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Dirk Koetter: I'll be a better coach in Year 2 in Falcons system


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Looking back on the 2019 season for the Atlanta Falcons, there was more on-the-job-training taking place than one might have thought. It wasn't just the new players who were having to learn and adjust to a new scheme; the new offensive coordinator was too.

Despite having 12 years of NFL play-calling experience under his belt, there was a lot of new learning offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had to do before and during last season.
Before hiring a new offensive coordinator, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he planned to keep the wide-zone scheme his team has been running since 2015 when Kyle Shanahan arrived, no matter who he brought in to run his offense. This meant Koetter was forced to learn a new system rather than implement his own.

Quinn believed Koetter was the right person to take the reins of the offense that has been the backbone of the franchise's most successful decade. From the day he was hired, Koetter was tasked with learning a new system, evaluating the talent he now had at his disposal and implementing some of his own preferences in the offense.

Koetter had previous experience working with a few players in Atlanta's offense from his first stint as offensive coordinator for the Falcons from 2012-14 but not many. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Jake Matthews were the only three players Koetter had coached and knew personally.

"It was definitely a learning curve for me," Koetter said. "Learning the system that we kept in place that was carried over from when Kyle Shanahan was here. I learned a lot … It's a really good system. It's not the system that I'm used to [running] although we did put some stuff in that are things that I have done in the past, I just feel like I'll be a better coach overall in Year 2 than I was in Year 1 in this system."

Oftentimes the biggest jumps that take place for NFL players occur between the first and second seasons. The same could be said for offensive and defensive coordinators.

Whether it was Shanahan in his second season with the Falcons to Steve Sarkisian, the Falcons' offensive play-caller under Quinn has had better results in his second year. Koetter, Ryan, Quinn and Jones all believe this will be the case in the 2020 season.

"I think him being in this scheme Year 2 and really understanding the differences in terms of our run game and how it matches up with what we do with protections and play-action pass, I think that part of it excites me the most about this upcoming year," Ryan said. "Us both being very much on the same page and him having a really good pulse for guys that we have and the scheme that we have set up."

The biggest challenge for Koetter was learning the new terminology in the Falcons' offensive scheme. And it's not as simple as one might think.

"Football language is pretty common throughout the NFL as far as what terms are used but there are a lot of terms in this system that mean something different," Koetter said. "The same two terms might have two different meanings. I was used to the terminology going back to the days when Mike Mularkey was originally the coordinator here. When I came the first time, we carried over that system, which is the old Pittsburgh Steeler terminology. Now, it's the Shanahan terminology that came here from [Washington] when Kyle came. Just some of the words mean the exact opposite. So, just getting it straight, getting all the words down in your brain that something that you've been calling one way for 12 years means something opposite."

Ryan, who has worked with Koetter for a total of four seasons now, continues to play at a high level and thinks his offense could be even better this year. In 2019, the Falcons' passing offense was one of the league's best under Koetter. The unit ranked No. 13 in points per game (23.8) and No. 3 in passing yards per game (294.6).

Atlanta's struggles on offense came mostly in the run game and pass protection, two areas Koetter identified that must improve. The Falcons finished 30th in the NFL in rushing offense averaging 85.1 yards per game. Ryan was sacked a career-high 48 times and the Falcons gave up a total of 50 sacks, fifth-most in the league. This was following a year in which Ryan was sacked 42 times in 2018 leading to the Falcons drafting guard Chris Lindstrom (No. 14 overall) and Kaleb McGary (No. 31) in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Koetter and Quinn spent the offseason devoted to finding ways to improve in these areas. The Falcons traded for tight end Hayden Hurst and signed running back Todd Gurley in free agency in hopes they'll help in these specific areas.

The Falcons appear to be at their best offensively when there's balance between the run and pass game. That's exactly what they'll try to get back to. Quinn said they were "missed the mark" in the run game last season.

