For the Atlanta Falcons, the amount of attention being paid to the defensive side of the ball, by pundits and fans alike, diminishes the fact that some of the NFL's most talented players reside along the offense. While the defense remains a work in progress -- especially in the established talent department -- the offense only needs a few tweaks here and there to be considered among the upper echelon of the league.
That's not to say that the offensive depth chart is laced with supreme talent throughout. It's merely shedding light on how superb the great players are. The trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White can be measured against any in the league -- when healthy, of course.
Ryan may be one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He's excelled in both a vertical-stretch offense and a rhythm-and-timing offense. The latter of which he could be considered the league's premier general of. His short-to-intermediate accuracy may only be superseded by his ability to improvise. He has a strong command of his offense and team in general.
Last season, with Jones missing 11 games and White hobbled for the majority of the season (and missing three games of his own), we saw that Ryan had a plethora intangibles that hadn't been brought up a lot: Toughness and resiliency. Running a vertical offense when your coordinator calls pass plays 70 percent of the time takes pure guts.
Doing so while being plastered all over NFL fields by just about every defense on the schedule takes even more pure guts. But through it all he never wavered one iota. Now with his career safety net, in retired (I use that term loosely) tight end Tony Gonzalez, no longer available Ryan may be in for his toughest season yet.
But you know the old adage: When the going gets tough...
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can make the transition from a Gonzalez-less offense much easier; moving White to the S-receiver, permanently, could enhance the Falcons' explosiveness while still providing Ryan the short-to-intermediate outlet he's accustomed to having.
Superior Route-Running Ability
From the time Gonzalez showed up in a Falcons' uniform, he enhanced the offense with his ability to generate first downs. It was pretty much clockwork: Gonzalez would run a "stick-nod", create separation at the stem, make the slowest juke move ever and get an extra four-to-five yards for a first down.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Defenses knew it was coming, broadcasters had the same general idea and all of us in the stands -- or watching at home -- were privy to the same information.
Nobody in the league could consistently stop the Ryan-to-Gonzalez connection!
Case in point: Gonzalez, lined up at the "S", runs an out to perfection. Despite the fact that he's running at complete turtle speed, against possibly the fastest linebacker in the league in New York Jets' future star Demario Davis, he shows why it's proper route-running ability that gets the job done on the inside of a formation.
Gonzalez sells the 9-route, stems extremely hard to create vast separation, secures the catch and gets a few extra yards for his troubles. Defensive coordinators tried putting safeties on him for speed purposes; linebackers for size purposes; corners for technique purposes.
It virtually never worked.
The only time coordinators had success was in the "money zone" using the double-vice technique.
White may find even more success than Gonzalez if permanently lined up at the S-receiver. He, too, is a master at the finer points of route-running. Although never possessing the wheels of an Andre Johnson (Houston Texans), nor the size of a Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals), White has managed to be their equal behind being a complete route-runner -- among other things.
This is what White has been doing to corners ever since the light turned on for him in his third season. He makes sure that every route looks the same at the bottom. Some receivers telegraph their routes by eying their target point or not running hard enough if they have a hard-breaking route.
As a former defensive back/linebacker, at the semi-pro level, I keyed in on receivers' tendencies in their route-running. Someone like White would've frustrated me as he takes care of the minutia of his craft.
Here he sells the 9-route causing the corner, talented Buffalo Bills' defensive back Stephon Gilmore, to open his hips to defend deep. Gilmore is unable to match the transfer and has to make a complete turn. This allows for the necessary separation White needed.
When you have the best short-game QB throwing you the ball, it doesn't take much. And when you have the best short-to-intermediate receiver in the game, it's simply a match made in heaven.
Before Koetter took over the reins, former OC Mike Mularkey eased Ryan's transition into the league by bringing a multiple offense with West Coast principles. The combination of Ryan's quick-decision making, a nasty offensive line and White's ability to destroy both man and zone coverage made Atlanta one of the best offenses in the league.
