I think the question that's been bouncing around in my mind recently is whether any of us believe next year will be any different or not. The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the most sadsack of franchises since their 1966 inception, with a history that rivals those of teams such as the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons have been more successful as a whole than either of those teams, but that whole "never had a back to back winning season" deal is hanging over the franchise's head like an evil cloud. So will it be different next year, after all?
Let's take a look. Today I'm going to take a hard look at the coaching staff as it stands and see what it offers compared to last year.
For starters, there's our new friend Bobby "I Don't Yet Have a Nickname" Petrino, who brings prodigious offensive planning talent to the Falcons. His previous NFL experience was with the Jaguars, and he was offensive coordinator in 2001, when the Jaguars had what can be best described as a mediocre offensive season. He then went to Louisville as a head coach in 2003, where he revived a flagging program and made a big name for himself. That in turn got him hired with the Falcons, where he is essentially a giant question mark with some prestige attached. He's clearly got a good offensive mind and is known for creative playcalling, so we can hope it'll be on display early. What the offense really seems to need is an infusion of fresh thinking, and I suspect the primary reason Petrino was hired was to provide that spark. Contrast that to Jim Mora, who was a good game manager and a player's coach but seemed to lack innovation and a hard edge. Petrino looks to provide both of these things, but consistency is a key thing here. That probably rests with the players, but Petrino will have to try to bring it out.
At offensive coordinator there's Hue Jackson, who simply cannot be any worse than Greg Knapp. Was Knapp a good person? I'm sure he was. When he was out there repeatedly bludgeoning Falcons fans in the head with his poor decisions, however, he might as well have been clubbing baby seals with his clipboard. Hue Jackson is a guy who works extremely well with receivers, and he's hooking up with a coach that will probably be doing the grand majority of the offensive playcalling as well. His job will be to put together packages that work and hopefully coax some sweet, sweet talent out of the offense. If he can turn Jenkins and White into real receivers, he'll have paid for himself in a big way. Time will tell, but I have no trouble believing he'll see more production than Knapp ever did.
On defense there's Mike Zimmer, who clearly has a lot of talent. Blogging the Boys has pointed out that Zimmer was not really suited for the 3-4 defense the Cowboys ran this season, and will be returning to the 4-3 he ran a grand majority of his career. It's useful to remember that this dude has been with the Cowboys since 1994, which means he's seen the NFC many times and probably has a decent idea of how to prepare for each team. Ed Donatell was a guy I always felt legitimately bad for, but his defensive schemes were pretty vanilla and didn't work well with guys who were already prone to being out of position or talking more than covering cough Hall cough. Zimmer's directed some pretty high octane defenses in the past and should work well with what is indisputably a talented D.
The coaching staff is an unknown, to put it bluntly. The guy I'm most certain will work out is Zimmer, who has loads of experience and has demonstrated his NFL talent. But the potential is certainly there for a pretty nice little coaching staff, and that certainly would be a big improvement over the last couple of years.