In this series of posts, I seek to find the answer to questions that are brought up around here or around the various sports conversation sites. I use a realistic, low-stat opinion to generate discussion about these topics, but I also encourage the use of stats in an argument.
Trying to hold away the stat flame from this one is going to be hard, though this is why I encourage the use of stats in these posts.
Many, many times we have debated here about what is holding the Falcons offense back. We seemingly have the tools to do good things. Heck, we dominated time of possession, we made relatively few mistakes, and we have a young QB who is one of the best in the business.
We have a solid RB and a do-all backup RB, albeit they are both physical runners. We have an elite #1 WR and an underrated #2 WR and a bunch of younglings behind them. We have an OL that has jelled over the years to form a strong, cohesive unit.
We have an Offensive Coordinator who isn't very popular among many of us, but let's face it, we could be doing much worse.
So who's hiding the Energon Cube to the offense?
The answer...may surprise you.
I have been on the speed back bandwagon for a while now. I believe we desperately need someone who can catch passes out of the backfield who isn't a lumbering RB (Sorry, Snelling, though I really hope we keep you around)
But since the draft is a risk, we can't assume that any kind of speed RB that is drafted will suddenly make the offense explode. The speed RB won't start immediately, if at all, and his impact will be limited in scope. The Juggernaut Falcon Offense will need someone more readily available.
The answer to this question, in my opinion, is rather complex. It's a team thing. (Imagine that. An entire team holding the key to something in a team sport.)
Here's my breakdown of what has to happen for us to be great:
1) It starts at the very top. It's not so much about what position as it is who we get. The offense is going to explode with a legitimate #2 receiver, but we have to be very, very careful as to who we obtain to fulfill that role. Do we trust a younger, small WR like a Titus Young to step up and fill the need of a #2 AND a speed WR?
Mr. Blank, Comrade, and Smitty have to collaborate and make the right decision here. I think we will sign a taller FA receiver (think Sims-Walker) and draft a speedy receiver (think Young or Jernigan) and see what each brings to the table. The wrong decision on either account could stall the offense for another year and potentially do long-term damage (Turner wearing down).
2) The WR Shuffle. Let's assume for a minute that a good #2 WR is brought in. Actually, let's assume Sims-Walker is brought in.
There was a small debate over whether MSW was an improvement over Jenkins. I think the general consensus was that he was an improvement, albeit a small one. Let's also assume for a moment that MSW is the best #2 we're able to pick up, excluding the draft.
The general consensus over the past couple of weeks has been moving Jenks to the slot where his physical style will reign supreme, so long as there is a #2 to take his #2 spot. However, not much was mentioned about how massive of an upgrade Jenkins is over our #3. Let's face it, HD hasn't been performing up to par in the slot. He's recovering from an ACL, so he gets his pass for this past season, but there should be no excuses this year. Jenkins has decent speed, he's big, and he has reliable-enough hands.
That's a monstrous improvement from dropsy, glass ACL Harry Douglas (no hate intended) and therein lies the key. Jenkins is just talented enough that if we bring in someone even slightly better than him that we didn't have before, it's going to open Roddy's game up tremendously in 4 WR sets. Acquire a fourth WR to freeze the safeties downfield and all of a sudden, we're crediting...
3) Mike Mularkey. No doubt this man will be integral to this upcoming season's offensive success, perhaps moreso than ever before. This season will make or break his stay here in Atlanta, because I have 100% confidence in the FO to address our WR needs.
Assume MSW comes in and plays on a slightly higher level than Jenkins, now think back to what made the Packers' O so good. Not many people have been on the James Jones bandwagon, but between him, Driver, Nelson, Jennings, and Quarless, any one of them can make a big play, and it's because of one simple offensive scheme.
Our receivers consisted of Roddy, Jenkins, and a slowed Gonzo. Athletic LBs could cover Gonzo because let's face it, he's slowed down considerably. He still has the best hands in the game, but he can't get open quite as well anymore. Roddy was being smothered and still put up ludicrous numbers. Jenkins had his moments, but he didn't have enough of them.
Add MSW to the mix, and all of a sudden HD/Weems/#4 is being covered by either an LB or a bench warming DB, and that's a winning formula. All that is is James Jones/Jordy Nelson in the Packers scheme, and that will cause nightmares for teams without a deep DB group (aka just about everybody).
Run a little pre-snap motion or a few tricky routes and now MSW is being covered by that LB, and that's how we get 20 yard chunks over the middle. I'll go ahead and assume Matty's a smart QB. His passing ability rivals almost anyone in the league if you ask me. This assumes MM can make the playcalls.
The Pack may have a talented WR corps, but even with the addition of Mr. Starks, they're still largely one dimensional, unlike us, because we have...
4) Consistency in the running game. No doubt subtracting Gonzo and adding Noel Devine with Roddy/Jenkins/MSW/HD on 3rd down is a QB's happy place.
I feel like it's safe to say Turner will have another 1,200+ yard season this year. He's slowed a bit, but he's still pretty consistent. He gets the yards when we need 'em, and that's all we need from him. As this offense continues to evolve, Turner's importance will grow, but the workload asked of him will decrease.
Turner will still be a very valuable runner. He can still get up to speed, given some space, and he can eat up chunks of yards. Adding someone like MSW will allow the O to spread out and still run the ball effectively since MSW is another threat that must be respected. That, in turn, allows for fewer men in the box, and our physical style of play feasts on weakened defensive fronts.
A speedy RB that can catch will thrive in this system. 4 WR/1 Speed Demon RB sets practically scream "Screen Pass", and since we haven't hardly run any in the three years of MM's tenure here, considering them now could set up some major traps along the way this season.
Noel Devine would do well in this system. He can catch like a receiver but is still shifty as an RB. He would only add to the mismatches, especially if motioned out of the backfield.
Getting a full-time back like Noel Devine would put us potentially in Patriot offense status. (Screen pass to Kevin Faulk, anyone?)
We're very, very close to having the offense of our dreams, but in order to reach that offense, everyone has to contribute, starting with the coaching staff and front office. We absolutely cannot miss on a #2 receiver, because I feel that sets this whole thing up. The #4 receiver is interchangeable, as is a potential #5 option instead of Gonzo or an RB. One of the two needs to be someone who is very fast to help open up deep lanes.
Provided the right WR is brought in, the responsibility then falls to Mularkey. I'm 100% confident that Matty will execute whatever is asked of him. He has not earned any doubt from me in his ability to lead and conquer with this team.
Mularkey will then have to exploit mismatches and he'll have to exploit them all game long. If he's as gadget-y as people claim he is, then this should be right up his alley. Naturally, it's up to the players to execute his plan, but I believe they'll do just that.
This will largely fall on MM and a #2 WR, who will push everyone else down a spot and cause mismatch nightmares for defenses. However, it will still require a team effort to REALLY open up the offense because everyone will be playing a significant part in it.
What do you all think? Who do you think holds the key to the final stage of offensive power? Is a #2 WR the missing link? It is Mularkey's playcalling? I'm really looking forward to this!