It was inevitable that Kyle Shanahan would eventually get to interview for head coaching vacancies, as the Falcons put up a record setting offense in 2016 that was the talk of the league. Matt Ryan went from an after-thought to an MVP candidate, while players like Taylor Gabriel had career years.
It’s quite the turn-around for Shanahan, who was a polarizing figure at the end of 2015. Some fans preached patience - after all, he was installing a brand new offense in Atlanta. Others were ... less kind. Even at the beginning of the 2016 regular season, there were quite a few fans who wanted Shanahan fired after the first game. Many of those same fans are now panicking that Shanahan may leave.
Here’s the thing: there’s a fairly good chance that Shanahan will land a job somewhere else. Even if he does, the Falcons offense should be fine without him.
One of the big reasons for the turn-around this year has simply been everyone’s familiarity with the offense. It’s easy to forget that Matt Ryan had essentially run the same offense (with tweaks) since 2008 until Shanahan arrived here in 2015. The entire offense and all of the terminology changed overnight, yet people expected there to be no bumps in the road. As we all saw, the bumps in 2015 were profound.
In many ways, 2016 should have been expected - if not to this degree of success. Everyone on the team had a much better understanding of the offense coming in, and key additions like Alex Mack and Taylor Gabriel were already familiar with it coming in. This familiarity will carry over in 2017 as well - with or without Shanahan. If anything, the offensive talent on the team will be even deeper into the playbook this year, with young players like Austin Hooper having a full off-season to study and learn it.
It’s all about talent
I can’t state this enough: ultimately, the turn-around from 2015 to 2016 has as much to do with talent as it does anything else. Adding an All-Pro center to the offensive line provided stability and better overall run and pass blocking. Alex Mack also helped to stabilize the play of guys like Andy Levitre and Chris Chester. This gave Matt Ryan better pockets to operate out of versus 2015. What a concept: give a pocket passer more time in the pocket and you’ll have more success.
Yet, the improvements happened all over the offense. Tevin Coleman took a big step forward, becoming a big weapon in the passing game. An injury prone Leonard Hankerson and aging Roddy White were replaced by a healthy and younger Mohamed Sanu. The speed of the WR corps was boosted significantly with the additions of Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson. The drafting of Austin Hooper provided another tight end capable of catching passes, while a full off-season better prepared Justin Hardy for a bigger role on the offense.
Up and down the offensive roster, the quality of the players improved dramatically. Even better? Almost all of these players will be back in 2017, with even more potential talent being added in free agency or the draft. The core of this offense will remain in tact, and that’s a critical piece of the puzzle.
If Kyle Shanahan does leave, one of the biggest fears fans have is that we’ll bring in a new offensive coordinator that will change the system.
That’s not going to happen.
There’s a reason Dan Quinn brought in Kyle Shanahan in the first place. His respect for this offensive system means he’s going to want to keep it in place, no matter who the OC is. The Falcons may look towards in-house candidates to replace Shanahan, but if they do go outside the walls of Flowery Branch, they’ll almost certainly look at guys who have run this system before.
Put simply: good teams do not overhaul offensive systems that set records in scoring and efficiency. The Falcons will run the same offense in 2017 - there’s absolutely no doubt about that.
Let’s be honest, even if Shanahan were to remain in Atlanta, it is extremely difficult to maintain an offense that scores over 30 points per game year over year. Even if the offense does not sustain that level of dominance, there’s every reason to believe they can continue to be a top-5 unit. As Dan Quinn’s defense continues to take shape, that should be more than enough to keep this franchise on the right track.
While we’d prefer that Kyle Shanahan stay in Atlanta, the reality is that this is the cost of success. That said, football is about more than one person and while losing him would hurt, many of the critical pieces will remain. With those pieces and a goal of keeping the same offense in place, there’s no reason to believe the Falcons offense can’t continue to be a great one in 2017 and beyond.