Some Falcons fans scratched their head at the hiring of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter this offseason.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith selected Koetter based on the familiarity he had with the coordinator when the two worked together in Jacksonville. Smith's last season with the Jaguars was in 2007, the last time the Jacksonville franchise made the playoffs.
Smith's defense that season was a top-ten unit, but it was the offense that truly carried Jacksonville that season. Under Koetter's direction Jacksonville scored the seventh-most points in the NFL that season.
Looking at what Koetter accomplished that season gives a glimpse into what he may be able to do with the Falcons in 2012.
Quarterback David Garrard was efficient for the Jaguars that season. His 28 touchdowns through the air was good for ninth in the NFL, but most impressive was how well he took care of the ball. His eight interceptions was the lowest in the league. Twenty-eight touchdowns is one less than Ryan's career high, set this past season.
The Jags' offense was carried by a strong running game, something Atlanta has always featured. While Smith has said leading running back Michael Turner will not carry the ball 300 times in 2012 if he can avoid it, he has never said the running game would be diminished. The presence of Jason Snelling and exciting second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers means there are some carries that can go around.
Sharing the carries is exactly what Jacksonville did in 2007. Fred Taylor, who is now retired and is considered one of the most underrated backs in the history of the game, rushed for 223 times for over 1,200 yards. A back who is now considered among the league's elite was in his second season then, starting zero games for Jacksonville. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed 167 times for 768 yards. He was a touchdown machine that season, something he established quickly in his time in the NFL. He had nine that season and he had 34 touchdowns in his career before he even broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career in 2009.
A split like what Taylor and Jones-Drew shared wouldn't be far-fetched in Atlanta this coming season. Turner has a nose for the endzone and Rodgers has flashed playmaking ability. While the carries may go around to more players, Atlanta's running game has a chance to become even more dynamic.
One of the reasons Koetter leaned on the run game so much is because his talent was there. The Jags didn't have a single wide receiver that season eclipse 1,000 yards. Reggie Williams has 629, Dennis Northcutt had 601 and Ernest Wilford had 518. Williams led the team with ten touchdown receptions and Northcutt was next with four.
Compare that trio to Atlanta's receiving core that includes Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas and the possibilities appear endless.
Jacksonville was near the bottom of the league with 29 attempts passing per game in '07 and they were in the middle of the pack with 208 passing yards per game. That was with largely average players catching passes. Imagine what Koetter could do with players like White and Jones making things happen after the catch.
After the catch is the key for the Falcons in 2012. With White and Jones, they should be in good hands with that area of the passing game.
No one knows exactly what Koetter will do with the Falcons in 2012 and everyone knows he's never had the talent on offense that he will have with Atlanta this season. One thing he has had in the past was a strong running game with two capable backs. In Atlanta he has that plus one wildcard in Snelling.
On paper it certainly appears that Koetter has the tools on offense to have a passing game that he's dreamed of, something he could never get going in Jacksonville with the receivers on their roster. In Koetter's five seasons in Jacksonville he never had a receiver that had over 1,000 yards. That almost definitely won't be the case in Atlanta.