"We've spent a lot of time together in terms of style, vision and where we want to go," Quinn said. "I've really reached in and he's provided a lot of insight on different topics, different things. So, our relationship has grown even stronger going into Year 2. Continuity in all three phases, that's a big deal for us heading in. His ability to attack in-game, that's one that you need with experience and he has it in bunches."

Koetter also said the offense needs to get off to a faster start in 2020. This is especially important on offense so Atlanta doesn't become one-dimensional.

Six of the Falcons' seven wins in 2019 came when they had the lead at the end of the first half. The Falcons were minus-73 in first-half point differential, which was 28th in the league. Eight of the top 11 teams in first-half point differential made the playoffs last season.

When the Falcons went on a 6-2 run to close out the season, Koetter was able to utilize his full playbook because he wasn't having to make up time and points. This directly impacted their ability to run the ball more effectively.

"The first half of the year we were just playing from behind a lot," Koetter said. "Time and score factors into that. If we're a faster starting team and you're playing with a tie score or you're ahead, you're in more situations where you can run the football."

There's no reason not to believe Atlanta's offense won't be better in the upcoming season. Wide receivers Jones and Calvin Ridley are both healthy and will be expected to pick up right where they left off last season. Gurley and Hurst, two former first-round picks, are both internally motivated like none other. And the offensive line's five starters from 2019 return, with the left guard spot still to be decided.

Koetter's open-minded and honest approach will be key in what is a critical year for the Falcons. After back-to-back 7-9 seasons without a trip to the playoffs, the pressure is on the players and coaching staff to get off to a fast start, and the offense needs to do its part to ensure that happens.

And Jones, considered by many to the best wideout in the game today, will tell you why Koetter is the right person to help make that happen.

"First and foremost, I respect Dirk as a man," Jones said. "I respect Dirk as who he is outside of just being a coach. He's going to give you opportunities on the field. You can communicate about anything. He's not just and just be like, 'OK, this is going to be my way because I'm the offensive coordinator.' He wants everybody to have success and listens to everybody."

 

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Imo I think Dirk has been treated unfairly by many on this board. The same thing happened with KS in his first year. He got hammered on here and lit up the scoreboard the next year. This year will tell the story so be careful how bad you bash the guy....he could end up looking really good this year. Just saying....

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2 minutes ago, Atl Falcon said:

Imo I think Dirk has been treated unfairly by many on this board. The same thing happened with KS in his first year. He got hammered on here and lit up the scoreboard the next year. This year will tell the story so be careful how bad you bash the guy....he could end up looking really good this year. Just saying....

True in general.

However, a Big difference in Kyle having time to get his own system going and Dirk relearning his own terminology while adjusting to and learning Kyle’s system; it’s new territory for him.

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2 minutes ago, Ergo Proxy said:

True in general.

However, a Big difference in Kyle having time to get his own system going and Dirk relearning his own terminology while adjusting to and learning Kyle’s system; it’s new territory for him.

Yep - I think he was in a tough situation last yr and things should much better this year. Our coaching overall was awful last year but I still believe in DQ and the staff and the brotherhood. No more excuses after this yr. I just hope the injury bug don’t hit us hard. We’ve had our fair share for 2-3 yrs now.

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Well, I'll give DK credit for being willing to learn and adopt someone else's system. It takes a great deal of humility to do that, especially for someone with his experience. That said, part of what makes Kyle's system so successful is in how he calls the plays, not just the plays themselves. Running multiple plays from the same formation, which can be used to set up big plays later on when a defense is accustomed to playing a look a certain way. Pre-snap motion. Misdirection. List goes on. Those are some of the nuances that come with running Kyle's brand of offense.

That's not to say DK can't or shouldn't put his own spin on it. But there are fundamental things about what Kyle implemented that is obviously well suited to Ryan and co.'s skillsets. As long as DK recognizes and sticks to that, I think this offense will be able to execute at a high level and thrive.

