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Fantastic Write-Up On This Season


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http://mmqb.si.com/2...ed-by-injuries/

This was prior to last night's game but is still a great read. Click the link to see some specific play break downs that show a lot of what has gone on with the offense.

What happened to the Falcons? It was widely presumed entering the season that they would be spearheading the playoff race in late November, and yet, they’re 2-8 after getting steamrolled by the lowly Buccaneers in Week 11. This was a team that narrowly lost the NFC championship to the 49ers last season and then upgraded its roster in key spots over the offseason. But look at them now: a last-place team in the same division they won by six games a year ago. What chance do they have Thursday night against the first-place Saints? Where did it all go wrong

Injuries have hurt Atlanta in the worst way. Wideout Roddy White began the season severely hobbled by a high ankle sprain. Just when he started to look moderately healthy, Julio Jones—arguably the best receiver in the league not nicknamed Megatron—broke the three-year-old screw that was in his surgically repaired right foot. Shortly after Jones went on injured reserve, White hurt a hamstring.

An offense built around two superstar receivers was suddenly devoid of any. Making matters worse, running back Steven Jackson (one of the key offseason acquisitions) also pulled a hamstring in Week 2 that sidelined him for six weeks. And left tackle Sam Baker missed five games with a knee problem before going on IR in mid-November

The injuries, especially at wide receiver, transformed Atlanta’s offense—the unit ranked 7th in points and 8th in yards last season, but is now, respectively, 22nd and 14th. The premise might seem simple, but it’s worth emphasizing: When a star player goes down, the team doesn’t just lose a major weapon, it also loses the threat of that weapon. For a creative schemer like offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the latter can hurt more than the former.

In 2012, his first season in Atlanta, Koetter crafted exceptional route combinations that leveraged White and Jones down the field. Defenses were compelled to keep safeties back deep, meaning their coverages were plainer and easier for quarterback Matt Ryan to decipher. As a result, Ryan led the NFL with a career-high 68.6% completion rate and threw for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns, both career bests. He had the most fourth-quarter comebacks (five) and game-winning drives (seven) in the NFL, and the Falcons were second only to the Patriots in scoring efficiency, putting points on the board on 44% of their drives

But now most of Atlanta’s perimeter passing game has disappeared. Defenses believe they can beat fill-in receivers Harry Douglas (who usually plays the slot) and Drew Davis with man-to-man coverage outside. More importantly, defenses have come to realize that Ryan believes this, too. (More on this in a bit.) That’s why defensive coordinators are concentrating their coverages between the numbers, creating a compressed field for Ryan to negotiate.

The shorter the field, the more pronounced the compression. This is a big reason why the Falcons have dropped from 10th in red zone offense in 2012 to 24th this season. They used to dominate in the red zone with two tactics: wide receiver screens and throws to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who put off retirement for one more year believing the Falcons were still Super Bowl contenders. (When the field wasn’t compressed last season, Gonzalez had his most productive season in four years, catching 93 balls for 930 yards and eight TDs, and was an All-Pro for the sixth time in his career.) This season, because cornerbacks aren’t compelled to play with a cushion outside, there’s less space for receivers and blockers to execute screens. Gonzalez, even at 37, can still make contested catches, but not when he’s getting jammed by two guys off the line as he did against the Patriots and Jets.

For the most part, Ryan has played admirably well given the circumstances. But lately that’s started to change. The sixth-year pro doesn’t have outstanding raw tools. His arm strength is stellar when he has room to step into throws. His athleticism is acceptable, assuming he doesn’t have to improvise outside the pocket too much. But having to compensate for the offense’s unexpected deficiencies, his screws are starting to loosen on the cerebral side of his game. Ryan has been throwing more balls into traffic and it’s a trend that could snowball given his history of being susceptible to trick coverages (particularly in the middle of the field). Defenses will try to bait him.

More telling are the throws Ryan is not making. With young right tackle Lamar Holmes forced to bring his slow feet and inconsistent mechanics over to Sam Baker’s void on the left side, Ryan no longer has trustworthy protection on his blind side. Or even on his front side, considering that Holmes’s replacement, Jeremy Trueblood, is iffy at best in pass protection.

Quarterbacks play with a different mindset when they don’t trust their receivers and linemen. Ryan is no exception

Injuries have also stricken the Falcons on the other side of the ball. Their biggest problem on defense is their inability to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush. This was a known concern heading into the season, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith figured they could manufacture pressure through blitzes and pre-snap disguise as long as rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford held up in coverage. Those corners have indeed held up, but Dimitroff and Smith couldn’t have foreseen linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) and defensive end Kroy Biermann (Achilles) going down.

