Today brought the Falcons’ wrap-up press conference for the 2017 season. As expected, the Falcons addressed some of their looming offseason issues, like contract extensions and free agents. They also finally, firmly, and totally answered the lingering question about Steve Sarkisian that everyone’s asking. He will be here in 2018.
That’s not going to make a lot of people happy, obviously. The easy public relations move would have been to fire Sark, buying the team goodwill with the fanbase regardless of who they hired to replace him. The good news is that the team is not making decisions based on PR when it comes to the coaching staff, which would be the kind of mistake that has doomed other franchises. The bad news is that Sark is returning, and no one’s quite certain what that will mean for the offense in 2018.
Dan Quinn started today's season-ending press conference by saying ``yes'' Steve Sarkisian will be back as his offensive coordinator. Quinn said he's not going to make a chance just to make a change. Said the offensive woes weren't on just one person. https://t.co/d17UCqdQNB— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) January 18, 2018
In his remarks, Quinn correctly pointed out that you can’t hang the offense’s woes on one man. Julio Jones led the league in drops (??), Matt Ryan had eight interceptions off of the hands and butts of other players, Devonta Freeman, Andy Levitre, and a handful of others missed time, and the pass protection was up and down all year long. All the things that went well for the Falcons in 2016—field position, turnovers, and broken plays—either didn’t go as well or went horribly in 2017. You can chalk some of that up to inevitable regression and bad luck.
That said, Sark’s play calling came under fire over and over again in 2018, and for good reason. Personally, I often felt like he was overly cute with screens and jet sweeps and the like when he didn’t need to be, and that he was unable to make the best use of weapons like Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper throughout the entire year. The biggest problem, though, was Atlanta’s abysmal performance in the red zone, where the Falcons routinely settled for field goals or fizzled out. Too often, Sarkisian couldn’t seem to get anybody open in the red zone, and while he called the occasionally fun run play with Dontari Poe clearing the way, things got haphazard and obvious too often near the goal line. The Falcons didn’t score nearly 200 fewer points because Sark was doing a brilliant job, let’s put it that way.
Still, Sark is going to get another turn at the wheel, potentially with a more experienced quarterbacks coach and potentially an offensive consultant to try to coax better results out of him. There are obvious reasons for optimism, with Julio likely to drop fewer passes, an increased comfort level for Sark, and a regression to the mean for Ryan’s incredibly unlucky turnovers. But that improvement is going to depend on Sarkisian working extensively to come up with better solutions in the red zone, and it’s going to require some personnel upgrades at receiver and (probably) along the offensive line. If the Falcons stand pat, my expectations for next year’s offense will be pretty muted.
At the end of the day, it’s one more chance for Sark because the Falcons prize continuity, and Quinn likes and trusts Sark to get the job done. It’s more than fair to say that if the offense doesn’t take a step forward this year, it will likely be Sark’s last in Atlanta.