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Undeniably, I have done my share of dumping on Dirk. However, I commend him at his tenure for actively attempting to adapt & evolve into to a better coach. As an ASU grad, I have been well acquainted with his style for decades and Dirk has proven he is competent enough to coach & produce at the highest level. Unfortunately, his product has yet close the deal and in light of current circumstances, Dirk is not who I feel puts this team in the best position to do that. Despite my hypercritical pessimism of how his responsibility implicates this team's ability to reach the promised land, I still have hope...albeit cautious optimism. Nevertheless, hope is very the reason I still keep coming back for more. Ride or die, just hope I'm not dead before it eventually happens.

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7 minutes ago, Speezy said:

Undeniably, I have done my share of dumping on Dirk. However, I commend him at his tenure for actively attempting to adapt & evolve into to a better coach. As an ASU grad, I have been well acquainted with his style for decades and Dirk has proven he is competent enough to coach & produce at the highest level. Unfortunately, his product has yet close the deal and in light of current circumstances, Dirk is not who I feel puts this team in the best position to do that. Despite my hypercritical pessimism of how his responsibility implicates this team's ability to reach the promised land, I still have hope...albeit cautious optimism. Nevertheless, hope is very the reason I still keep coming back for more. Ride or die, just hope I'm not dead before it eventually happens.

Me too bro

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I didn't like Sark having to adopt Kyle's system and I don't like Dirk having to do it either. OCs learn game to game what works for them and what doesn't. By the time they have a decade or more, they have idiosyncracies and tendencies that are unique to them and consequently to their playbooks. I think Dirk will do better in year 2 than Sark did but IMO, expecting him (and Sark) to understand the nuances of another man's system is unfair.

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25 minutes ago, JayOzOne said:

I didn't like Sark having to adopt Kyle's system and I don't like Dirk having to do it either. OCs learn game to game what works for them and what doesn't. By the time they have a decade or more, they have idiosyncracies and tendencies that are unique to them and consequently to their playbooks. I think Dirk will do better in year 2 than Sark did but IMO, expecting him (and Sark) to understand the nuances of another man's system is unfair.

Forreals...Like tryn to bring the magic back that never was with an old fling. Not fair to the one you’re with to expect the same passion in current relationships (listen to EW&F: ““after the love is gone”).

 This is how DQ will finesse you: Deflect when the onus is really on him. Shame on Blank getting played, man Don’t.know Richard about football. So many fish in the sea I innovative fish a plenty. 

*random side note: speaking of classic tunes. These new unis remind me of how I felt every time an OutKast album dropped. Weird at 1st, but cooler than a polar bears toenails forever after.

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I'll admit I was one that hated kyle his first year, mainly because of love for Roddy White, but the thing that gave me hope going into year 2 with kyle was how much our run game improved in his first year here. We also had the worst 1-2 punch between a center that would fumble snaps and Coleman's rookie fumble issues. Then throw in Hankersons drops and it just turned into a strange season for the offense. 

 

Maybe with Koetter he's been treated unfair with learning a new offense, oline rookies, injury issues, and a terrible defense. I do like that we haven't changed playbooks but I dont understand why we didnt bring in a kubiak/shannahan deciple or kubiak himself to call the plays. 

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Unfairly treated yeah ok 30th in the league rushing the football yep unfairly treated lol.

30th out of 32 basically backs up the fact which is wrong with this offense.

Difference between 15 and last year was you could see what thee offense could do when it was mastered even Matt Ryan mentioned it.

They came out of the gate 5 or 6 and 0 before they stuttered.The whole year for the most part thee offense stuttered.

I have my fingers crossed and are hopeful but comparing KSs first year with dog pooh that is DK just no no.