Weatherspoon and Biermann aren’t star-caliber players like White and Jones. After all, Weatherspoon was part of a linebacker corps that floundered in coverage down the stretch last year, and Biermann was inconsistent as an edge-rusher. But both defenders have unique strengths that made them load-bearing pillars in Atlanta’s scheme.

For Weatherspoon, it was his speed and agility to dominate in the flats. Maybe the former first-round pick couldn’t always cover tight ends man-to-man, but he could cover ridiculous amounts of ground playing zone. That was critical for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s zone blitzes and pre-snap disguises. Equally as critical was Biermann’s versatility; he could line up anywhere up front, including linebacker. He could also do almost anything after the snap, even drop back from the defensive line to assume free safety duties in certain coverage rotations. Just being able to get from the line to that spot was enough to give offenses pause

The Falcons have tried to fill Biermann’s role with other athletic defensive ends—Jonathan Massaquoi, most notably—but it hasn’t been as effective. The same goes for Weatherspoon’s role. His replacement, undrafted rookie Joplo Bartu, runs well but hasn’t yet developed an incisive football acumen. (Bartu will play less now that Weatherspoon has returned for a classic case of “too little too late.”) With key pieces missing up front, more pressure has been placed on high-risk, high-reward safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. They haven’t responded particularly well. Both are at their best when they can fly around, not when they have to read and react with sound discipline and fundamentals.

So what’s next for this club?

After another six meaningless regular season games, there will be an offseason filled with more roster tweaks and refocused workouts. Some believe Mike Smith and his staff will be fired. But that would be ludicrous. Smith’s .644 winning percentage is seventh best among active coaches. His Falcons are tied for third in victories since he took over in 2008, and this will be the first time during his tenure that they fail to finish above .500. A perfect storm of injuries is to blame, and nothing else.

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when we were completely healthy Dirk was good at scheming.

I don't get the hate for Koetter. It's like if the offense isn't playing well, it has to be the coordinator's fault. I'm not saying he's the second coming of Bill Walsh, but he's a pretty **** good coordinator if he has the horses to run his system.

Then again, we have some jacklegs around here ready to fire Nolan, so I suppose it's to be expected. We need line help on both sides of the ball. We could hire Tom Moore and D.ick LeBeau in their primes and this team would look awful.

Don't get me wrong, I question some of the calls (like why we twice had a safety playing man up on Graham last night, or why we run so much into the A gap when it never seems to work), but overall, these guys would be winning a lot of games if we had a healthy team and better line play.

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I don't get the hate for Koetter. It's like if the offense isn't playing well, it has to be the coordinator's fault. I'm not saying he's the second coming of Bill Walsh, but he's a pretty **** good coordinator if he has the horses to run his system.

Then again, we have some jacklegs around here ready to fire Nolan, so I suppose it's to be expected. We need line help on both sides of the ball. We could hire Tom Moore and D.ick LeBeau in their primes and this team would look awful.

Don't get me wrong, I question some of the calls (like why we twice had a safety playing man up on Graham last night, or why we run so much into the A gap when it never seems to work), but overall, these guys would be winning a lot of games if we had a healthy team and better line play.

agreed.

Koetter looked dayum good last year - think about how much he got out of the Falcons offense in spite of a fading Turner and deficiencies in the O-Line - one of the more prolific passing offenses. Is it Koetter's fault that TD/Smitty gave him NOT ONE decent offensive lineman?

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agreed.

Koetter looked dayum good last year - think about how much he got out of the Falcons offense in spite of a fading Turner and deficiencies in the O-Line - one of the more prolific passing offenses. Is it Koetter's fault that TD/Smitty gave him NOT ONE decent offensive lineman?

I wonder how much the OL play really worsened last year to this year. Its so difficult to assess when you don't have the lynchpins of your offense to push defenses back.

I think teams have been willing to send significantly more pressure knowing full well that there's really nowhere to go with the football that scares you. Sure, our OL loses too many 4 on 5 battles....I get that. But there is also a lot of the compression as the article talks about. The defense doesnt really need to spread out because the concepts just arent there to force them to do so.

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This article is super sympathetic to the Falcons and pretty much just points at injuries as the reason why this season has went into the crapper. How about lack of depth? How about lack of creativity by our coaches? How about the one dimensional aspect of most of our key players (TG only a possession TE, Ryan only a pocket QB)

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I don't get the hate for Koetter. It's like if the offense isn't playing well, it has to be the coordinator's fault. I'm not saying he's the second coming of Bill Walsh, but he's a pretty **** good coordinator if he has the horses to run his system.

Then again, we have some jacklegs around here ready to fire Nolan, so I suppose it's to be expected. We need line help on both sides of the ball. We could hire Tom Moore and D.ick LeBeau in their primes and this team would look awful.

Don't get me wrong, I question some of the calls (like why we twice had a safety playing man up on Graham last night, or why we run so much into the A gap when it never seems to work), but overall, these guys would be winning a lot of games if we had a healthy team and better line play.

