Kyle Shanahan: What it Means for Atlanta’s Offense Moving Forward


The recent hiring of Kyle Shanahan as the new offensive coordinator for our Atlanta Falcons has received mixed reviews among the fans.  After the years of passive play-calling from current Titans tight end coach, Mike Mularkey, and the years of slow-developing third down wide receiver screens from current Buccaneers offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, Falcons fans are ready for an explosive offense that finally lives up to its potential.

Oct 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As most NFL fans know by now, Kyle is the son of two time, Super Bowl winning head coach, Mike Shanahan.  Kyle played wide receiver at the University of Texas from 1999 through 2002 alongside future NFL players Chris Simms, Cedric Benson, and Roy Williams.  After being hired as the Texans’ wide receiver coach in 2006, Kyle Shanahan was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2008 at 28 years old.  He served two seasons as OC of the Houston Texans before leaving to take the same position with the Washington Redskins.  Kyle worked under his father from 2010 through 2013 until he, yet again, made a lateral move to become the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2014.  That brings us to present day.  With unclear direction within the Browns organization and front office turmoil, Kyle Shanahan was granted permission to interview with other teams, and he signed with the Falcons.  In his career, Kyle led Matt Schaub to throw for a career high 4,770 yards in 2009, Robert Griffin III to a Pro Bowl in his 2012 rookie season, and Brian Hoyer to his best season as a pro in 2014.

“I studied every potential X’s and O’s play and issue possible. I spent my whole life working on that. My goal was that any question a player could have about anything on the field, I’d be able to answer it.”

What does all this mean?  It means we can expect Matt Ryan to truly blossom into the amazing quarterback we know he can be.  Every year, Ryan seems to improve on an aspect of his game, and it’s time for him to put it all together and put up elite QB numbers.  This is all fantastic news, but we all know that regardless of the coach, the passing attack can be great when it consists of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Harry Douglas.  The one thing that Shanahan will bring with him that we haven’t seen since 2011, is an improvement to the run game.  The biggest change that will come can be summed up in two words: Zone Blocking.

For those who are unclear as to how exactly zone-blocking works, I’ll explain the basic concept. Zone-blocking is when two to three offensive linemen work together to block an area and move to the second level to block the linebackers. In a man-blocking scheme, offensive lineman have a specific player to block that is determined before the play starts.  A zone-blocking scheme requires more varying techniques and quicker offensive lineman, and this is one of the reasons why Shanahan’s zone-blocking run game will excel in Atlanta.  Guys like Jake Matthews and Jon Asamoah are technicians that will continue to become better players under this new scheme.  For Asamoah, zone-blocking is the scheme he has played most of his NFL career in.  It’ll be interesting to watch how Ryan Schraeder transitions to the new scheme after his strong second half of the season where he developed into one of the better right tackles in the league.  Steady veterans like Justin Blalock should be able to step up and learn the new scheme if he isn’t a cap casualty over the summer.

2014 was a difficult year for Falcons fans, but the future is bright! The front office has been scrutinized over during the coaching carousal period, but they have stood strong on their ideas and will most likely come away with a head coach that is one of the better defensive minds in Dan Quinn.  There is no doubt that our defense will grow in 2015 after a full offseason, and with the hiring of Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator, our offense is going to be stronger too.  That is an exciting thought.  Core players like Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones reaching their full potential will put defenses on their heels.  Shanahan is finally the offensive play-caller we’ve been looking for.  It’s been seven years of good but not great offenses; in 2015, we finally have a chance to have the elite offense we know the personnel can achieve.