Love him or hate him? Based on how the 2016 season ended, most Falcons fans will fall at least on the strongly dislike side of things. There has never been a stronger Monday morning quarterback hot take then the stance that most pundits took on the day after Super Bowl LI. Common theme: run the ball! We all know the scenario, and I’d rather not revisit it.
This Week in NFL History: Taking a look at the moments that impacted the NFL from May 7th -May 13th
What’s Trending: Steelers are ready for Myles Garrett following his comments
2017 NFL Draft: Taking a look at the boldest moves of last week’s NFL Draft
However, Shanahan had an outstanding regular season, as well as playoff run, calling plays. Opposing defenses were often left guessing when trying to defend the Falcons. Pick your poison.
The best part of Shanahan’s offensive game plan was, it wasn’t Julio or bust. The Falcons were a well oiled machine that had numerous players contributing on the offensive side of the football. Shanahan may not have received as much credit as he deserved for his offensive genius, but it’s a “what have you done for me lately” league nowadays. The lasting image in Falcons fans memories of how 2016 ended will forever be heartache.
One key component to the successful 2016 offensive season was quarterback Matt Ryan elevating his game. Ryan being named MVP only enforced what was already known: as Matt Ryan goes, the Falcons offense goes. Thirteen different players had receiving touchdowns from Ryan in 2016, which is an NFL record.
Another major contributing factor to the offensive success was Alex Mack. It was Mack’s first season away from Cleveland, and you can say he went from the outhouse to the penthouse. Mack experienced more winning in one season in Atlanta than he had his entire career in Cleveland. From setting up the blocking schemes to helping establish overall continuity and leadership, Alex Mack did it all.
The wide receivers had a couple of welcome additions in Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. Sanu was a big bodied receiver who held his own and enjoyed red zone success. Gabriel became the speed, stretch the field receiver that the Falcons offense lacked. Gabriel broke defensive backs’ ankles all season. One wrong move in coverage by opposing DBs meant paydirt more often than not for Gabriel.
What will the Falcons offense look like in 2017? Enter Steve Sarkisian. Sark is known as a bright offensive mind and has to be thrilled being handed the keys to a Ferrari. Head coach Dan Quinn made it a point after the 2016 season when Shanahan had agreed to be the next head coach of the 49ers that the offense would stay the same next season. Sarkisian’s offensive philosophy shares similarities to Shanahan’s.
The best part is the players listed above are all returning this season. The challenge for Sarkisian will be in keeping opposing defenses off balance as well as Shanahan did throughout 2016. One thing I do know and believe is the coaching staff will learn from its mistakes. Unfortunately for the Falcons, their biggest mistake came on the biggest stage of all. As the Falcons start on their journey to erase a fatal flaw in execution from their memories, it starts with their new offensive coordinator being able to re-establish the Falcons offensive juggernaut.
How will the Falcons running game change in 2017? Patrick DiMarco has departed for Buffalo, which could mean less use of the fullback under Sarkisian. The Falcons were a heavy zone blocking running scheme throughout Shanahan’s tenure. Will we see some occasional running between the tackles under Sark? Could Brian Hill, the newly drafted rookie running back from Wyoming, get some straight ahead, pounding run opportunities?
In college, Sarkisian’s QB also spent lots of time in the shotgun. Will Ryan be asked to do the same? Will the use of more shotgun formations affect play action, which became the Falcons bread and butter?
It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for Atlanta offensively. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But please Sark be flexible in certain situations. Say, up twenty five points late 3rd quarter?