When you finish statistically as one of the worst teams at something in the NFL, the wise thing to do is to try to get better.
While the Falcons may not have actually been the worst team in terms of ability in the screen game last season, they finished in the bottom of the league in attempts. That's about to change.
The addition of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter fueled speculation that Atlanta would begin to more frequently utilize what has been underutilized to this point. With players like running back Jacquizz Rodgers and slot receiver Harry Douglas in place to benefit from the screen game, it makes sense to at least try it.
"Obviously, we want to get better in our screen game," center Todd McClure said Wednesday. "We haven't been too productive in that area lately. There's been a big emphasis on that. You can already see with some of the things we're doing, we're going to have some big plays in the screen game this year."
While the vertical passing game is a hot topic in the high-flying modern era of the NFL, the screen game is still just as necessary. Like a strong running game, the screen pass helps keep defenses off balance and creates respect for all the different ways they can manipulate you.
Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside at receiver will help take the top off the defense in the more vertical aspects of the passing game, but they will figure to get in on the mix as well. Jones especially is explosive with the ball in his hands, turning a short pass into a long gain. His 54 catches netted an average gain of 17.8 yards.
An emphasis on the screen game will allow, in theory, for better protection from the offensive line as well. With a more well-rounded offense, every play can be better disguised. McClure said some new coaching points along the offensive line are helping with how well they're executing the blocking schemes in the screen game as well. All of it combined well help them better protect quarterback Matt Ryan on the short pass.
"Offensive linemen love to have a screen game that the defensive line has to respect and they're not just pinning their ears back rushing the quarterback," McClure said. "That's an offensive lineman's friend to have that screen game going. We're hoping to, and we will, get it going this year."
The running back trio of Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling each stand to benefit from the screen game as well. Each of the three brings a different skill set to the position, but a screen pass is something they can all handle. Last season, Turner caught a career-high 17 passes. He said he's happy to catch more.
"Yes, if the ball is in my hands, I'm always excited," Turner said. "Who doesn't get excited about that? It's a different twist with things. We're pretty much running the same stuff but with a little twist to it."
The consensus on the offense is that an improved screen game in 2012 can benefit everyone. The players have seen an emphasis on it early in the OTAs process and they're anticipating good things to come from it.
"I think our offense could really benefit from it this year," McClure said. "I think some in the past if it didn't work early we'd tend to get away from it or didn't do it at all. That was the first things when this offensive staff came is they said we're going to be a great screen team."
Needless to say, they don't expect a last-place finish this year.