After the 2011 season, the Atlanta Falcons followed up an embarrassing playoff loss by allowing offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder leave for other teams. The popular belief was both coordinators were going to be fired, so each jumped at the chance to leave, with VanGorder named the Auburn defensive coordinator within a day of the playoff loss.
New coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan were supposed to fix the biggest problems the team had: a conservative offense and a defense that struggled on third down. The team had managed to do well in the regular season but struggled against playoff-caliber teams. You can only win so many games playing conservative.
Koetter talked up his "four verticals" offense, pushing four receivers down the field to stretch out defenses. Nolan had turned around defenses in Denver and Miami, improving their third down defenses.
It is only preseason, but after adding new coaches and new players, the team still has the same problems. Mike Smith had this to say after the Falcons were beaten up by the Houston Texans.
It was very obvious that we didn’t play well in any phase of the game tonight. We had breakdowns in all three phases. We had way too many penalties, weren’t able to convert on third down, weren’t able to get off the field on third-and-long, had a punt blocked, returned field goal blocked – not anywhere close to the level that we need to play and perform at. We’ve got to get much better.
The team was not ready. This may be understandable if the Falcons were starting a bunch of rookies, but outside of Jake Matthews, the starters are all veterans.
We didn’t tackle well. We had some mental errors where the rotation was not in the right direction, and you’re going to give up big plays. We had some third-and-longs that we didn’t convert on. We had that one explosive run where we lost leverage on the backside. Those are areas that we have to address. It was not the type of football that we know we are capable of playing or the type of football that we are going to play.
These are the same problems we have dealt with for years. If tackling, mental errors and breakdowns are not coaching problems, then I do not know what are coaching problems. Since the 2011 season, Smith has completely turned over his coaching staff. Yet the Falcons still have the same problems. If the team does not look significantly better in the following weeks, Smith should be finishing out his last season in Atlanta.
I will not even discuss the failure to develop just about any player taken after the 2nd round, or the inability to scheme average players into anything but average players.
It remains early. And yes, only the preseason. However, it is increasingly frustrating to watch a different team with different coaching failing in the same way. Will we look back on the past few seasons thinking we wasted the last few years of Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and even Roddy White on bad scheming and coaching?
Whether frustration with how the team looked or a systemic issue from Mike Smith down, Smith needed a turnaround from last season to keep his job. So far, I have yet to see a turnaround.
Voice your frustration in the comments.