Falcons seek more dynamic offense under Koetter

Falcons seek more dynamic offense under Koetter

Published Jan. 16, 2012 1:09 p.m. ET

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – If his pedigree is any indication, then Falcons fans might see more of a dynamic attack with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter calling the shots.

He was on the same staff with Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid in three different places. He worked at Oregon under Mike Bellotti, where he was on the same staff with current Boise State coach Chris Peterson. Koetter was also head coach at Boise State from 1998 to 2000 and at Arizona State from 2001 to 2005.

Yet before Falcons fans think that Koetter – who says he is a “big believer in the vertical passing game” – will throw the ball over the field 50 times a game like Reid, he also served at Boston College under current New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and then, after Coughlin left for Jacksonville, with Dan Henning. Both are much more conventional.

As a result, Koetter said he also is a disciple of balance.

“Every team in the NFL knows you have to be able to run it when they know you’re going to run it and you have to be able to throw it even when they know you’re going to throw it,” Koetter said Monday in a conference call to introduce him as the new offensive coordinator. “Running the football, there’s definitely still a place for that in the NFL. You ask any defensive coach, one of the hardest things to defend against is balance. A team can load up on the run game or a team can load up on the pass game, but balance and when you’ve got the weapons that Atlanta has at the skill positions at the run game and the pass game, I think you’d be foolish not to take advantage of everything that has to offer…

“There’s various ways to get guys the ball. You’ve got to get your playmakers the ball with a chance to make plays and there’s different ways to do that. Obviously, in the no-huddle you can still use your screen game, you can still use your play-action game. There’s a time and a place to run the football.”

If there’s anything that would hearten Falcons’ fans, it could be that. While Koetter might not have been an exciting name – Jacksonville, where he came from, ranked 32nd in offense in 2011, though the Jaguars’ personnel pales in comparison to the Falcons – one of the things that was frustrating about outgoing offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was just hired as the Jaguars’ head coach, was a perceived inability to get “playmakers the ball with a chance to make plays.” Atlanta utilized the screen game perhaps as little as any NFL team and Koetter said Smith told him that was something he wanted to do more.

Tellingly, Koetter said that Ryan, who will enter his fifth season as the starter at quarterback, was involved in the hiring process. He said that he spoke with quarterback Matt Ryan for about an hour before he was hired. There are likely several reasons for that.

One is that head coach Mike Smith, who worked with Koetter on the Jacksonville staff before Smith became the Falcons’ head coach in 2008, said he wants to retain elements of the team’s no-huddle offense, which has often been one of the Falcons’ most successful weapons. Smith also has said he wants to continue to make the run a priority.

“There could be a combination of things that I’ve done in the past and things that Atlanta has done well in the past,” Koetter said. “I think it would be foolish not to build on some of the things that Atlanta’s already doing well and taking advantage of those coaches that are going to remain on the staff. Definitely, Atlanta played well in the no-huddle this year… Talking to Matt Ryan, that’s something Matt’s excited about, so no-huddle will certainly be part of it. What percent remains to be seen.”

Koetter’s greatest challenge will be to integrate all of the Falcons’ talent in a cohesive way. Smith said after the disappointing 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants that ended their 2011 season at 10-7 that the Falcons “wanted to be more explosive.”

“How everything fits together, that’ll be stuff that I’ll be working on once I get up there,” Koetter said.

Koetter said he expects to arrive at the team’s headquarters this week, as details of his contract are still being finalized. He also said he has very limited access to film since the season ended. Bob Bratkowski, the Falcons quarterbacks coach last season, has been hired by Mularkey to replace Koetter as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.

If he does want to make the Falcons into more of a vertical passing team, one area for improvement is the pass-blocking against top pass-rushing teams, which was a struggle against teams like the Giants, Eagles and Bears last season. Regardless, Koetter does not look like a “one size fits all coach,” which might have been a criticism of Mularkey.

“In today’s NFL, you have to do everything well,” Koetter said. “It’s such a match-up game and it’s such a situational game. You’ve got to be able to win some games in shootouts, some in bad weather and you’ve got to grind it out and run the ball. ...  There’s just so many possibilities. This weekend’s playoff scenario made that obvious to everyone.”