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4 hours ago, JayOzOne said:

I didn't like Sark having to adopt Kyle's system and I don't like Dirk having to do it either. OCs learn game to game what works for them and what doesn't. By the time they have a decade or more, they have idiosyncracies and tendencies that are unique to them and consequently to their playbooks. I think Dirk will do better in year 2 than Sark did but IMO, expecting him (and Sark) to understand the nuances of another man's system is unfair.

I’m more disappointed that we were dumb enough to hire Sark.When in all essence we had McDaniel and Lafleur sitting there waiting.Then we go down the Koetter track.Who and what are we this is the issue I have with the decision making off the field the last 3 seasons.

Greg Knapp a WCO guy sitting in the play booth surely helps smooth this transition.To be fair he’s another head scratcher for me Knapp I haven’t seen anything to suggest that he’s helped anyone since he’s been here.

If your making sound decisions you hire thee best WCO guy available after KS leaves not experiment with an untried pro OC then scape goat him and go to a DK vert guy wanting run    a WC style of offense with a no identity running game.

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I don't care what they say. Those route combo's last year were not Kyle Shannahan WCO. Way too many hitches and verticals, very few clear outs and influence routes. You could tell Matt was using a more traditional read procedure and less timing. Certainly less YAC. It's possible that Koetter applied Shannahan's language to his (DK's) offensive playbook but I don't see much WCO in what they did last year, run game included.

 

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7 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

No I don’t but I do exercise common sense in most aspects of my life.What we have done on thee offensive side of the football isn’t that.It does my head in for guys who get paid very well to make such decisions.

See how you feel after this year...baring we stay healthy. And remember our OL sucked as well. This could be a very good OL if McGary shines thru on a cloudy day. Same thing on defense IF we finally have a pass rush

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30 minutes ago, Atl Falcon said:

See how you feel after this year...baring we stay healthy. And remember our OL sucked as well. This could be a very good OL if McGary shines thru on a cloudy day. Same thing on defense IF we finally have a pass rush

The reason I unload on that side of the football is because that’s how they’ve chosen to build the team.Offensively this part of the team has to carry the load it’s always been that way.

Defense and STs are supplemental parts thee offense is the mainstay if it isn’t firing the team will always come up short.

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9 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

The reason I unload on that side of the football is because that’s how they’ve chosen to build the team.Offensively this part of the team has to carry the load it’s always been that way.

Defense and STs are supplemental parts thee offense is the mainstay if it isn’t firing the team will always come up short.

I agree the team is built that way and has been but it’s time to play defense

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3 hours ago, slider said:

I don't care what they say. Those route combo's last year were not Kyle Shannahan WCO. Way too many hitches and verticals, very few clear outs and influence routes. You could tell Matt was using a more traditional read procedure and less timing. Certainly less YAC. It's possible that Koetter applied Shannahan's language to his (DK's) offensive playbook but I don't see much WCO in what they did last year, run game included.

 

I completely agree.  There were so many games where there simply were no WR’s open at all.   Shannahan’s use of burner concepts, yankee routes and hi lo mesh were all relatively absent from our playbook last year.  Very few bootlegs or moving pockets.  Little pre snap motion and average use of PA

I do think Koetter learned an entirely new terminology, but ran more of his preferred plays out of WCO terminology. Also think DK will be better year 2

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1 hour ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

I completely agree.  There were so many games where there simply were no WR’s open at all.   Shannahan’s use of burner concepts, yankee routes and hi lo mesh were all relatively absent from our playbook last year.  Very few bootlegs or moving pockets.  Little pre snap motion and average use of PA

I do think Koetter learned an entirely new terminology, but ran more of his preferred plays out of WCO terminology. Also think DK will be better year 2

The question then becomes if he doesn’t do you honestly think NFL teams are beating down the door to get Koetter ?

Why did we.

I mentioned this to you earlier in the off season I believe Raheem Morris is going to be a hot ticket next off season and he’ll no longer be a coach on this team unless Quinn is fired.

From what I’ve seen how he and Ulbrich resurrected that defense last half of the season both could quite possibly be gone.

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