Coming into this season, the Falcons made it clear that Dirk Koetter would be running the “Shanahan offense” far more in 2020. It was a relief, since the 2019 offense looked disjointed and lost and Matt Ryan had one of his worst seasons ever. Yet, through four games, the Falcons offense has been more miss than hit, even if Koetter’s overall game planning has seemed less shaky. They’ve scored more than 30 points just once and they looked completely hapless against a Green Bay defense that they should have been able to score on, which is a deeply worrying sign.
It’s pretty clear Dirk is not running the “Shanahan offense” at this point. Far from it. That’s less important than offensive success in any form, and if he just institutes a few changes, it could make a big difference in the productivity of this offense.
More pre-snap motion
This is a staple of the Shanny offense and it’s becoming a predominant trait of the most successful offenses in the NFL. Guess what? The Falcons are almost dead last in doing so.
By popular demand: rate of motion at the snap for all 32 teams in 2020. Via ESPN's video tracking team. pic.twitter.com/ozbJTHbXAv— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 7, 2020
Guys, only the New York Jets are using it less than we are. THE FREAKING JETS. That’s not a comparison we want to be making. A quick glance at the embedded data shows a lot of successful offenses in the top 10 and a lot of poor offenses in the bottom 10. This is not a coincidence, though obviously this is not a hard-and-fast rule because the bottom 10 also includes productive Browns and Cowboys offenses.
This movement before and at the snap can create favorable match ups and force the defense to show its hand. For a cerebral QB like Matt Ryan, it gives him a great read into the defensive alignment. For receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, it lets them dictate the matchup they get. It literally provides benefits to the strongest parts of your offense. The Falcons need to flip this chart dramatically. There’s simply no reason to be dead last in this regard.
Stop running so much on 2nd and long
It seems like every week we’ve seen fans complain that we run too much on 2nd down. Sometimes, those proclamations are just frustrations that aren’t backed by the data. This year though, it’s not only legitimate, the Falcons are the absolute worst in the league at doing this.
Which teams are the best at avoiding rushing on 2nd & long?— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) October 6, 2020
Falcons, what. are. you. doing. pic.twitter.com/CYXWhPGbiI
This is just ... stupid. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s really, really stupid. You’re not fooling anyone, Dirk. Again, look at the offenses at the top of this chart and you have quite a few of the best offenses in the league. And there we are at the bottom with the Jets, Bengals and Broncos to keep us company.
I’m not against running on 2nd and long. If done right, it can be very effective, and we’ev already seen Todd Gurley break a couple of big runs in this exact scenario. The problem is that the Falcons are doing it so much that the opposing defenses have no problem identifying it. They can stack the box and the end result is a 3rd and long, which forces the team into a guaranteed passing situation, which defenses can ALSO key in on. Because it hurts the team’s 3rd down chances, it really should be used sparingly.
Use Todd Gurley more in the passing game
This is sort of an extension of the prior trait, but it uniquely applies to Todd Gurley. When we signed him, fans were excited about his potential as a runner and as a receiver. After all, with the Rams he had 21, 43, 64, 59 and 31 receptions since the 2015 season, although he was coming off the least productive season of his career in that regard. Right now, he’s on pace for 16 receptions. Yup - one per freaking game. Look at this ridiculously lopsided utilization:
Quick glance at #Falcons use of RBs.— Socially Distancing DW (@FalcoholicDW) October 7, 2020
Pct of plays that are a run (compared to carries + targets):
Gurley: 89% run
Hill: 68% run
Smith: 50% run
Gurley truly is being used almost exclusively as a runner. Koetter has no idea what he's doing.
Brian Hill and Ito Smith are benefiting from an offense that is less predictable when they’re in the backfield. Statistically speaking, defenses can’t key in as much for a running play when those two guys are back there. The defense can’t just stack the box and expect to succeed.
However, with Gurley, the team is using him almost exclusively as a runner. They simply don’t have to honor him much as a receiver because he’s not getting many looks. At all. It’s possible that some of this is Matt Ryan not looking for him, but given Ryan’s success in the past with passing to running backs (and his success passing to Hill and Smith), I’m going to put the blame for this at Dirk Koetter’s feet. He needs to create more opportunities for Gurley instead of treating him like Michael Turner 2.0.
Honestly, there are more things Koetter could do differently, but these three things stand out the most at this moment and seem relatively straightforward to chip away. And if I’m being completely blunt, I just don’t think we’ll see Dirk make these adjustments.
Are you more optimistic about his offense or does it feel like a let-down to you as well? Let us know in the comments below.