With so many personnel changes in Atlanta, Dan Quinn has gotten most of the attention. However, the Falcons made another great coaching hire in Kyle Shanahan. Son of Mike Shanahan, Kyle set the record for being the youngest offensive coordinator in NFL history. Shanahan left the Browns in early January due to a disagreement with the front office regarding Johnny Manziel being the team’s starter. Shanahan has a similar offensive philosophy to Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak, and his father Mike Shanahan who coached in the NFL for nearly 30 years. Never before has Shanahan worked with so much talent on the offensive side of the ball. What can we expect from his West Coast Offense?
ZBS: Zone Blocking Scheme
The biggest adjustment the Falcons will have to make on the offensive side of the ball is the implementation of the Zone Blocking Scheme. We have seen teams such as the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans run the ball effectively due to the ZBS. Running backs Arian Foster and Justin Forsett are great backs, but a lot of their success can be attributed to their offensive line work. They are read-first backs that wait for their blocks. Another back that has excelled in a similar system is Alfred Morris, who worked under Shanahan in Washington. What do all these backs have in common? They are backs who were no-names until brought into the right system. The Falcons wisely drafted Tevin Coleman out of Indiana, where they ran various zone plays, and he showed great vision. He is a one cut back, but that’s all you need to be successful in the ZBS.
The one thing he will need to work on is being patient and waiting for his blocks, but look at Alfred Morris and then Tevin Coleman. Morris is better at absorbing contact, but they have similar running styles and run a lot of the same types of plays.
So what does the ZBS entail for the lineman? Well you must be athletic, flexible and able to move laterally. Teams that implement this scheme usually have much improved results in their rushing attack. Instead of each lineman having one man to block, the line works in unison to create double teams for defensive lineman. I will warn Falcons fans that this could take some time to be effective. The ZBS requires the linemen to master a lot of new techniques, which could take time. Another injury-plagued season in the trenches could be a nightmare for Atlanta. I stressed earlier this offseason that the Falcons should bring in Center Chris Myers, who ran the ZBS under Shanahan in Houston, making him a Pro-Bowl Center. While we didn’t sign Myers (who is still a Free Agent) we did bring in Offensive Tackle Tyler Polombus who worked under Shanahan during his tenure with the Washington Redskins. I cannot stress enough how beneficial this signing will be, even if he never sees the field. This will be a big transition for the line, and having some familiarity is a huge advantage for this unit. Worried about the pass game? Matt Schaub was a Pro-Bowler in Shanahan’s system behind the ZBS. Enough said.
A Ton of Play-Action
If the Falcons can establish a respectable running game, defenses are in trouble. It’s pretty amazing when you look at Matt Ryan’s numbers and take into account that he played behind a makeshift offensive line and teams knew the pass was coming. If the run game is effective, opposing defenses will have to respect it. Shanahan will implement a ton of bootlegs and rollouts for Matty Ice, providing him with time to set his feet and use two of the best receivers in the game to his advantage. Check out Matt Schaub’s highlights from 2011. Shanahan was then with the Redskins, but the Texans were still using the same West Coast Offense under Head Coach Gary Kubiak. Look how many roll outs and bootlegs were used:
The possibilities are endless with Matt Ryan at the helm. We saw Shanahan make Brian Hoyer look like a serviceable QB in this system. Joe Flacco had the best year of his career under Kubiak in this system last season. As I said, Matt Schaub made Pro-Bowls due largely in part to this system. There is no doubt that Matt Ryan possesses more ability than all of these QBs. Buy this kid some time and the Dirty Birds will be so dangerous on offense.
More Tight End Play
Tight ends are a big part of this system, a position where the Falcons aren’t exactly loaded now. Owen Daniels and Jordan Cameron have had career years under Kyle Shanahan. As a pass catching Tight End, I think Jacob Tamme will see a lot of receptions this year in the new offense. Tamme will likely serve as Ryan’s security blanket, seeing a lot of catches between 5-10 yards out, while Julio Jones and Roddy White go out for deep passes.
Overall I think the Shanahan hire was a great decision for the Falcons. Steven Jackson averaged only 3.7 YPC last season, and the run-game needed to be addressed. I think Shanahan was the perfect man for the job. I think the West Coast Offense can make the Falcons a top 5 team on offense this season if the line adapts and stays healthy.