Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons' Potential Passing Attack in 2012
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The biggest change the Falcons made this offseason was bringing in Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan as the new coordinators. Koetter's job is to completely revamp the play calling and get the offense to reach its maximum potential.
He should be able to do that with the massive amount of talent that he has in Atlanta. The Falcons have multiple players with Pro Bowl potential in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and even a few guys on the offensive line.
It will be interesting to see how exactly Koetter transitions this offense from Mike Mularkey's conservative scheme to his own more aggressive one. However, it doesn't seem like the actual play design between the two offensive gurus is that much different.
The biggest question that fans have is how Koetter and Ryan will be able to team up and have arguably the best passing attack in the NFL. It's all going to start with the line, but in the end it will be up to Ryan himself to get the Falcons to the next level through its passing attack.
Offensive Line: Operation Protect Matty Ice
Core Group: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd Mcclure, Peter Konz and Tyson Clabo
Depth: Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, Joe Hawley, Tyler Horn, Andrew Jackson and Bryce Harris
The offensive line has one job to do in the new offense that is more important than any other: They have to protect for Matt Ryan and make sure he has at least three seconds in the pocket on each and every play. Otherwise, this offense just isn't going to work.
At left guard, center and right tackle, the Falcons should be guaranteed to have good performances as Justin Blalock, Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo are all in the top 10 at their respective positions. However, at right guard, there should be a new face in the starting lineup.
Peter Konz was the second round pick of the Falcons in 2012 and is in a heated competition for the right guard spot with Garrett Reynolds. Sam Baker is the worst left tackle in the NFL and should be cut, but unfortunately, the Falcons have just a third-round rookie Lamar Holmes behind him after Will Svitek's season ending injury.
The depth on the line is where the real improvement lies in 2012. Last season it was mainly street free agents and undrafted free agents as the main depth components. This season, it looks like a pair of third-round picks in Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes as well as two former starters in Garrett Reynolds and Joe Hawley.
Running Backs: Operation Screen Pass
Core Group: Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and Mike Cox
Depth: Antone Smith, Dimitri Nance, Richard Medlin, Lee Meisner and Lousaka Polite
Between the power running of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling to the speed elements that Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith bring to the table, the Falcons have a lot of versatility and depth to their running backs which makes them one of the best groups on the entire team.
The big thing that has been missing from the Falcons' offense has been the screen game. The Falcons had the league's worst amount of screen pass attempts and going into the final month of the season had a total of just 16 screen passes attempted (h/t ESPN via The Falcoholic).
Under Dirk Koetter, they have attempted at least three screen passes throughout the first two games of the preseason. The most interesting part of this is that Turner was also getting screen passes thrown his way.
By having every back who steps foot in the backfield get a screen pass look, the Falcons are trying to make sure they can add an element that wasn't there last season. Sure, the running backs will still have to block and chip opposing defenders, but now they will also catch out of the backfield too.
The Receivers and Tight Ends: Operation Explosion
Core Group: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas
Depth: Kerry Meier, Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, Marcus Jackson, James Rodgers, Kenny Stafford, Tim Toone, LaMark Brown, Michael Palmer, Chase Coffman, Tommy Gallarda and Aron White
"Explosive" was the word of the year for 2011. While the team didn't win as many games there was definitely quite a bit of explosion in the offense. However, the best way for the offense to continue on this trend is to put the ball in the hands of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas.
Another weapon that will be excellent to have is the sure hands of future Hall of Famer tight end Tony Gonzalez over the middle. Combine the weapons here with the screen game, and the Falcons have too much variety in the offense to not be explosive.
Kerry Meier looks to win the No. 4 wide receiver role, but that will be primarily special teams. Michael Palmer is the No. 2 tight end and he looks like he has been learning a lot from Gonzalez in his short time with the team.
The dark horse of the passing attack is what the Falcons do with their No. 3 tight end. It looks like LaMark Brown is the current leader for the job, and he should be after his performance against the Bengals gave the team a touchdown to join his four catches and 47 yards.
The Quarterback: Operation Next Step
Field General: Matt Ryan
Depth: Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson and Dominique Davis
The glue to the whole situation is Matt Ryan. He's the field general and the one who should be taking the next step for the Falcons this season. Just like every offseason, Ryan did a self-assessment this year. Because of this, he decided that he needed to bulk up for this season.
Bulking up is just part of what will help Ryan take that next step. He'll be able to take hits better and become a more durable quarterback than he already is as he has only missed two games in his entire career due to injury.
It will also help him add an element to his game: the deep ball. It's already been seen this year in Koetter's new offense that Ryan can make all the throws. But his velocity and strength in those throws have made them harder for defenders to adjust to.
Speaking of Koetter's offense, that will be the biggest reason why the Falcons take the next step. While Ryan is the field general, Koetter is going to allow him a lot more of an opportunity to call the plays at the line and in the no-huddle. Expect the Falcons to do some big things in 2012 with passing the ball, as it won't just be a next step but rather a next leap for the offense.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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