What it lacked was a certified deep-threat to take advantage of the vertical concepts of Mularkey's playbook. After the acquisition of Jones, the corps was complete. In fact, Mularkey's final season in the Peach State produced the seventh-ranked offense in the NFL.
Somehow Mularkey was ousted, after multiple playoff failures, for the true vertical stylings of Koetter -- who has yet to surpass Mularkey's final offensive ranking.
But this may finally be the year as it seems the move tight end position, or "F", will no longer be a major emphasis like it was when Gonzalez was in tow.
"There'll be a change in the type of tight end we'll have on our roster," coach Mike Smith said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We'll have a 'Y' tight end, where he'll be an in-line player. They won't be moving around nearly as much as what we call a 'F.' Tony Gonzalez was more of a 'F' tight end than a 'Y' tight end."
This means Falcons fans can expect a ton of "11" and "10 personnel." Koetter loves to go to both spread and tight sets out of "11 personnel." By putting White in Gonzalez's spot in these sets you essentially force the defenses hand.
When you see a spread formation like this with a move tight end, it's better to just think of said player as a receiver. Often times defenses go to its dime package as a counter, but they run the risk of being gashed by a draw play as this formation still has a running back present.
If White were linchpin on the inside, he could be matched against linebackers out of this set. And there's not a linebacker in the league savvy enough to defend White. And unlike Gonzalez he could turn a short catch into a much more explosive play.
My personal favorite is the tight set. It takes great route-running to excel in this set, but the results can be tremendous. A great blocker like White would do wonders in the run game, which Gonzalez was rarely lauded for.
But either set can find White in a mismatch .
Lined up against Bills' linebacker Manny Lawson, White shows why he would be deadly as an S-receiver. Running a simple slant, White puts the offense way ahead in the down-and-distance game -- and never even gets touched by Lawson.
When White encounters the average nickel corner, there will be plays to be made. White is one of the most powerful receivers in the league who rarely goes down with the initial tackle. His ability to separate from a well-run route, coupled with his ability to separate defensive backs from their respective souls with physicality is a tough proposition for any coordinator
Speed on the Edges/Julio Occupying the Primary
As much as Falcons fans don't care to come to grips with it, much-maligned receiver Harry Douglas proved his worth with a 1,000-yard performance in last season's 4-12 debacle. While Douglas has normally operated out of the slot in recent memory, Jones' absence allowed him to oscillate between the "Z" and "Y" spots in the formation.
While Douglas may not have the talent of a White, he's undoubtedly a faster player. His presence, along with the promising Darius Johnson, on the edges could mean more explosive plays in the vertical attack.
But putting White in the slot would also allow Jones to occupy the primary in his stead -- a scenario we witnessed when White has hampered by injury at the beginning of last season. And the results were astounding.
Jones looked to be the most dominant force in the league (41 catches for 580 yards in five games) when allowed to run the full route tree as White's position in the offense calls for. Normally Jones occupies the vertical part of the offense predominately, but he showed himself to be quite the force in the short-to-intermediate game as well.
Let's face it: Jones should no longer play second fiddle to anyone in the league as he is virtually unmatched from a size-speed-talent perspective. With White turning 33 years old this season, and Jones getting close to re-upping for a zillion-dollar contract, the time to pass the torch is now.
But by putting White in the slot on a permanent basis, it not only allows for a smooth transition, it fills a major void in the offense that Gonzalez is leaving behind. It may also extend White's career as he will face lesser competition in the role.
It's pretty much a win-win scenario for all parties involved...except the opposition.
So we should expect explosive plays like this from him playing on the inside of the formation. White once said that the "big boys play outside," but once he racks up video game numbers in the slot he'll most certainly change his tune.
Make it happen, Koetter!
Murf Baldwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for Roll 'Bama Roll in addition to being a staff writer for The Falcoholic. He previously covered the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Bleacher Report. Accept no imitations; follow me on Twitter.