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Arthur Blank Explains Falcons' Offseason


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From ESPN: http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/post/_/id/33380/arthur-blank-explains-falcons-offseason

"Given the way Atlanta Falcons fans have reacted to what the team has done (or, more accurately, not done) this offseason, I was expecting Arthur Blank to pull out earmuffs as he reached into his pocket just before the start of an interview last week.

It didn’t happen. Instead, the owner of the Falcons pulled out a pair of sunglasses. This was a rare step outside during the NFL owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. He slipped on the shades, surveyed the Atlantic Ocean, sat down on a bench and started explaining, in great detail, the course his team has chosen.

Maybe this will, once and for all, stop all the screaming in Atlanta about how the Falcons didn’t pursue Mario Williams and didn’t really do much of anything in free agency. Blank’s got a detailed answer for that and, when you listen, it should all start to make sense.

There was a moment when I looked directly at Blank, but could have sworn I was seeing and hearing Gene Hackman. It was almost exactly like the scene in “Hoosiers," where the basketball coach played by Hackman firmly tells a referee “my team is on the court," after a player fouls out and the coach elects to go with four players instead of turning back to a player who had defied orders.

Blank has said “My team is on the field."

Yeah, the marquee free-agent signings have been linebacker Lofa Tatupu and guard Vince Manuwai. And Atlanta fans aren’t exactly jumping up and down about the fact that the Falcons re-signed defensive end John Abraham and center Todd McClure, who wouldn’t have surprised anyone if they decided to retire. Throw in the re-signing of role players Thomas DeCoud, Jason Snelling and Harry Douglas and it’s easy to see why a lot of Atlanta fans believe the Falcons haven’t done a single thing to get better after ending last season with an embarrassing playoff loss to the New York Giants.

But Blank has an explanation, so let’s hear it.

“I feel good about where we are,’’ Blank said. “I know we didn’t make a big splash going into free agency. But that really wasn’t our intention going into this year. We really felt we had a lot of talent. We were fortunate that we had the opportunity to bring in the two new coordinators and a few other coaches. At some points, it’s not even a matter of if the contents are correct. Sometimes, it’s a matter of who is delivering the message and whether the players are hearing it or not.’’

The man makes a good point. The 2011 Falcons that went 10-6 and never really played with a lot of consistency were essentially the same team that went 13-3 and played with a great deal of consistency in 2010. The 2012 Falcons have largely the same roster as the previous two teams. In the eyes of Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, the problem last season and the reason this team hasn’t won a playoff game under the current administration isn’t about the roster.

Maybe the roster was just fine, but the coaching staff and the schemes were holding back the Falcons. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey left after the season to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left after the season to become the defensive coordinator at Auburn. Both men left on their own, but I get the impression that if they hadn’t, they might have been shown the door.

Let’s be honest here. Mularkey’s offensive system reached its peak in 2010 and didn’t get any better even with the addition of talented rookie receiver Julio Jones last season. VanGorder’s defense was solid, but never dominant, which was a disappointment because the Falcons have some individual talent on defense. Mularkey’s been replaced by Dirk Koetter, and VanGorder’s been replaced by Mike Nolan.

“I love the selections that Smitty and Thomas made,’’ Blank said.

I get the sense that the days of Matt Ryan rolling out and almost always checking down are over. I get the sense that the days of sitting back in the Cover 2 are long gone.

“Dirk and I have had numerous discussions in terms of what our players are capable of doing,’’ Smith said during the meetings. “I think, first and foremost, you have to design your schemes toward what the players are capable of doing. We’ve spent a lot of time identifying the strengths and weakness of all our guys and what they do well and what they don’t do well, and we want to put together an offense that accentuates their strengths.’’

In other words, the Falcons aren’t going to be handing the ball to Michael Turner 300-plus times a season. They’re going to try to take some shots downfield with Jones and Roddy White and they’re going to get versatile second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense. They also will try to put Ryan in a position where he can go from being a good quarterback to an elite one.

Smith said he’s had similar discussions with Nolan, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, who also has had success as a defensive coordinator elsewhere. Nolan is noted for producing aggressive defenses. Some minor tweaks to attitude and scheme could provide an upgrade over the VanGorder units that never were able to establish any sort of identity.

Blank made quite a bit of noise after the loss to the Giants about how simply getting to the playoffs wasn’t good enough. He wants his team to win playoff games and contend for the Super Bowl.

That really hasn’t changed. But, after the heat of the moment cooled a bit, Blank, Smith and Dimitroff sat back and realized they weren’t all that far from where they wanted to be. Early in his days as an owner, Blank was portrayed as hands-on and reactionary. I don’t think those descriptions really fit him anymore and I think he’s learned from his past. I think Blank is at a stage where he remains plugged in but trusts Smith and Dimitroff to make the football decisions.