I'm interested to see what Koetter can do with a vertical TE weapon. The one drawback to having Gonzo is you give up a bit of vert push because he just doesnt get down the field anymore. Yes, you end up with a secure 3rd down option. But as Roddy has become more of a physical possession receiver, you've gotten into situations where you have redundant skill sets on the field. If we can find a mid round receiving TE to plug in, it would really give Koetter a lot of options that he doesnt have right now.

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This article is super sympathetic to the Falcons and pretty much just points at injuries as the reason why this season has went into the crapper. How about lack of depth? How about lack of creativity by our coaches? How about the one dimensional aspect of most of our key players (TG only a possession TE, Ryan only a pocket QB)

"Super sympathetic"? Read it again, pal. The injuries DIRECTLY LEAD to the lack of creativity. They are wholly connected.

As for the "one dimensional" aspect of our players....uhhh yeah, thats NFL football. Teams plug and play specific pieces into specific roles. There are very few multidimensional players at any given position, let alone teams full of multidimensional players.

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So...without top shelf wrs, and a poor OL, Ryan isn't as good as he previously was? Is that the baseline substantive argument?

Sort of, though I'm not sure that's really a grand insight. It's a pretty common occurrence for most NFL offenses. Notice how Brady's performance dipped when the receiving options werent there? And now, that everyone has returned to health, magically, he's playing more like Tom Brady!

Or even your boy Joe....clearly the loss of Pitta/Boldin has affected his game this year.

When you spend time in a system thats constructed in a certain way, the failure of that system will lead to difficulties. By not having specific threats to force defenses to react in certain ways, you've greatly burdened the offense.

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"Super sympathetic"? Read it again, pal. The injuries DIRECTLY LEAD to the lack of creativity. They are wholly connected.

As for the "one dimensional" aspect of our players....uhhh yeah, thats NFL football. Teams plug and play specific pieces into specific roles. There are very few multidimensional players at any given position, let alone teams full of multidimensional players.

Ok PAL, so if Brady's weapons go down then its NFL football, wholly connected, specific roles, lack of creativity.......etc or does he sack up, get the job done, not worry about flashy stats and win the **** game? All of these excuses and substantive football analysis just to say "when a few injuries occur fold up the tent and go home?" EVERY Nfl team has injuries my friend. We are one of the few to simply collapse. Besides Julio, we didnt exactly lose any all-pro players. We lost Mike Johnson for the year (a average OLineman) We lost an aging Roddy and SJ. And we lost Spoon (who is injured every season). We lack depth and ppl have been screaming this since the offseason.

As for Ryan everything has to be perfect for him to have a effective (not cute dinks and dunks) game. He has to have adequete pocket protection, play calls and ALL of his weapons. Anything less than that and the apologist commitee springs to action. In the NFL injuries occur, pockets break and OC's have brain farts. 100 million dollar Qb's are supposed to MAKE PLAYS

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I'm interested to see what Koetter can do with a vertical TE weapon. The one drawback to having Gonzo is you give up a bit of vert push because he just doesnt get down the field anymore. Yes, you end up with a secure 3rd down option. But as Roddy has become more of a physical possession receiver, you've gotten into situations where you have redundant skill sets on the field. If we can find a mid round receiving TE to plug in, it would really give Koetter a lot of options that he doesnt have right now.

which is why I was hoping we'd see more of Coffman. that guy can run a nice seam route, has good hands and is deceptively quick. like you said, Roddy should fall into Tony G's position of possession receiver, then we got three speedy receivers in Julio, HD & DJ. depending on how much we can improve the line, Dirk could be a scary dude in the passing game. he just needs to go back to balancing the scheme like he did in Jax.

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So no, Ryan hasnt played as well without Julio/Roddy.....but who would? How would Stafford look without Calvin? What if Demaryius and Decker were gone in Denver?

In passing offenses, the health and status of skill position players mean significantly more than in a situation like Seattle, where all of the passing game works off of the run game. And the specific pieces matter as well. This offense would be able to survive the loss of a Tony Gonzalez more than the loss of a Julio Jones/Roddy White. Its all about gameplanning, and the loss of your two best weapons and your lead back is going to result in serious ramifications.

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Ok PAL, so if Brady's weapons go down then its NFL football, wholly connected, specific roles, lack of creativity.......etc or does he sack up, get the job done, not worry about flashy stats and win the **** game? All of these excuses and substantive football analysis just to say "when a few injuries occur fold up the tent and go home?" EVERY Nfl team has injuries my friend. We are one of the few to simply collapse. Besides Julio, we didnt exactly lose any all-pro players. We lost Mike Johnson for the year (a average OLineman) We lost an aging Roddy and SJ. And we lost Spoon (who is injured every season). We lack depth and ppl have been screaming this since the offseason.

