While this site and the larger Falcons fan community buzzes with speculation about names, I'd like to take the focus in a different direction for a moment. I'd like to talk about what I want to see from the offense and defense in 2012 after those new coordinators are hired.
Obviously, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and your mileage may vary. After watching these Falcons triumph and struggle over the last four years, though, I've seen some consistent themes emerge that have to be addressed. That's true whether the Falcons bring on Kirby Smart, Steve Spanguolo or Dave Choate to run the defense.
To me, it's about taking that next step. We know that the Falcons in the Mike Mularkey/Brian Van Gorder era could win football games, and lots of them. What must happen now is a shift to an offense and defense with the potential to be more than good, the potential to be something truly spectacular. Even if that means taking a step back in 2012, it has to happen.
If you'll hit the jump with me, I'll give you three items from my wish list for offense. Either later today or tomorrow, you'll get my wish list for the D.
1) The deep game. This is a big one for any number of reasons.
The Falcons have a premier weapon in Julio Jones. Jones can't be caught by most corners in the league on deep routes, and those who can catch him will struggle to bring him down. The Falcons can use him to clear out coverage over the middle if teams respect the threat he represents, and the best way to do that is to have him continually use his awesome wheels to go deep.
Matt Ryan's arm is often mentioned as a disappointment, but I think he has the arm strength to excel on deep routes. He just has to get his timing down and be willing to make them, both of which will come if he's practicing them more and being asked to do them in game situations.
If the Falcons really want to push this, they can bring back Harry Douglas and ask him to run deep crossing routes, or sign a free agent deep threat like Robert Meachem or Jerome Simpson. In addition to bringing the big play element to the offense on a more consistent basis, it will free Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers up over the middle and underneath. In turn, Ryan's completion percentage and yards per attempt should go up, and defenses will have to be wary of the Falcons when they're down.
Obviously, this is pretty simplistic, and things rarely go that well in real life. But I firmly believe that a commitment to challenging defenses down the field will open things up offensively.
2) Transition away from pounding the rock...sort of. I'm not one of those wild-eyed fans who believes we need to send Michael Turner to a farm upstate, though I wouldn't mind a trade if the Falcons could get quality value.
What does need to happen, without question, is a shift away from running for the sake of running. The Falcons lost an awful lot of games when they passed more than 40 times, which many consider an indictment of the passing game, which I won't deny it is. But it also speaks to how inefficient the ground game was.
People often talk about how Turner needs 20+ runs to get going. That's true in a sense, but it's more that Turner tends to have 10-15 slow, plodding, basically useless runs at this stage of his career and 5-10 where he busts out huge gains. Considering many of those useless carries were bunched together, Mularkey's insistence on running a slowing Turner behind a miserable offensive line all game long seems borderline criminal.
The Falcons still need to use Turner as a battering ram to wear defenses down and because he can still hit home runs, but they must work in more creative plays to Jacquizz Rodgers and whatever third back they decide to use in 2012. If Turner averages only two or three yards a carry on his ten carries, the Falcons need to use Rodgers more and see if he can more effectively run the ball. With as better passing game to loosen up defenses at the point of attack, I'm not willing to tolerate the Mularkey approach to running any more.
And in case that sounds unduly harsh, note that I still consider Turner a valuable player. He just must be used in a more effective fashion.
3) Use the damn screen pass. Under Mike Mularkey, the Falcons were the worst team in the NFL at using screen passes. That might not have been a bad thing if it wasn't such an egregious misuse of the team's talent.
Look, I understand that the Falcons' blockers weren't great at screens. But it's something they can work on and get better at, unless they have a tragic screen-related disability that I'm being insensitive about. Mularkey chose not to use it and chose not to improve the team's use of it, and that's that.
Why more screens? Because the Falcons have so many players capable of picking up yards after the catch, which is the beauty of the screen. Guys like Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers and even Michael Turner have enough power and elusiveness to turn a short pass into a long gain, and a screen gives you the kind of blocking that most of them never see on regular routes. It's not going to work every time, but it gives the defense pause and it's a different look.
Defense have grown fat and lazy against the Falcons in recent years, knowing they're a bread-and-butter passing team that won't throw more than one or two surprises at you all game. It's time to change that.
Do you agree with my list, or do you have your own additions?