Dirk Koetter must show development within his offensive scheme as much as any player within the organization. He did not exactly live up to the expectations many had for him when he returned for his second stint in Atlanta, failing to bring a more balanced offensive philosophy to the team like he and Dan Quinn said they wanted to do. Two years ago, under Steve Sarkisian, the Falcons ranked fifth in passing offense and near last in rushing offense. One year later, nothing has changed; the offense ranked third in passing and 30th in rushing.
There are a few reasons for their inability to take steps forward. Dirk Koetter derives his philosophies from the Dan Coryell offensive tree. He uses play-action, seven-step dropbacks, and different shotgun formations to produce big-play opportunities. One of the issues with this is that Matt Ryan was hit more than he was the year before.
Koetter also struggles where Kyle Shanahan thrived, disguising play calls within multiple different formations. Shanahan’s entire playbook builds off itself, where one formation can make the defense think four different plays are coming, keeping them guessing. That’s not the case for Koetter, who is plagued by a lack of creativity. Disguising different play calls within multiple formations isn’t easily done, but can go a long way in confusing defenses. Personnel is essential in every offensive and defensive scheme; the best coordinators are revolutionary in their ability to incorporate the talent they have effectively.
The lack of creativity stems from, in my opinion, the parameters put on Koetter when he returned last year. He was expected to morph his Air Coryell offense into the successful Falcons’ offense of 2016. However, he was unable to change his much-outdated ideology, failing to use a running back in the passing game, therefore, negating the biggest mismatch within this particular offense.
Think of the Greatest Show on Turf with Marshall Faulk, or the current Saints offense with Alvin Kamara. These two schemes use the running back as an essential part of the system, whereas Koetter has yet to utilize the offensive pieces he has been afforded. This season could prove different after the addition of Todd Gurley, but only time will tell. These offenses are predicated on the ability to establish the run, particularly the wide zone concept that Todd Gurley thrives in, which the Falcons have not been able to do since Shanahan left.
They then build off these wide zone runs into play-action passing concepts. The key is for the similarities of the pre-snap alignment to befuddle the defense. These wide zone schemes will then allow Matt Ryan to get outside of the pocket, benefiting two groups of players — wide receivers and the offensive line. The line will be able to protect Matt Ryan better as the defense is unable to pin their ears and attack a straight drop back, and the receivers will have more time to develop their routes.
The play-action and straight dropbacks did not help Matt Ryan last year, who rolled out of the pocket fewer times as the season progressed. Straight drop backs are out of date and severely hinder a quarterback’s ability to stretch the field. Ryan thrived in wide zone concepts that allowed him to roll out or use other pocket movements in Shanahan’s offense. However, the offensive line — which has not been reliable since 2016 — will be depended on more in these types of deep dropbacks.
There is a slight chance that the Falcon’s offense will return to the greatness it reached in the 2016 season. Koetter could better familiarize himself with the terminology of Shanahan’s scheme, building cohesion with Matt Ryan, dramatically increasing the offense’s effectiveness. But what is more likely is much of the same we have already seen of Koetter. If he could adjust his scheme to the talent that he possessed, we would have already seen it. I don’t believe he can tweak his offense to the personnel of the Falcons.