I will be the first to admit I had a strong level of optimism after the Falcons signed Dirk Koetter in 2019. When Dan Quinn cleaned house in 2015, I felt like Koetter was far from the problem that got Mike Smith fired. His red-zone play-calling was never optimal, but his passing attack what great when the offensive line held up. Of course, Falcons fans were only able to compare Koetter to Mike Mularkey’s exotic smash mouth offense. Perhaps my expectations were too low.
Regardless, Mularkey seemed like a safe pick for 2019 thanks to loads of coordinating experience and his relationship with a lot of the offensive players. With a small window remaining for top players, bringing back Koetter should prevent a down year like in 2015.
The down year in fact happened, but in contrast to Kyle Shanahan and Steve Sarkisian, we did not see flashes of greatness. Even Sarkisian poured 34 points on the Green Bay Packers and another 34 points on the Seattle Seahawks. Koetter helped score 30 or more just three times in 2019, twice in losses to the Cardinals and Texans, and 40 against the hapless Carolina Panthers.
The offense simply never progressed. Despite a renewed dedication to the run game, the Falcons lead the league in passing rates. The blocking scheme has turned into a mess as Koetter tried to stick his scheme on the ill-fitting personnel. The run game was predictable, basic, and lacking any creativity. Pass catchers were expected to make contested catches because they were never schemed into being open. For those reasons, Devonta Freeman finished the season with his lowest yards per carry of his career (second only to his 2014 season under Koetter). The team averaged 0.7 fewer yards per carry (4.5 to 3.8) and 212 fewer yards across the season. Matt Ryan had his highest number of interceptions since 2015.
How does this happen? Sarkisian was adjusting to the NFL and the personnel. Koetter has been in the NFL since 2007 and has experience with these players.
It seemed certain that Dan Quinn was on his way out earlier this season. The tides turned with a defensive turnaround. With Raheem Morris successfully taking over the defense, things could work if the Falcons searched for a new offensive coordinator up to the challenge.
We now know that will not happen. Dimitroff and Quinn risked their jobs by placing big bets on the 2019 season. All of those bets failed but both returned. The Falcons making stunningly bad decisions is becoming just as common as failing to pressure the opposing quarterback or running up the middle on second-and-long.
It should no long surprise fans to see the team do the unthinkable. We spent half of last offseason wondering if the Falcons would simply let Vic Beasley walk or try to negotiate a deal lower than his fifth-year option. In one of so many laughably bad moves, the braintrust brought back the disappointing pass rusher as a full priced starter. The team ignored the pass rush problems, certain Beasley could become what he briefly was in 2016. The Falcons finished tied for 29th in team sacks, behind only the Miami Dolphins.
With Beasley penned into the starting lineup, the team used their limited available cash to fix the offensive line. Those players were Ty Sambrailo (0 starts), career underperformer James Carpenter, and Jamon Brown who finished the season as a healthy inactive. Not only were all three overpaid and predictably failed, but the team’s plan after the signings were to add even more offensive linemen in the draft. At least it was a plan. A confusing plan full of risk, but better than just sitting back and doing nothing. In 2018, the team’s only major free agent signing was Brandon Fusco (out of the league).
Matt Ryan was unsurprisingly sacked a career-high 48 times in 2019. Everyone behind this comedy of errors is back for “continuity.” Was the offensive line fixed? Not even close. Did the pass rush improve? No, the Falcons had 9 fewer sacks than in 2018. Was the offense better with Koetter? No, despite frequently playing from behind, the team put up 2.1 fewer points and 9.4 fewer yards per game compared to Sarkisian’s 2018.
After all this failure, nothing is changing. Keeping Koetter is another arrogant refusal to fix a problem so the braintrust does not have to admit failure. Fans will watch one of the last remaining prime years of Ryan and Julio Jones go to waste thanks to this continued mismanagement. We have seen enough to know that Koetter is not the answer, and sticking with him is just another blunder we can see one year out.