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Falcons are trying to “move back” to an outside zone scheme

We now have multiple questions about 2019.

Los Angeles Rams v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Falcons can be a frequent source of migraines, heart burn, and frustration.

It has been the most consistent thing about this regime, more accurately stretching back to the turn on the millennium. Fans get to see exactly how the team can be successful, then the team will inevitably do the exact opposite, while telling fans, “Trust us, we definitely aren’t doing the opposite.”

After Kyle Shanahan showed how his unique outside zone blocking scheme paired with multiple options ran out of the same formations was a great way to establish an unstoppable running game and produce explosive passing plays finding mismatches, there were two ways to go with a replacement.

The first, of course, is to retain as much of the existing staff and add coaches with experience running that scheme. The second ended up being clearing out the existing staff and adding a coach with no experience coordinating in the NFL or coordinating in the scheme. Steve Sarkisian showed promise but he certainly did not need to re-enter coaching as an NFL coordinator. He was overmatched, and despite the staff’s insistence that they knew what worked in 2016 and would keep doing that, immediately stopped doing what was most successful under Shanahan. The former MVP quarterback lost his run game and the creativity that schemed open depth players and things never looked the same.

After realizing their mistake, the team brought in another coach with no experience running Shanahan’s scheme to run Shanahan’s scheme. Fans again heard some uneven insistence that the outside zone would remain despite Koetter’s experience using a power blocking scheme.

Just look at the offensive line in Koetter’s last season in Atlanta in 2014 and Shanahan’s first season in Atlanta in 2015. The only holdovers were Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, and James Stone.

After offensive coaches insisted the outside zone was here to stay, the team signed Jamon Brown (340 pounds) and James Carpenter (321 pounds), two players with concerning size for a blocking scheme that prioritized athleticism and speed. This would be similar to Mike Nolan dropping Kroy Biermann as a safety from the line of scrimmage or Paul Soliai into coverage. Except the scheme requires all the blockers working in tandem. Part of the line cannot be running one plan while the other part is running another.

Look at Atlanta’s most successful guard under Shanahan’s scheme and you will not be surprised to see that Andy Levitre at only 303 pounds was much more effective at going into motion and blocking at the next level than the big-body road graders. Chris Chester was 303 pounds. Ben Garland was 308 pounds. James Stone was 291 pounds. Mike Person was 299 pounds. Gino Gradkowski was 300 pounds.

Notice the lack of 340-pound blockers.

The Falcons were not going to run an outside zone in 2019, at least not well, with the confusing personnel additions. Brown is now cut. And per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carpenter may be next thanks to the team slowly figuring out their bad plan in 2019 was, in fact, the bad plan many expected.

Carpenter’s season was marred by injuries, and he was graded lower than Brown (53 to 45) by Pro Football Focus. Carpenter, a former first-pick from Alabama, started 11 games last season. He’s more of a power blocker, and the Falcons are trying to move back to the outside zone scheme.

No surprise based on the team’s performance last year, but yes, the Falcons had a bad plan with no realistic possibility of it succeeding. However, it is refreshing to see a report that the bad idea we all knew was happening did happen. Now the braintrust has cut at least one, and possibly both overpriced, misfit players. What an expensive way to follow through on such a bad idea.

The Falcons knew what worked. Instead of trying for consistency around their most successful aspect in decades, the braintrust tried cramming some square pegs into round holes. A slew of underqualified and unqualified coaches put together bad plans with repercussions that will extend multiple seasons. Somehow, all of those responsible parties kept their jobs. The offensive line was a major disappointment yet again.

The Falcons can be a frequent source of migraines, heart burn, and frustration.