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How can Steve Sarkisian improve? Football Outsiders weighs in

Sark’s improvement would mean an awful lot for the offense.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This week, we’ll be running questions and answers with Football Outsiders! You can buy this year’s almanac, which is always a great resource for Falcons fans, right here.

Dave Choate: What kind of hope should we have for Steve Sarkisian in his second season, and what, specifically, do you think he should stop calling altogether. Perhaps jet sweeps on 4th and 2?

Bryan Knowles: I’d also avoid setting up season-ending plays with fullbacks split wide and the only two viable receivers running patterns within two yards of one another. Just a thought.

The hope for a good Sarkisian in year two is based around the fact that Sarkisian was a good coordinator in year one…if you exclude the tough bits. The Falcons’ offense was 11th or better in the league in every zone of the field except for the red zone. They were the fifth-best offense on first down, but only 23rd on third-and-long. They were the third-best offense in the first quarter, but only 23rd in late-and-close situations. It wasn’t like Sarkisian was just terrible up and down the field; he just had serious problems in the more stressful and critical situations. Perhaps, with another year under his belt, he’ll be able to better operate in the pressure-packed situations. It’s certainly not a guarantee – and it’s not like Sarkisian is a young kid who had his first exposure to play calling last season – but he’s not a complete write-off yet.

I don’t think there’s anything Sarkisian should stop doing so much as there are things that he should start doing. The Falcons have been really good at using play-action passing, and that continued last season – but Sarkisian used it much less frequently than Kyle Shanhaan did. He also needs to better match his offense to the specific skills of his players. Taylor Gabriel, for instance, was the ninth-best receiver on post routes in 2016 with a 57.7% DVOA; he only had two targets on post routes in all of 2017. To a certain extent, Sarkisian was running a sort of generically decent offense in 2017; he needs to better tailor it to match what his skill position players actually excel at.