The Falcons’ 2017 offense was, in almost every way, worse than it was during that historic 2016 season. We’ve covered the myriad reasons for that throughout the last few months, so I’m not going to beat that particular horse to death today. I am going to share some stats courtesy of Aaron Freeman at FalcFans that help make it clear how the team chose to use some of its personnel, however.
Some shorthand, here, that will help you make sense of this if you’re not familiar with these packages. The first number reflects the number of running backs on the field in a given personnel grouping, while the second reflects the number of tight ends. So an 11 formation features one running back and one tight end, which means the Falcons have three receivers on the field. And so on.
#Falcons 2017 personnel groupings:— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) February 17, 2018
11: 499 plays, 50.5%
12: 200 plays, 20.2%
21: 159 plays, 16.1%
20: 38 plays, 3.8%
10: 26 plays, 2.6%
13: 21 plays, 2.1%
22: 18 plays, 3.6%
23: 6 plays, 0.6%
01: 2 plays, 0.2%
00: 2 plays, 0.2%
What you’ll note here is that the Falcons ran more than half of all of their plays in 2017 out of a one back, one tight end formation, with a significant chunk of the remaining plays coming with one back and two tight ends (typically Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo) or two backs (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, or one of those two with Derrick Coleman). There simply weren’t a lot of empty sets or heavy sets, though Freeman notes the team ran more in the second half of the year.
#Falcons 2017 personnel groupings in last 8 games (when they went 6-2):— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) February 17, 2018
In 1st 8 games, 93.2% of #Falcons plays were in 11, 12 or 21. In 2nd half, it was only 80.5%
The Falcons’ offense didn’t suddenly catch fire at the end of the year, and they were ultimately very disappointing against a tough Eagles defense, but I do think this indicates that Steve Sarkisian was starting to feel more comfortable mixing things up later in the year. For the Falcons to be successful on offense in 2018, they’ll need more variability in their looks (as well as better execution), so hopefully this is just a sign of things to come.
I’m especially interested in seeing more of #4 package on this second list, where the Falcons get a lot of wide receivers on the field with (ideally) both Freeman and Coleman, which creates a lot of problems for defenses who need to figure out how to get everyone covered and accounted for. One of the biggest legitimate knocks on Sarkisian was that he couldn’t figure out how to get his players in favorable positions, and I hope he will at least start there.