Throughout the offseason, I will be fielding your questions about all things Falcons and trying to give you the best answers I can. If you would like to submit a question to be included in the Friday Mailbag, check out my profile on Formspring.me. If you asked a question this week and don't see the answer below, fear not. They may appear in future mailbag posts.
Question: Can you explain the lack of splash with our offensive coordinator hire? Jackonsville's offense was horrible last season. What should we expect?
Answer: There are a couple of things I will warn against when it comes to Dirk Koetter. First, a "splash" doesn't always translate into success. Sometimes, a "big name" doesn't fit the direction your organization wants to go and it's about simply finding the right person. Head coach Mike Smith found that right guy in Koetter. Second, placing too much weight on Jacksonville's 2011 season is viewing merely a slice of a very big picture, and it's important to see the whole thing. Think of it this way. Let's say you had 30 years of experience in whatever it is you do and people only judged one year of your career. That wouldn't be a fair assessment of your talents, right? Same thing with Koetter, who spent his final season in Jacksonville grooming a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who he couldn't speak to until training camp because of the lockout. Add into that an offensive roster and a wide receiving corps that is young and largely untested and you see the result. Fact is, Koetter was still responsible for the league's leading rusher last year in Maurice Jones-Drew, and Koetter's first year with the Jags — arguably their most stable in the past few years concerning coaching, ownership and the roster — was a great one with Jacksonville's offense finishing in the top 10. During those four years Koetter was there, however, even with all the instability, he was able to put together the NFL's 13th best offense through that span. His offense, in those four years, was also sixth in rushing (134.2), fifth in third-down conversions (43.0 percent) and fifth in average yards per rush (4.5). There's the reason why Alabama, the top college football program in the country, was looking at Koetter for their offensive coordinator position at the same time the Falcons were. Along with a strong college background as a head coach at Arizona State, Koetter brings in imaginative mind focused on vertical passing to the Falcons' staff. Sure, Koetter wasn't the "splash" people were looking for, but it's hard to not get excited about what he's accomplished in his career and the weapons he now has at his disposal in Atlanta.
Q: Do you see the falcons changing their whole offensive scheme now that they have a new offensive coordinator that will be calling all of the plays?
A: You can probably expect a fair amount of change from Koetter. Of course, we need to get through free agency and the NFL Draft to really see how things are going to look from a personnel standpoint, but Koetter's past provides a glimpse into what he might be planning on implementing in Atlanta. As a head coach at Arizona State, Koetter was responsible for leading the Sun Devils to 30 points per game during six seasons and an offense that was ranked in the top 20 in the nation in passing offense five of those six years. From that, we can assume that a premium will be placed on the passing game. This is a coach who knows how to get his team into the endzone with a solid group to work with, and the Falcons certainly have that. One of the biggest changes I think you can expect is the establishment of the screen passing game, which the Falcons struggled with in recent years. Koetter said the screen is an element of the offense he finds to be very important in fooling defenses, and with a talented, quick running back like Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, we could see what was once a weakness become a huge strength for the Falcons very quickly.
Q: What are the chances we retain Brent Grimes? Also, any chance we bail on Dunta Robinson?
A: Free agency is going to be an interesting period of the offseason as the Falcons have 17 free agents on the roster. Of course, Brent Grimes is one of the biggest names on that list. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith have made very solid decisions since they took over the franchise in 2008 and whatever they decide to do will always be in the best interest of the team. That's my way of saying, "It's too soon to know for sure." As far as Dunta Robinson goes, I think fans will be pleasantly surprised with him in 2012. Robinson was signed two years ago into a defensive system he wasn't exactly accustomed to running at the pro level. While in Houston, Robinson was a beast in press coverage, jamming receivers at the line and being aggressive. I think we still see that level of aggression when he's on the field as he's easily one of the most physical football players in the game today, but playing way off the line for the past two seasons took away from one of his main strengths — and one that he relies upon to be successful. That's not to say Dunta hasn't seen success in Atlanta. People tend to see the interception numbers sometimes and base everything off of that. Sure, Dunta hasn't had hugely impressive INT numbers, but in 2011, he was targeted 74 times and gave up just three TDs. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said almost immediately during his conference call with the Atlanta media after he was hired that his philosophy is to form the defensive scheme to players' strengths and not the other way around. With that said, we could see a real rebirth in Robinson's career.
Q: What is the bigger issue: the D-line not getting pressure, or wideouts running through our secondary?
A: These are problems that go hand-in-hand. If you're not getting pressure from the defensive line, you're going to do one of two things — 1. You're going to give an opposing quarterback too much time in the pocket to find an open receiver, or; 2. You're going to have to get creative in finding pressure, which means bringing linebackers in on blitzes instead of dropping them back into coverage to help the secondary. The same is true for wideouts in the secondary. If the secondary is allowing wide receivers to get open right away and can't maintain coverage, the defensive line isn't going to have time to get to the quarterback before he gets rid of the ball. I don't know that one problem is bigger than the other because they certainly play off of each other. One thing is for sure and that is that Nolan is aware of the issues and has set to work trying to fix them.
Q: How do we, the fans, get to have a chance to pick out music to be played at the Dome for the upcoming season?
A: Very easily. Tweet at Director of Event Marketing and Client Services (yes, Roddy White, but not the receiver) and tell him your suggestion via Twitter.