Since 2011, the Atlanta Falcons have always had one of the league’s most successful offenses. Could 2020 see this offense reach even greater heights? The newcomers will have a big say in that.
It’s pretty easy to figure out that the Atlanta Falcons aren’t a team that is built to be a league leader on the ground. Having one of the league’s worst rushing attacks, and defense, year after year has strained this offense to where it has been very difficult for the Falcons to control the flow of the game.
The last time a running back truly made a difference with the Atlanta Falcons was between 2008 and 2011 when Michael Turner ran for over 1,300 yards three times, including 1,600+ in 2008. Since then, the Atlanta Falcons have largely been using a committee of running backs. Sure this has seen some success in 2015 and 2016 when Freeman barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
However, due to injuries and poor performances, the running back position needed a shake-up for 2020. The Falcons need a true game-changer behind Matt Ryan and to take the pressure off of the passing game
Matt Ryan has been spending time and going over offensive concepts with Todd Gurley. He has been very impressed with his willingness to learn and understand team concepts. It seems Gurley will be caught up to speed and be ready day one to lead this Atlanta Falcons team.
Now that the Atlanta Falcons have Todd Gurley, he will be looked to as the guy who will carry this offense on the ground. With questions of his health depreciating the value of the signing, he has since silenced some critics as he was able to finally take and pass his physical with the Atlanta Falcons, after already being with the team for two months.
However, will Todd Gurley reach the 1,200-yard mark as he did seasons ago? Probably not. Even though he was able to pass his physical, he has still only played a 16 game season once (2016) in his short NFL career. He currently averages only 14 games a season.
Even with his health in question and lack of full seasons completed, his ability to perform at a high level and be a true wrecking ball in the league will have a great chance to resurface in Atlanta now that he isn’t playing behind the NFL’s worst offensive line.
Now, will the Atlanta Falcons offensive line improve in 2020? One would believe so. The entire right side of the offensive line now has a year under their belt in Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom. Also returning is Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, both are considered top tier players at their position, even though Matthews had a poor showing in 2019.
The only true question on the offensive line is who will be playing left guard. The Falcons now have four guys who are viable options to start in the middle of Matthews and Mack: Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, Justin McCray, and rookie backup center Matt Hennessey.
The likely outcome is that Hennessey will see to the job at the left guard to build chemistry and experience as he is hailed to be the replacement for Alex Mack at the season’s end.
The offensive line will also see a new addition as Hayden Hurst has been brought in to replace key Matt Ryan target, Austin Hooper, at tight end. While the third-year player didn’t see his career materialize in Baltimore, Matt Ryan has some strong words of encouragement for Atlanta Falcons fans in regards to Hayden Hurst.
"“I’ve been incredibly impressed with Hayden’s work ethic,” Ryan said. “He’s got great speed. Great athleticism. Wants to be a great player. The effort, attitude, all of that stuff is there. The athleticism is there.”"
The receiving corp could be better than ever. Russell Gage will see an increased role and Calvin Ridley is expected to be the guy Matt Ryan trusts the most when he can’t go to Julio. With young guys like Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, and Laquon Treadwell, Calvin Ridley is almost certain to have a career year and finally break the 1,000-yard mark that eluded him last season with an injury.
Gage will also be pushed to succeed as former first-rounder Laquon Treadwell will be eager to revamp his career and shake off the label as a bust. A huge upside to Treadwell is his age. Even though he has only been in the NFL for four years, he has two more years of NFL experience than Calvin Ridley, despite being the same age (25 years old) once the season kicks off. So, any sort of success from Treadwell is welcomed and gives him a chance to grow in Atlanta.
The entire offense itself is tied together by the man who controls it. Matt Ryan has placed a ton of faith into Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter as he expresses how the coach feels more comfortable in year two. Matt Ryan spoke on Dirks behalf:
"“I definitely think Dirk, in the meetings that we’ve had, in hearing him talk about the offense, I feel like he is much more comfortable in the system in Year 2,” Ryan said. “Just having a feel for the terminology, why we’re doing certain things, how we want to utilize and set up certain things. It feels like, to me, he’s a lot further along and feels really comfortable with it. I think that’s going to help us out, for sure.”"
Why is this time different?
Koetter also spent time with the Atlanta Falcons between the years of 2012 and 2014. Koetter was asked to replicate the already established offense previously run by Mike Mularkey. The same thing occurred when Koetter took over the last offseason when he was responsible for replicating the offense ran by Kyle Shanahan that took the Falcons to Super Bowl LI.
Koetters’ tendencies to add his own influence into the wide-zone, play-action scheme took the Atlanta Falcons away from their base scheme and could be the answer as to why the Falcons offense wasn’t quite successful in the first half of 2019.
This is acceptable as no one can 100 percent replicate anything of another person. Koetter has since embraced the base scheme and we should expect more play-action passes and a better run game.
"“Your run game sets up your play-action game,” Koetter said. “It never fails, every year when you go back and look at the cut-ups, the play-action game is where the explosive plays come. We still had, I think, 30 percent of our play-actions were explosive pays, and your play-actions are going to be better if you’re running it better.”"
It will be hard for this offense to eclipse the days of 2012 or 2016, but the pieces are there and election years tend to mean great things for the Atlanta Falcons.