When Coach Dirk Koetter returned to the Falcons, it was believed (incorrectly) that he could build on the offense as it was. It was also believed that the familiarity with Matt Ryan that Koetter built from 2012-2014 would be a positive for this group, as they could pick up where they left off.
However, what we saw was Matt getting hit even more than he did in 2017 and a nearly non-existent running game for much of the season, which was not the result we wanted. With elite stars like Ryan and Julio Jones on the offensive side of the ball, there’s no reason why this unit should be ever be average, and they definitely should not be in 2020.
Here are some specific scheme and personnel changes that can make this offense the juggernaut it once was.
Establish an effective offensive identity
Easier said than done, right?
This offense really hasn’t had a solid identity since Shanahan left. Dating back to his first stint as offensive coordinator in Atlanta and even before that in Jacksonville, Koetter’s offense has always been an offense predicated on a high level vertical passing attack. He was brought in initially by Coach Mike Smith to bring in explosive plays, either by play action, 7 step drops or shotgun formations. As effective as this can be, forcing your QB into a 7 step drop for longer developing routes forces your offensive line to really hold up longer in pass protection.
Without an effective rushing attack, you’re asking for your QB to take some punishment. Right now, this is a pass heavy offense that throws some runs in hoping to show balance, but that’s not an identity that has been working out for Atlanta thus far.
Coach Koetter needs to really focus on establishing an effective identity by having a real focus on running the ball using a zone blocking scheme first and foremost. The ZBS makes things easier for your offensive line by allowing them to block a certain zone instead of focusing on defensive formations, and it requires an athletic offensive line, which the Falcons happen to have.
From that running game, Koetter can then comfortably utilize play action, bootlegs and waggles to get Ryan in motion and buy him to really attack a defense. Moving the pocket for Ryan with misdirection will keep him upright more often than not.
Use personnel to their strengths
Remember what I said about the Falcons offensive line? This is actually a pretty athletic group. Outside of LG, which I think is currently on the squad (hello, Matt Gono!), and finding an eventual replacement for Mack, this group is more than equipped to be an average to above average unit this coming season.
This group got exposed last season because they’re not built to sit back in pass protection for over 35-40 snaps a game, especially with no effective running game. The fun for it for most linemen is being able to move others off the line against their will and throw blocks in the second level. Let them!
Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in the game. The reason for it is because there’s nothing he can’t do on the football field. He can play the X(split end), the slot or Y, or even Z on the strong side of the formation. Keeping him in motion will create loads of mismatches. Don’t stop doing that.
Calvin Ridley is such a smooth route runner and creates separation on his own, no matter what route he runs. He sets up his routes perfectly and has amazing body control. Koetter needs to use this to his advantage by setting up his routes. If one play calls for a 5 route(out route), then the next variation to that play should be an out and up.
Mix up and properly utilize personnel groupings to create favorable match ups
As a receiver, you’re taught to keep your stance the exact same when going up against a cornerback. Why? You want to keep that CB guessing as to which route you’re running when you fire off the ball. The same can be said for an offense schematically. The defense shouldn’t be able to key in on your tendencies based off of your personnel. Personnel groupings are everything. All offensive coordinators have their Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3 and quarters beaters.
However, the personnel you put on the field not only dictates match ups, but a good coordinator can run any play from any formation effectively. Koetter has to be less predictable when it comes to personnel groupings. If he’s in ‘22’ personnel, (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR), he must have multiple plays out of that formation to hit the defense at least 20 different ways. This can’t just be a clue that they’re going to run an inside zone, outside or gap play. Koetter needs to use his personnel groupings to dictate match ups more frequently and be forward thinking in his play calling and route concepts.
Prioritizing the run, utilizing the talent he has and showing more ingenuity with his personnel groupings have to be paramount for an effective offense this coming season. Koetter has said that these are priorities. The question is, will he actually produce that on the field?