Goober Pyle Posted December 7, 2020 Share Posted December 7, 2020 by Jeff Schultz for The Athletic Several years ago, a Hall of Fame football coach addressed a question about how he would go about filling a head coaching vacancy in the NFL. I asked Bill Walsh a simple question: Would he hire somebody with an offensive or defensive background? “Offense,” Walsh said. “I’ve always thought most of the important decisions a head coach has to make during the game are offensive decisions.” He proceeded to tick down his list of examples, including: situational play calls, red-zone decisions, clock management and exposing and maximizing an opponent’s weakness. I bring this up now not because the Falcons lost again to the New Orleans Saints 21-16 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium or that the game came down to one bad decision by interim coach Raheem Morris. Because it didn’t. What happened Sunday, and in far too many games, wasn’t on Morris, who started the season as the defensive coordinator before being asked to steer a bombed-out ship to shore after the firing of coach Dan Quinn. The blame lies with the offense in general and the offensive coordinator in particular. The blame lies with Dirk Koetter. Quinn did a number of things right during his tenure. But hiring Koetter in 2019 will go down as the second-biggest blunder of Quinn’s career, right after not telling Kyle Shanahan to run the ball in the Super Bowl. Koetter works hard, has always been close to quarterback Matt Ryan and is generally a good guy (which doesn’t really mean anything, but given that so many loved pointing out how obstinate Shanahan was and how many people in the building, including players, did not like him, I felt the need to say it). The problem is Koetter never has been overly creative, and he has always been a poor fit for this offensive scheme. There are valid arguments on both sides as to whether the Falcons should hire an offensive or defensive mind as their coach. But you see what can happen when the wrong coach is hired to call plays, and that’s where the team’s biggest assets are. The Falcons have a $30 million quarterback (Ryan) and a $20 million wide receiver (Julio Jones). They have a young star in Calvin Ridley, a pretty good offensive line and a capable supporting cast. They are built to not be humiliated on offense. Ever. But this is what they did in two games against the Saints in the past three weeks: • Managed just one touchdown (and six field goals) in 23 possessions. • Converted only one of their five red-zone situations into a touchdown, including one of their two goal-to-go situations. • Converted only 7 of 27 third-down situations. For the second straight meeting with the Falcons, the Saints were missing their presumed most valuable player, quarterback Drew Brees. Before the game in New Orleans two weeks ago, Taysom Hill had never started an NFL game. But for the second straight meeting, he outplayed Ryan. Part of the reason: The Falcons defense didn’t seem to know what was coming while the Falcons offense has become painfully predictable for opponents. Hill completed 27 of 37 passes with two touchdowns Sunday and in two games went 45 for 60 for 465 yards, two scores and zero interceptions. Ryan: 38 for 76, 505 yards, one TD, two interceptions. Steve Sarkisian took a lot of grief as Shanahan’s successor. But consider this: In two seasons under Sarkisian, Ryan threw 55 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions with a 67.2 completion percentage. In less than two complete seasons under Koetter, Ryan has 44 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a 65.1 completion percentage. Ryan’s yards-per-attempt average dropped slightly from 8.3 to 7.9 from Shanahan to Sarkisian but has plummeted to 7.3 under Koetter. This isn’t all on Ryan. When defensive backs are right on top of receivers, it’s a clear indication that opponents know what’s coming. The majority of the time the Falcons make a play offensively, it’s because a receiver simply beat his man in coverage, not because there was any semblance of creativity in the play calling. Switch the rosters. If Sean Payton had been coaching the Falcons, they would’ve won both games. There was a lot of verbal tap-dancing after the game. Morris fell back on, “You have to give credit to the (Saints’) defense first.” (Editorial comment: Actually, you don’t.) When asked if he had confidence in Koetter, Morris said, “I’m confident in our team in general. You never separate anybody when talking about team. Those things every week will always be looked at, they’ll always be addressed, they’ll always be judged. You can always play Monday morning quarterback. We refuse to do that here.” When asked if the play calling has been creative enough, Morris finally acknowledged: “Obviously not.” Julio Jones set a career record for how times many he said “I have to watch the film” in response to questions about Koetter and the play calling. He eventually acknowledged that one touchdown in two games reflects “very poorly” on the offense, adding, “We’re too good to have only one touchdown against them.” The Falcons make Koetter available to the media only on Mondays of most game weeks. Running back Todd Gurley surprisingly was activated for the game despite a wonky knee, and the Falcons barely used him in the first half (one carry for a 1-yard loss and a 4-yard reception). But in the second half, he was given seven carries, in part because Ito Smith exited with a concussion. Morris said Gurley’s health made him a situational back. But there’s a problem with that. If Gurley was considered too injured to be effective, why did Koetter give him the ball on three straight plays after the Falcons had a first down at the Saints’ 21 with just more than two minutes remaining? Gurley ran for 8 yards on first down. But Saints defenders read the next two handoffs and stuffed him for no gain on second down and a 7-yard loss on third when Gurley tried to bounce outside. On fourth-and-9 from the 20, Ryan’s desperation pass for Jones in the end zone fell incomplete. Koetter has become such a flashpoint for the Falcons’ failures that “Dirk” was trending on Twitter in Georgia when the offense went three-and-out on three of the first four possessions. The Falcons’ 4-8 record is not all on the offense. But the NFL, like college, has become an offensive league, and predictability can ruin a team. “I don’t think we played well enough, for sure,” Ryan said when asked if the team’s offense has been under-utilized. “I don’t think we played up to the standard that we’re capable of.” An understatement to go with an underwhelming season. ATLskinjob, fuego, vafalconfan and 8 others 5 6 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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