If you’re going to play in Texas, you’ve got to have a fiddle in the band. No, we’re not here to rehash the catalog of Alabama (unless you’re talking about draft prospects), but we are here to come to terms with life under Dirk Koetter’s offense in 2020.
The fear the Falcons with keeping Dan Quinn was that one of his vices would pop up yet again. As much as you might love Quinn like I do, he’s got a thing about being a bit too willing to believe in people at times.
That might seem like a most rigorous virtue, and in most cases, it is. Quinn’s patience with Kyle Shanahan after a shaky 2015 led to an NFC Championship the next year. But his patience with Steve Sarkisian after a nose dive in productivity led to more inconsistency in 2018.
Koetter’s 2019 return to Atlanta flamed out in mediocre fashion, despite not boasting all that many injuries to explain it away. All of us wondered if Quinn would even survive a second-straight failed OC hire. As it turned out, it was the opposite. Everyone is back right where they left it, and all the team can do now is just hope Koetter can figure it out before the next official kickoff.
Now, you can’t just always fire coordinators after one bad year. But sometimes, the proof is in the pudding. Learning to know when to move on and when to be patient is what keeps people in their jobs. With Shanahan, there was reason to wait. With Sarkisian, it was a bit hard to tell, and you don’t blame Quinn for giving him another shot. With Koetter, it’s very easy to justify what happened in 2019 not being good enough and moving onto someone else.
That’s not what happened. Quinn’s fate is now tied to Koetter figuring it out. If this team can’t take a supposedly-potent offense and get it scoring touchdowns in bunches again, no one will make it to 2021, nor should they. With plenty of encouraging offensive minds out on this coaching cycle, keeping Koetter feels like not the best call for a coach who is trying to save his own skin.
Koetter’s pass-happy offense was only 12th in DVOA with Football Outsiders, and his rushing attack sits at 23rd. It’s cumulatively good for middle of the road in the NFL. Koetter isn’t terrible, and some weeks, he and this offense can perform. But for what Atlanta can be, he was a stark disappointment last year.
But you can only bemoan this move so much before you have to just come to terms with what is and plan accordingly.
For Atlanta to work with Koetter this fall, they’re going to have to continue to tinker with and invest in this offense to get it to be so talented it can operate outside of his shortcomings.
You could attack this in a lot of ways, from keeping Austin Hooper (who thrived in Koetter’s scheme), finding ways to improve that left guard spot (the others feel locked in unless the team cuts Alex Mack) and in just continuing to find different weapons to pad the passing game. The 2012 “pick your poison” attack has to be the goal.
The team fielding an elite rushing attack just doesn’t feel plausible right now unless they decide to part ways with Devonta Freeman and draft an elite prospect. But then again, Koetter has never had an elite rushing attack. They’ve always been decent at best.
For now, the future of this Falcons offense is in the air. Koetter’s ways are what they are, and the team has to make sure this offseason is about catering to those strengths appropriately.
Perhaps they take another receiver or tight end higher in the draft (third or fourth round) to ensure this team has a lot of pass catchers. Perhaps they take a running back in the first round to hope they’re the next elite option in the ground attack. Perhaps they add a left guard first and complete the major investments there.
Whatever happens, they’ll have to make sure it works to Koetter’s advantage. Get the most talented roster for him to work with possible. That’s what worked in 2012: the team had a boatload of talent at his disposal, he did pretty well with so many weapons and they made it all the way to the NFC Championship game.
If you don’t cater to him, it could be another lost year and guaranteed changes across the board for 2021.