“I went back and studied this over a long period of time in the NFL and studied the great teams,’’ Blank said. “Consistency is very important in terms of leadership with coaches and players. The great teams, what they have done is they’ve kept their head coaches for a longer period of time, kept their general managers for a longer period of time and they identified early enough their core players and they extended them. The football staff has done a great job of identifying the players that can help us and keep them.’’

The salary cap also was a factor in the Falcons’ approach to the offseason. Pursuing Williams or some other big names in free agency would have meant sacrificing continuity. The only key player the Falcons lost was middle linebacker Curtis Lofton -- and that was a calculated loss. Lofton wanted a lot of money and Atlanta placed a limit on his value. If they’d made just one or two big moves in free agency and kept Lofton, guys like Abraham, McClure, DeCoud, Douglas and Snelling wouldn’t be on the roster. Other players would have had to have been cut to free up cap room. The Falcons could have made a splash, but it would have left them with all sorts of holes.

“What you have to look at is, this is not like baseball,’’ Blank said. “There are limits. This is real money and not monopoly money. That’s one of the beauties in the NFL is that in July and August fans of every team think their team has a chance to go to the playoffs or to go to the Super Bowl and win it. The salary-cap system forces you to make some tough choices. Thomas and Smitty and their staffs made these choices because they believe they were the ones that will give us the biggest bang for the buck going forward. I certainly tested their logic and asked questions, but I think their plan was all very sound and well formulated.’’

Like it or not, Blank is putting his team (the one chosen by Smith and Dimitroff) on the field this fall. You might not like it now and that’s fine with Blank. He thinks you’ll like it a lot more as the season goes along."

Good read. Love having Blank as an owner.

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I absolutely agree with the value in consistency. Unfortunately, the concept requires almost all parts to remain consistent--a team with two new coordinators can hardly be said to have an identity consistent with last year's. I'm hoping that both men will prove their caliber, though, and mitigate any damage inconsistency may yield with their skill.

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“I went back and studied this over a long period of time in the NFL and studied the great teams,’’ Blank said. “Consistency is very important in terms of leadership with coaches and players. The great teams, what they have done is they’ve kept their head coaches for a longer period of time, kept their general managers for a longer period of time and they identified early enough their core players and they extended them. The football staff has done a great job of identifying the players that can help us and keep them.’’

Blank gets it. Some of the posters on this board need to reread this part over and over and over when they are screaming for us to be like the elite teams in the NFL.

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I absolutely agree with the value in consistency. Unfortunately, the concept requires almost all parts to remain consistent--a team with two new coordinators can hardly be said to have an identity consistent with last year's. I'm hoping that both men will prove their caliber, though, and mitigate any damage inconsistency may yield with their skill.

Consistency disappeared last year. Our new staff, we all hope, will give us the push over the hump next season. We have the talent so lets see if they can regroup and take us where we are capable of going and deserve to be.

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this team better make some good draft day decisions,resting all your stock in coaching upgrades is never a good recipe for sucess,i'll archive this and repost it at the end of next season,because i really wanna be wrong,but these players haven't been competitive in the postseason that's more than coaching

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Guest Gritz

resting all your stock in coaching upgrades is never a good recipe for sucess.......these players haven't been competitive in the postseason that's more than coaching

I fear that you are correct.

Blank and the Falcons are going "all in" on the theory that it wasn't a talent problem.

I respectfully disagree.

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I fear that you are correct.

Blank and the Falcons are going "all in" on the theory that it wasn't a talent problem.

I respectfully disagree.

Why do people keep saying the Falcons are going 'all in'? Last year we were going 'all in' with the Julio trade. This year we are going 'all in' with new coordinators. No team ever goes 'all in' on one season. People say the Eagles did last year, but all of their contracts that they paid out were very team friendly on the older guys they signed.

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Maybe we can fill out our roster from the draft based on what Mr. Blank stated. I think we will draft some scheme relevant players of which are not currently on the roster. I am curious to see what we do. Will there be a hybrid corner/safety for the big nickel? Will we draft a big two gap nose guard? Can't wait for that second day of the draft.

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Guest Gritz

Why do people keep saying the Falcons are going 'all in'? Last year we were going 'all in' with the Julio trade. This year we are going 'all in' with new coordinators. No team ever goes 'all in' on one season. People say the Eagles did last year, but all of their contracts that they paid out were very team friendly on the older guys they signed.

Because I believe that's a fair evaluation of the main strategy of the Falcon offseason. They clearly thought that it was most important to keep the same roster intact....Signing the bulk of their own FAs.....counting on the new coordinators to extract better performances and consistency from the same players.

