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Falcoholic mailbag roundtable series: What should Falcons fans expect from Dirk Koetter?

We at least have some idea of what we’re getting into with Atlanta’s once and current offensive coordinator.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the third edition of The Falcoholic’s mailbag roundtable, let’s dig into the offense. FalconFaninMaine has some questions about the return of Dirk Koetter and what that will mean on the offensive side of the ball.

I’ll just let FalconFaninMaine set this up in his own words.

When Shanny got here, he knew the playbook (obviously), but he had to learn all of his new players. He struggled badly in year one albeit behind a porous o-line. When Sark was hired, he had to learn the playbook and all of the players, and he struggles badly in year one, as well.

Koetter has a better o-line than Shanny had in 2015, and he does bring a ton more NFL OC experience than Sark had in 2017. But, he still has to learn a whole new playbook as well as, a bunch of new players.

Assuming the o-line plays as well as we’re hoping, should we still be tempering expectations about this offense in Koetter’s first year, or do you think we’ll be scoring 30+ points per game?

Also, how much will Koetter add to this playbook with his own plays (percentage wise), and will they have to reduce Shanny’s playbook to make that happen?

Our staff weighs in below.

I’d advise cautious optimism. When Koetter first got here, it didn’t take long for his offense to perform very well in 2012. Julio Jones had a banner year and Matt Ryan was finally leading a pass first offense. Koetter will come in with far more experience with two of the most important offensive players in Ryan and Julio, so the learning curve is greatly reduced. That said, 30 points per game is such a lofty goal no matter who is directing the offense. Even the 2016 offense needed things to go nearly perfect all season to hit that mark. I do think Koetter - with a good OL and great skill players - can direct a top-5 unit, which should be more than enough to keep this team in the playoff race. - DW

I’m going to suggest we won’t see that that first year dud. First, regardless of what Dan Quinn says, I believe we will be seeing Dirk Koetter’s offense, perhaps with a few wrinkles to adjust to the different blocking scheme. This will still be a pass-heavy team, and the offensive line additions suggest a strong transition away from pure ZBS players. If we remember, Sarkisian was going to run Shanahan’s offense and what we saw was anything but. Second, Koetter already knows and has years of experience with the most important players: Ryan and Julio. Third, I believe we are overlooking Shanahan’s success in prior stops, which can be best described as mediocre, while typically under offensive head coaches. I can’t say the offense will return to 2016 but the talent is there and we should see Koetter’s highs and lows pretty quickly. If his first season is a dud it is almost certainly his only year running the offense. - Matt

Put simply, there is no excuse for this offense not to be in the top five in scoring (barring catastrophic injury). The skill position group is among the best in the NFL and it was poor performance from the offensive line which served as the primary hindrance last season. The money and draft capital has been invested in the line, this offseason, and the excuses are gone. As for Koetter, I don’t think we’ll see those big first year struggles we experienced with Shannahan and Sarkisian. Remember, Koetter has experience as Matt Ryan’s offensive coordinator, filling that role for the Falcons for three years before moving on to Tampa. Ryan had one his best seasons ever in his first year working with Koetter in 2012. Because of Ryan’s comfort and proven success with him, I’d expect Koetter to bring in a good chunk of his own plays to the table (we’ll see a lot of the vertical offense this year). It should be a very exciting and explosive year for the Falcons’ offense. - Adnan

I worry. Koetter’s familiarity with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones helps here, as does a vastly superior line and rushing attack (at least on paper) to what he enjoyed in Atlanta or Tampa Bay from 2012-2018. But Koetter’s tendencies over the years are consistent and worrisome, in that his teams run a ton on first down, run quite a bit on second down, and hardly ever run (and fare very poorly) on third and fourth down. As good as these Falcons are and ought to be, they’re a Devonta Freeman injury or some offensive line struggles away from being a predictable offense unless Koetter has something up his sleeve. The talent here is great and Koetter’s at least proven himself to be a solid coordinator at every stop, but I’m still convinced he’s going to prove himself to be the kind of massive upgrade on Steve Sarkisian we’re all hoping for. A healthy Devonta Freeman ought to fix a lot of problems, at least. —Dave

Excellent questions, FalconFaninMaine! First off, I would lighten expectations on the offense scoring 30 (or more) points per game, not because the talent isn’t there, but because it rarely happens. From 2015-2018, only six teams finished the season averaging 30+ points per game, and none of them won the Super Bowl. It’s obviously very important to have a high points per game average, but what’s happening on defense is arguably more important. I did like the move to bring back Dirk Koetter, I think his familiarity with Matt Ryan should smooth the transition, as Sark and Shanahan both struggled in their first seasons in Atlanta. I think a underrated move was the Falcons hiring former Buccaneers tight end coach Ben Steele as an offensive assistant. He was promoted in 2017 by then Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter. The Buccaneers had one of the best tight end groups in the league in 2018 as TE’s Cameron Brate and OJ Howard combined for 11 receiving touchdowns. I have a feeling Austin Hooper is in for a big year. In regards to your second question, I imagine Dirk will add a bunch of his own plays, as he should be aware of what makes Matt Ryan comfortable, and also uncomfortable. – Evan Birchfield

I’ll be honest; I think this offense is going to surprise a lot of people. Dirk Koetter’s pass-happy ways have always fit what Matt Ryan likes best, and even in the lean years of 2013 and 2014 when the Falcons’ defense couldn’t hold a goldfish in a bathtub and the offensive line couldn’t do much better, the team’s offensive statistics didn’t fade away. It’s hard for a offensive coordinator to do a lot when his OL is bad. This season, he’s got the best offensive line he’s probably had as a coach since 2012. The Falcons have given Koetter the chess pieces he needs to succeed; I think he very much will. 30 points a game feels unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get there more than a few times, and it doesn’t mean they won’t find ways to win ballgames. This won’t be the 2016 offense, but it could be as good as the 2012 offense (Koetter’s first-first year). That should get us all excited for the potential. — Cory

I feel better about the offense with a return to Koetter than I would with some new guy coming in off of the street. Every time an offense has to adjust to a new coordinator, and vice versa, you have a learning curve. I think that curve is shorter for the Falcons this year because of the mutual familliarity between Koetter and top players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. I think we will see a greater shift away from Kyle Shanahan’s philosophy and see the offense move back toward Koetter’s approach, while retaining the key elements where Ryan was able to maximize his skill set. The offensive line upgrades give me even more hope that we don’t see much of a step back for this offense this year. - Jeanna