FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – During the Falcons' end-of-season press conference with coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, an announcement was made regarding the team's offensive coordinator.
Steve Sarkisian will be back to run Atlanta's offense in 2018.
"I know your first question, and I'm not even going to wait for it," Quinn said early in the press conference. "Yes, Sark is coming back in 2018.
"And we've done this dance before. Back in 2016, I stood in front of you and we had some conversations about Kyle Shanahan. A number of people wanted his head. Well, they're different people and they're different coaches, but what has stayed the same, and what I learned during that process, is in order to build consistency, you better be consistent."
Many fault Sarkisian, who was in his first season with the Falcons in 2017, for the drop in production after an historic offensive season in 2016 under Shanahan.
After scoring an NFL-high 540 points in 2016, the Falcons scored 353 points this year. That drop-off can be partially attributed to a decrease in red-zone efficiency – Atlanta converted 50 percent of its red-zone chances after converting 61.9 percent last year – and a minus-2 turnover margin after finishing plus-11 in that same category in 2016.
In many other statistics, however, the Falcons were closer to the mark. Atlanta finished with 5,837 yards of offense this season after gaining 6,653 yards last year. The success running the ball was nearly identical to 2016. The Falcons gained 1,847 yards on the ground in 2017, just 81 yards fewer than last year. Through the air, they were about 800 yards short of last year's total and completed 31 less passes.
That blame doesn't lie solely on the shoulders of Sarkisian. The Falcons added nine new members of the coaching staff following their run to the Super Bowl last year, and a transition like that doesn't often yield immediate success.
And coaching aside, the on-field execution slipped a bit when compared to last year. According to STATS, the Falcons led the league with 30 dropped passes in 2017 after dropping just 11 passes during their Super Bowl run.
"To examine what was wrong with our scoring is not an indication on one play-caller or on one player," Quinn said. "It's on all of us. There's plenty of plays Sark would like to have back. There's some throws that Matt [Ryan] would like to have back. I'm sure there's some drops from our receivers, our tight ends and our running backs that they would like to have back. And myself, some calls that I would like to have back.
"But, placing blame on one person would be wrong in this instance. And so, for me, I wanted to make sure the way we'll get better is our execution. And, at times, we under-executed and didn't come through when we needed to."
When discussing the expectations for Sarkisian heading into his second year with the team, many note the leap Shanahan made in his second season.
After a 2015 season in which the offense failed to meet some of the totals the unit posted this year, it rebounded to become one of the most dominant units in the NFL in its second year under Shanahan's guidance.
It should also be noted that, unlike Shanahan, Sarkisian was operating with a playbook that was not his own in 2017. Quinn opted to keep the playbook very similar to the one Shanahan utilized, meaning Sarkisian had to become comfortable with the plays he was calling as well as the players he was coaching.
Quinn believes that with a full offseason to evaluate the performance of the offense and discuss changes with his players, Sarkisian will show improvement in Year 2.
"I thought, heading in, this is a really good coach," Quinn said of Sarkisian. "Sometimes [in your first year] you don't have the benefit of going through [the review process]. Alright, as you go through and study that concept was good last year, and this year it's not quite as good. When you're going through it the first time, you're going 'this is the plan, this is the stuff.'
"Just another year of how to feature the guys. I think that's a better thing to understand. Some of that trust doesn't happen overnight, and you have to really understand what nuances a guy has: How do we feature him? This player for this play, this one for that. He didn't get a chance to see even [Julio Jones] or [Taylor Gabriel] until almost the regular season. … I would hope one of the areas we can really improve on, as we're heading into the offseason, heading into training camp, is featuring the guys in the very best way. And you can only know that through your experience with them."
Later in their press conference, both Quinn and Dimitroff spoke about their belief in developing players and how important it is to consistency and success. By sticking with Sarkisian, they are showing a renewed commitment to consistency and a willingness to let their offensive coordinator develop with a year of experience to guide him.
Neither Quinn nor Dimitroff were pleased with the outcome of the season, with the Falcons coach saying it was a missed opportunity. They both believe they are headed in the right direction, however, and Shanahan is in their plans to help the Falcons achieve lasting success. "I want to be clear with you," Quinn said. "If this was about one person, that decision would have already been made. I have no issue with making changes, no problem with that. But I have no interest in making change just for the sake of change."