To me that easily qualifies and being "all in" on the new coordinators-same player plan.

I can't speak to what others thought about Julio being part of some other "all in" theory because I never believed that.

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I fear that you are correct.

Blank and the Falcons are going "all in" on the theory that it wasn't a talent problem.

I respectfully disagree.

Well a lot of the talent got us 4 strait winning seasons so obviously the talent is there.

You don't win 10+ games in the nfl year in and year out with out good talent.

Out guys have to make plays when there are there....such as catching game winning/tieing passes. but with some better in game maneuvering they do not come down to those plays.

Besides I think it is kinda moot idea........when opening night rolls around I expect at least a FA or 2 as well as the near full draft class.

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Guest Gritz

Well a lot of the talent got us 4 strait winning seasons so obviously the talent is there.

You don't win 10+ games in the nfl year in and year out with out good talent.

Out guys have to make plays when there are there....such as catching game winning/tieing passes. but with some better in game maneuvering they do not come down to those plays.

Besides I think it is kinda moot idea........when opening night rolls around I expect at least a FA or 2 as well as the near full draft class.

I hope you're right. Nothing would make me happier than for me to be totally misreading this situation.

We obviously have enough talent to compile winning records during the regular season.....We're coming up woefully short against better competition in the playoffs...

The difference in the last 2 playoff games is so glaring that it's hard for me to put it solely on the coaching.

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To me that easily qualifies and being "all in" on the new coordinators-same player plan.

It seems that way to me. If new coaches produce the same results, then it's a talent problem (unless someone believe that the new coaches are equal to the old ones.)

The old coordinators weren't bad, but neither were they superbowl-caliber. Perhaps new coordinator blood can generate some fresh spirit from a team that's seemed lacking in spirit at times.

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Well a lot of the talent got us 4 strait winning seasons so obviously the talent is there.

You don't win 10+ games in the nfl year in and year out with out good talent.

Out guys have to make plays when there are there....such as catching game winning/tieing passes. but with some better in game maneuvering they do not come down to those plays.

Besides I think it is kinda moot idea........when opening night rolls around I expect at least a FA or 2 as well as the near full draft class.

That's what I don't get. How can people say this team isn't talented enough when we were a Matt Ryan/Michael Turner injury away from having 4 straight playoff appearances. We were 2 dropped TD passes away from being a 12 win team again last year even with a tougher schedule. Somehow we keep running into teams that are on huge hot streaks going into the playoffs.

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That's what I don't get. How can people say this team isn't talented enough when we were a Matt Ryan/Michael Turner injury away from having 4 straight playoff appearances. We were 2 dropped TD passes away from being a 12 win team again last year even with a tougher schedule. Somehow we keep running into teams that are on huge hot streaks going into the playoffs.

In other words, we find ways to win against average teams and we fall flat against most great teams, and we somehow keep running into great teams in the playoffs.

I believe the Falcons have been very good over Ryan & Smith's tenure. I'm ready now for great.

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In other words, we find ways to win against average teams and we fall flat against most great teams, and we somehow keep running into great teams in the playoffs.

I believe the Falcons have been very good over Ryan & Smith's tenure. I'm ready now for great.

Every other team that played the teams we did fell flat against them too. The Giants beat Rodgers and Brady after us. The Packers had a pretty easy road to the super bowl after us because Cutler got hurt, but they dropped 31 on the Steelers #1 ranked defense too.

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Quotes from ESPNs article 12 weeks ago. Sounds like Blank's tone has softened somewhat.

"I would say in 2011 we took a step back instead of forward," Blank said. "That doesn't mean we haven't taken a lot of steps forward in the last four years. We have, but that being said, we're not where we need to be."

"We have not performed well during the postseason. We have not been competitive at that time. I know there's a tremendous amount of disappointment with our fans, our sponsors and everybody connected with the organization."

"One of the reasons we feel necessary to talk with you today, we wanted to share with you our own disappointment," Blank said."

"Dimitroff said more is needed than "a minor tweak here or there." But he said he doesn't want to start over."

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I hope you're right. Nothing would make me happier than for me to be totally misreading this situation.

We obviously have enough talent to compile winning records during the regular season.....We're coming up woefully short against better competition in the playoffs...

The difference in the last 2 playoff games is so glaring that it's hard for me to put it solely on the coaching.

Well I think you can chalk up ALOT of the last game to coaching.

We did not try and challenge the giants at all. We did nothing to slow down their pass rush.

We played into their hands.........even when we had the gutsy calls to go for it..... we have a 245lb back and we call qb sneak twice. although we got hosed on the first one IMO.

As a matter of fact you could see in the body language the players were not happy with some of calls made.

Vs the packers I think we just got shell shocked. EVERYTHING that could have went wrong did.

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