the ball with a lead.) In December 2016 into January/February 2017, the Falcons appeared a beautifully coached team. That, however, was with Quinn handling the defense (though we didn’t know that until after the fact) and Shahanan the offense. The defense under Marquand Manuel was better than it had been under Richard Smith, but it couldn’t keep Foles and Co. from hogging the ball in the second half of a winnable playoff game. The offense was mostly a damp squib. The Falcons averaged 17.7 points in seven post-November games. They averaged 36.3 over their final eight games, Super Bowl included, the year before. That’s a dip of more than 50 percent. These were the same players – OK, minus Chris Chester and eventually Andy Levitre – but they were producing half as much. Did Ryan and Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper forget how to play? A caveat: I’m not sure a quarterbacks coach – especially on a team with a No. 1 quarterback about to enter his 11th professional season – is a difference-making hire. But clearly Sarkisian needs all the help he can get. He was overmatched in his first season as an NFL play-caller. Quinn choosing to keep Sarkisian makes some sense, I guess, in that you’d rather not make Ryan adjust to a fourth different OC in five years. (Some sense, I said.) Still, if you view Brett Kollmann’s “Film Room” video posted after the Philadelphia debacle, Sarkisian’s shortcomings seem even shorter. Key Kollmann lines: “I genuinely wonder if he watched any of those previous games (in which the Eagles’ tendencies were exploited by the Seahawks, Rams and Giants) at all. Because if he did, virtually none of those successful concepts were carried over by the Falcons.” Kollmann goes on at much length in deeper detail. (I’d highly advise you to watch the entire 14-minute clip.) Perhaps as an act of mercy, he doesn’t dissect the failed goal-to-go sequence at game’s end. But, as noted in this space last week, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders handled that chore. I’m sorry to keep harping on this coaching thing, but the belief here is – as it was back in November – that the Falcons’ players didn’t fail their coaches. The belief is that it was the other way around. I’m not sure the addition of Knapp changes that dynamic one whit. http://www.myajc.com/blog/mark-bradley/never-fear-falcons-fans-greg-knapp-time/4U1dv3f1OrmTZv5dX8F5YN/
http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2012/08/23/how-the-falcons-will-go-12-4-and-reclaim-the-nfc-south-title/?cxntfid=blogs_mark_bradley_blog I think the Falcons will be really good, Super Bowl good. Maybe that makes me a raging homer. Or maybe it means I see a team that has won 33 games the past two years and is poised to break upward. While you’re discussing among yourselves, I’ll tell you how this regular season will go. Sept. 9, at Kansas City: The Chiefs aren’t bad, but this will be a coming-out party for Dirk Koetter’s new offense. Expect Matt Ryan to throw 35 passes. Expect Julio Jones to catch 10 of them, three for touchdowns. Falcons 28, Chiefs 20. Sept. 17, Denver: It’s a Monday night game, and the Falcons haven’t done so well in those. Peyton Manning now plays for the Broncos, but this will serve as a prime-time showcase for the other starting quarterback. Falcons 30, Broncos 17. Sept. 23, at San Diego: Here’s where the issue of logistics rears its head. The Falcons face a short week against a West Coast team that opens 2012 with a point to prove. Shootout time in San Dog (old naval term). Chargers 34, Falcons 30. Sept. 30, Carolina: Some see the Panthers as the rising power in the NFC South. Maybe so, but this is one division rival the Falcons have come to own. They’re 6-2 against Carolina under Mike Smith, 4-0 since 2009. Falcons 27, Panthers 17. Oct. 7, at Washington: Will Robert Griffin III be starting by now? Will D.C. be more abuzz over the Redskins or the Nationals? Will the Falcons lose to a rookie quarterback? The last question is by far the easiest. Falcons 24, Redskins 17. Oct. 14, Oakland: The pre-bye part of the schedule has been challenging (K.C. and S.D. on the road) but not oppressive, and Oakland at the Dome shouldn’t be too troubling. But the schedule is about to toughen. Falcons 35, Raiders 14. Oct. 28, at Philadelphia: The roughest stretch of the season commences here. Michael Vick, who used to play for the Falcons, has said the Eagles could become a dynasty. They won’t, but they will win this game. Eagles 28, Falcons 24. Nov. 4, Dallas: A Sunday-nighter against America’s Team will be the season’s pivot point. With a date at New Orleans upcoming, this could become a losing streak. But Mike Smith’s teams don’t have losing streaks. Falcons 27, Cowboys 17. Nov. 11, at New Orleans: By now, the Saints will have interim coach Joe Vitt back. And yes, it’s more than a little weird that the interim coach has been suspended by the NFL. But Sean Payton still won’t be around. Falcons 31, Saints 30. Nov. 18, Arizona: Trap game here. The Falcons are 7-2 and flying high off that narrow victory in Superdome, and Arizona is nicely suited as a stealth opponent. Consider this the season’s first real misstep. Cardinals 21, Falcons 17. Nov. 25, at Tampa Bay: With that egregious home upset out of their system, the Falcons take on the Buccaneers, who figure again to run last in the NFC South. A rudimentary road victory ensues. Falcons 30, Buccaneers 13. Nov. 29, New Orleans: A Thursday night date against the team that keeps embarrassing the Falcons on national TV. That pent-up frustration yields a second victory over their nemesis in 18 days. Falcons 24, Saints 23. Dec. 9, at Carolina: With 10 days to prepare, the Falcons will manage to overcome the torpor that undid them after their first victory over New Orleans. Still won’t be easy, though. Falcons 27, Panthers 24 (overtime). Dec. 16, New York Giants: The memory of the wretched 24-2 playoff loss in the Meadowlands burns, and this is yet another chance for the surging Falcons to prove their bona fides. Falcons 30, Giants 28. Dec. 22, at Detroit: And now a Saturday night game. (For the record, the Falcons will not play on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday this season.) And another loss seems in order, don’t you think? Lions 30, Falcons 24. Dec. 29, Tampa Bay: The NFC South having already been won, the Falcons are playing for positioning now. They finish 12-4 and secure the NFC’s No. 2 seed (behind Green Bay) in rousing fashion. Falcons 35, Buccaneers 10.