Falcons offensive coordinators are a veritable lightning rod. When the offense is successful, they’re praised and loved and offered head coaching positions. When the offense struggles, they are the Bride of Satan. Doubly so if you’re an offensive coordinator tasked with taking over one of the most successful offenses in NFL history.
Enter Steve Sarkisian. Our newest Bride of the Devil. He was brought in with no experience calling an NFL offense and told to run the same playbook as the guy before him (who had done it for over a decade at the NFL level). Sark has gotten a tremendous amount of heat from fans with many calling for his firing. We already know that is not going to happen, so many are already writing off the Falcons offense for 2018.
While we may never see an offense as good as the 2016 unit again (it truly was historic), there are legitimate reasons to think this offense can be a top-10 unit again in 2018.
A full off-season and real-world experience
For the much-maligned Steve Sarkisian, his time with the Falcons didn’t start until February of 2017. That meant getting to know his players, their strengths, preferences and a host of other things along with learning a completely new playbook. For this year, Sark won’t have to go through the same process again.
With a full season under his belt and plenty of tape to review, Sark will undoubtedly go into his second season with a far better understanding of the playbook, the players and what did/did not work during the 2017 season. There’s very little time during the season to do a ton of self-analysis, but with half a year to go until the preseason, you can bet that Sark will have all the time in the world to dive deep into what he wants this offense to be.
There’s no guarantee that Sarkisian will become a mastermind in one off-season, but it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll be more experienced and comfortable with the offense in year two. That should make a difference no matter what.
Statistical anomalies should regress to the mean
In 2016, the Falcons led the league with the fewest drops. In 2017, they flipped the script and became the worst in the league. That level of variance is not normal, especially when dealing with the same players on the field. This strongly suggests that the issue with drops should regress back to a normal (league average) number in 2018.
Additionally, Matt Ryan threw 12 INTs on the season but a ridiculous 8 of those were not his fault. In fact, PFF rated Ryan as the QB with the LEAST number of interceptable throws on the season. That kind of “bad luck” is not something that normally holds up year over year and I’d also expect that to regress back to the mean.
These two stats are not significant by themselves, but they are additional “little” factors that piled on top of so many others to derail this offense. If the numbers correct like they normally do, it could lead to better overall performance in 2018.
Improved offensive guard play
The Falcons faced a murderers row of great defensive tackles this year and the punishment was mostly doled out on first year starter Wes Schweitzer. At the tail end of the season, though, Ben Garland was similarly punished after reliable starter Andy Levitre landed on IR. Having two “new” starters at both guard spots inevitably put a strain on the offense, particularly in the playoffs where they had to face Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox in back-to-back weeks.
Going into 2018, Levitre should be back at his normal spot at left guard. As decent as Garland was in fill-in duty, Levitre is a very good starter at the position and was hard to replace. A full year of experience should help Schweitzer improve, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons looked for a veteran to compete for the right guard spot or drafted a guard in the early rounds of the draft. The combination of these things should help improve the interior offensive line again, giving the offense more time to stretch the field vertically: something they struggled to do as Ryan faced muddier pockets towards the end of the year.
None of these factors are guarantees, so I’d appreciate you folks not throwing this back in my face if everything goes south. However, these are not unrealistic expectations either. There’s good reason to believe one or more of these could turn the corner and contribute to an improved offense in 2018. We may not see a record breaking season again, but a top-10 finish shouldn’t be ruled out.