As for Ryan everything has to be perfect for him to have a effective (not cute dinks and dunks) game. He has to have adequete pocket protection, play calls and ALL of his weapons. Anything less than that and the apologist commitee springs to action. In the NFL injuries occur, pockets break and OC's have brain farts. 100 million dollar Qb's are supposed to MAKE PLAYS

Brady was getting ROASTED for his play earlier this year. Because he was missing throws and struggling to maintain drives.

And not for nothing, but Matt DID continually make plays for the first half of the season. Even after Julio went down, he played a fantastic game. But after that, the gameplan was on film. There was a clear "this is how you stop them" plan and teams have responded by stopping us.

Does Matt need to be better in a dirty pocket? Sure he does.

Does he need to show more patience? Sure he does.

But he's in a situation where he's being beaten up consistently, so his internal timer has dwindled to nothing. When getting hit is the norm, you're likely to respond by getting the ball out quicker. If you get hit every so often, you're more likely to stand in there and take the shots because they're less inevitable.

Good protection has been the rarity this year.....so the offense is suffering. Its not about "everything being perfect" at all...to portray it as such is ignorant. Everything wasnt perfect last year, yet he played at a very high level. This year, not only is everything not "perfect", most things aren't even adequate...

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In other words...don't you dare put an ounce of blame on Ryan. Luck didn't lose Wayne. Flacco didn't lose pitta. Yadda yadda Ryan is above criticism.

Again, how has Pitta's loss affected Flacco? Is he not throwing more INTs than normal? Has his YPA not dipped?

Yes, Ryan is to blame on some of this. But when you're looking for reasons and motivations, they're easy to find. Things rarely "just happen" there's usually a driving force or cause. What has caused Matt Ryan to make more questionable decisions? He's being put in a position where the decisions are consistently more difficult to make.

And I think he's adjusting....he played a lot better last night and really only made one bad decision (the INT drop to TG) and even that was an execution issue more than a decision problem. He threw that ball way too far inside rather than letting the receiver extend and screen the defender.

He hasn't played up to his standards this year.....but there's a reason for that.

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All I know is that the no-huddle was being used last night, and it did gain chunks of yards for the Falcons. Yet we didn't use it but one time in the Bucs game, and I don't recall it being used in any of the 4 games before that. That's bad coaching on someones part, and completely inexcusable since it has worked so well in the past.

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All I know is that the no-huddle was being used last night, and it did gain chunks of yards for the Falcons. Yet we didn't use it but one time in the Bucs game, and I don't recall it being used in any of the 4 games before that. That's bad coaching on someones part, and completely inexcusable since it has worked so well in the past.

I thought someone earlier in the season (or maybe even last season) cited an article where Smith said he had full control over when to go in and out of the no huddle. I don't think I'm misremembering that.

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which is why I was hoping we'd see more of Coffman. that guy can run a nice seam route, has good hands and is deceptively quick. like you said, Roddy should fall into Tony G's position of possession receiver, then we got three speedy receivers in Julio, HD & DJ. depending on how much we can improve the line, Dirk could be a scary dude in the passing game. he just needs to go back to balancing the scheme like he did in Jax.

Part of it has been a lack of horses. Its tough to maintain balance when running the ball keeps getting you in 3rd and 7 situations.

I'd like to see more of Coffman as well. I think he's a guy that has started to put some things together and could be a valuable piece, albeit far from a game changer.

DJ has been a nice surprise and I think he provides nice depth possibilities moving forward.

I will say, I doubt that its a coincidence that we're seeing these bottom of the roster guys make impactful plays once given playing time. The coaching staff really needs to be better about giving guys opportunities.

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All I know is that the no-huddle was being used last night, and it did gain chunks of yards for the Falcons. Yet we didn't use it but one time in the Bucs game, and I don't recall it being used in any of the 4 games before that. That's bad coaching on someones part, and completely inexcusable since it has worked so well in the past.

Yeah I really can't understand the decision to not use it more frequently. Especially given our injury issues, the no huddle is probably the only thing capable of pushing a defense back on their heels.

I think it probably stems from Smith's desire to win the TOP game. He loves ball control, but that's just not in the best interest of the offense. Unfortunately, I don't know what could possibly change his mind.

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I'm interested to see what Koetter can do with a vertical TE weapon. The one drawback to having Gonzo is you give up a bit of vert push because he just doesnt get down the field anymore. Yes, you end up with a secure 3rd down option. But as Roddy has become more of a physical possession receiver, you've gotten into situations where you have redundant skill sets on the field. If we can find a mid round receiving TE to plug in, it would really give Koetter a lot of options that he doesnt have right now.

I am more interested in seeing what Koetter can do with a real offensive line.

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