Ever since this weekend, when the calls to fire Steve Sarkisian have really come to a head, I’ve suggested that there was a slim-to-zero chance it would actually happen. Dan Quinn is a loyal guy who believes in giving his coaching staff the time they need to learn on the job, by and large, and his hire of Sarkisian over candidates with more NFL experience suggested he’d be plenty patient if things went awry.
Robert Klemko at Sports Illustrated talked to players and other Falcons behind the scenes and paints a picture of a group that is seeing some worrying signs but believes the ship can be righted. It’s worth a read in full, but I did want to highlight a couple of points from it, as I am wont to do.
MY look at what ATL players are calling a disorganized offense, and why Sarkisian's leash is longer than you think. https://t.co/YT4uRMLyJU— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) October 25, 2017
First, this quote is really the money quote from the entire piece, and deserves to be called out.
They both used the same word to describe Sarkisian’s approach to the offense: “disorganized.” And we’re not talking about desk clutter. Shanahan had a plan, they said. Every play and every concept employed was an exercise in deception. Set up one expectation in the first half, and then later break that expectation for a big gain in a critical moment. Sarkisian, formerly Alabama’s offensive coordinator and USC’s head coach, doesn’t have that aspect of the pro game in his tool bag, they say. But both players, and two team sources, scoffed at the idea of firing the 43-year-old former CFL quarterback at any point this season, backing up the public vote of confidence offered by coach Dan Quinn this week.
This fits with what many of us have suspected, that the plan is just not as a comprehensive and creative as it was under Shanahan. Sarkisian has shown very little aptitude for finding new and surprising ways to get his players open, deceive defenses, or finding a way to feed his playmakers on a weekly basis. The times when he tries something unexpected, like the jet sweep to Taylor Gabriel on the goal line against the Patriots, it almost seems like he’s straining to try something new and overthinking it. This hasn’t been universal—I thought Sark called some good, clean games early in the season—but it has been true in recent weeks.
The second piece is the confidence from Dan Quinn, which is important. It virtually ensures Sark won’t be fired before season’s end, and he’ll likely get more than one year to implement his system, given that the team sources Klemko talked to believe it’s a similar situation to the one Kyle Shanahan faced in implementing his system in 2015. It’s not a 1-1 comparison, given that Shanahan inherited less talent and didn’t have a blueprint to work off of, but if people inside the building think that, they’re sticking with him.
I’m not sure adding extra practice periods to focus on key priorities is going to fix this thing, and as Klemko notes, I’m not sure it was the best idea to hire outside of the organization when Matt Lafleur and Raheem Morris were available as candidates. What is clear is that Sarkisian will be here a while, and the Falcons will do what they can to ensure this offense gets humming again. Whether it’s enough—and whether it happens soon enough to salvage the season—remains to be seen.