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Shana-dates: Candidates to replace Steve Sarkisian who know Falcons’ scheme

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Here are a few options to consider should a move be made for 2019.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Well, with 2018 already a fluttering memory of pain and agony in all of our collectives, the Atlanta Falcons are expected to make some changes to the coaching staff come January.

The most likely fellow to fall on the sword, so to speak, would be offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sark had a strong first half of the season, but saw his number-hungry offense fade down the stretch.

The team would be more than justified to bring the former college coach back for another year, considering the blocking has been what primarily ails this offense. But then again, the team didn’t exactly play any great defenses when it was averaging 30 points a game.

The stretch where they began to fade started in Cleveland, continued to Dallas, ran into New Orleans and plummeted into Baltimore and Green Bay. All of those teams have experienced play calling and strong defensive rosters (well, mostly strong, in the Pack’s case), and the offense has gone lifeless from its once-high standing.

This supports the theory that Sark’s offenses struggle against top-flight opponents, which will begin to become unacceptable in 2019 as the team inevitably patches up the offensive line problems in the offseason. The team may not wait that long to make a change.

Our Matt Chambers has stumped for the most obvious choice, former Broncos and Texans HC Gary Kubiak, but who else could be considered who could run this offense?

If they want to keep the Kyle Shanahan system, consider the Shana-dates.

Rick Dennison

Dennison has served as the offensive coordinator for three teams, including the Super Bowl 50-winning Denver Broncos. Dennison is a Kubiak guy who runs the Shanahan offense and managed to find a way to win multiple games with Brock Osweiler leading the show while Peyton Manning struggled with foot issues.

He had some sound offenses in Houston when he was with Kubiak from 2010-2013, and clearly knows the outside zone scheme and has found success with it. Just last year, he took a rag-tag team of Buffalo Bills and managed to get them to sixth in rushing yards for the NFL (well, having LeSean McCoy helped). He’s now with the Jets as an offensive line coach/run game coordinator, but there’s just not a ton with him to work with there.

With the Todd Bowles era about to end, Dennison may soon be out of a job. If Kubiak doesn’t want to return to coaching, this could be a guy to watch for. Though, if Kubiak does return to coaching, look for Dennison to join him wherever. Maybe that’s here, maybe that’s elsewhere.

Mike McDaniel

The miserable San Francisco 49ers have still managed to be, as of now, eighth in the league in rushing, which probably goes mostly to you-know-who. But consider the team’s run game coordinator, former Falcons offensive assistant Mike McDaniel, who specifically focuses on the success of the running backs. They’re also without starter Jerick McKinnon, an even more impressive feather in this statistical cap.

Nobody likes the optic of plucking a coordinator from a team likely to pick in the top three of the draft, but McDaniel could be a star in the making. His name bubbled up in the offensive coaching conversation when Shanny left, but the team opted for Sark. Perhaps now it’s time to give him a shot?

He’s got much more experience at this point and has shown he can handle more responsibility. Maybe he’s ready for a coordinator gig? It’d be a little risky, but the reward is evident.

Jon Embree

I mention Embree not just because he’s on Shanahan’s staff as the assistant head coach, which shows leadership, but because of one name: George Kittle.

Kittle, a 2017 fifth-round selection by the Niners, has emerged as one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game and one of the most resounding latter-round draft selections in some time. He’s an emerging star in the league, and his development might squarely go to Embree, his positional coach.

It’s a fascinating little subplot that might have other organizations wondering what else Embree is capable of.

Greg Knapp

I honestly doubt Arthur Blank would be cool with promoting internally given the state of things, but Knapp is a seasoned mind who could perhaps convince the organization he knows how to right the ship. He’s also, as we’ve mentioned here before, from the Kubiak tree and had worked with some great quarterbacks.

He and Ryan probably have a decent enough rapport now, too. But, he’s not held this job since 2012 with an abysmal Raiders team. Perhaps quarterback coaching is just where he’s best-suited. This is more of an outside idea than anything else, but he does have recency bias working in his favor.

Mike Shanahan

Alright, this is a little out there, but consider it for a moment.

The elder Shanahan has been out of the league for quite some time, but he’s only 66. One wonders what would happen if Blank gave him a call and sold him on the idea to finish the journey his son once started.

And, if things went sour in San Francisco next season and the younger Shanny found himself on the hot seat, perhaps dad could keep the seat warm for son to make his grand return to the franchise he nearly won a title with. There’s no doubt Pop Shanny would be an exciting hire, though the odds of this happening are quite, quite slim.

But, y’know, if you’re looking for someone to run the Shanahan offense, you might as well consider the guy who invented it.

Check back soon to see Part Two of our potential offensive coordinators for 2019, a.k.a. those outside the Shanahan tree.