2013 Atlanta Falcons: Loss of Tony Gonzalez Will Open the Offense Even More
But it's true. Tony Gonzalez is a great tight end. He's the best to have ever played the game and did things that no tight end had ever done. However, losing him will open up the Falcons passing attack even more and allow for better route combinations.
"You're absolutely bonkers!"
Yes, I'm sure this is going to be a heart-wrenching for fans to read, but Gonzalez lost what long made him such a dangerous threat: explosiveness. He failed to make a single catch longer than 25 yards in all of 2012.
He also had just three catches of 20 yards or more. Despite being the most reliable receiver on the entire team, his explosiveness is gone.
"OK, maybe you are starting to make sense, but I still don't buy it!"
OK, so his drop rate of just 4.12 percent—fifth best among tight ends to play more than 25 percent of their teams snaps—was amazing. His yards gained per route run was also in the top 10 for all tight ends (h/t ProFootballFocus on both stats).
Nonetheless, there is no explosiveness to Gonzalez's game anymore. Even his yards after the catch were abnormally low.
So while losing Gonzalez will hurt, it may be a blessing in disguise for the Falcons.
Obviously, the Tight End Position Will Be More Dangerous Downfield
Since joining the Falcons, Tony Gonzalez just doesn't hit the seam like he did as a younger player with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Falcons will be looking to improve their offense by having a TE who can stretch the middle of the field like Julio Jones and Roddy White do on the outside. A tight end who's a downfield threat would be a wrinkle that the Falcons haven't had in years. Once this gets added to the offense, it would open up White and Jones outside even more.
It would be very scary for opposing defenses.
First Thing To Improve Will Be the Blocking
Tony Gonzalez was the worst run-blocking player on the Falcons offense in all of 2012. Pro Football Focus gave him a minus-17.1 grade in run-blocking during the regular season. Only Oakland's Brandon Myers was worse.
So yes, the Falcons will get a much better blocker than Gonzalez in 2013. Tommy Gallarda will come back from injury, and the Falcons will also have Michael Palmer likely under contract as he's a restricted free agent.
Should the Falcons take one of the top tight ends in the draft, they will vastly improve their blocking. Among Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz, the draft is full of tall, athletic tight ends who have great hands, game-changing speed and the ability to block.
Slot Receivers Will Get More Looks
In 2012, Falcons slot receivers Drew Davis, Harry Douglas and Kevin Cone were targeted a combined 63 times all season. Tony Gonzalez was targeted 121 times on his own. His 121 targets won't end up all going to one guy or even the tight end position in general.
The Falcons will have to figure out a way to spread the ball more. However, this necessity will only be good for the Atlanta offense as Matt Ryan will be able to hit his slot receivers on seam routes and the out routes that Gonzalez ran.
This will also allow the Falcons to line up Julio Jones and Roddy White in the slot a lot more as well. This alone will make them tougher to defend, and everyone in the NFL will have to figure out a way to stop White and Jones on the same side of the field.
But How Do You Replace a Tony Gonzalez On Third Downs?
This is the money question. However, there's more than just one answer. Ideally, you get a guy who can be a third-down specialist much like Brian Finneran was for Atlanta. You also bring in a guy who can at least duplicate Gonzalez's ability to box out at the first-down marker.
But most of all? Just target Roddy White, Julio Jones, the slot receivers and even the backs. There's more opportunity to spread the ball around without Gonzalez in Atlanta. By taking his targets and spreading them out on third downs especially, the Falcons offense becomes more unpredictable.
The Falcons offense will be better without Tony Gonzalez. Unfortunately, I'll still get crazy looks until people see the results. A more open offense will allow the Falcons to accomplish this feat.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 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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