10 Ways for the Atlanta Falcons to Maximize Their 2013 Offense
After finishing eighth in yardage and seventh in points in the NFL, there's even more potential for the offense to grow and dominate opposing teams. And with a better offense comes a better record.
With the additions of Levine Toilolo and Steven Jackson and a retooled line, there are questions as to how the team can truly maximize its talent.
So, here are 10 ways for the Atlanta Falcons to become the NFL's best offense in 2013.
Pound the Rock with Steven Jackson
Last year, the biggest problem with that Atlanta Falcons offense was the lack of a talented power running back to move the chains on short third and fourth-down plays. To rectify the situation, they have brought in the beast incarnate known as Steven Jackson.
As you can see in the video above, Jackson still hits the hole hard and shows some receiving ability out of the backfield. But the biggest addition that Jackson brings is his ability to cut back and still burst to the outside if need be.
Jackson may be 30 years old, but he should easily be able to handle 250 carries in 2013. And unlike Michael Turner's under 4.0 yards per carry, Jackson should easily be able to crack 1,100 yards with a yards per carry around 4.1 or 4.2.
So pound the rock. Set the tone for the games. And for the love of God, remember that you pound the rock for one reason—to demoralize an opposing defense on short-yardage conversions.
Don't Forget About Jacquizz Rodgers
So, you've just spent all of this money on Steven Jackson, who is one of the best running backs in NFL history. What do you do with the promising Jacquizz Rodgers, who should surely see a reduction in snaps in 2013 due to the addition of Jackson?
That same Jacquizz Rodgers led the Falcons in running back snaps with 545 last season compared to Michael Turner's 518. And honestly, it's pretty simple: You give Rodgers a ton of snaps in packages where you actually use both Jackson and him on the field.
No, he won't be playing another 545 snaps and won't be the de facto starter at running back again. However, he will still provide a ton of ability and could be used in the same ways that Darren Sproles was used during the 2011 season.
So despite Rodgers not being the best running back on the team anymore, he's definitely not someone to forget in the offense.
Run the Ball from Sets That Give a Young Offensive Line Better Push
The Falcons offensive line will be the youngest it has been in years due to the release of Tyson Clabo and retirement of Todd McClure, while the left side of the line will be the same two players who have started there since 2008—Justin Blalock and Sam Baker.
The line should be much bigger on the right side than it has been with Peter Konz (6'5", 317 pounds) , and two out of the group of Joe Hawley (6'3", 302 pounds), Mike Johnson (6'6", 304 pounds), Lamar Holmes (6'6", 333 pounds) and Garrett Reynolds (6'7", 310 pounds).
So while the size of the line is bigger, the Falcons need to make sure it has more power than it has over the past few years. And the best way to do that is to run more six offensive linemen sets and to actually run out of the I formation.
Blow the Top off of a Defense with Julio Jones
Julio Jones is one of the best deep-ball threats in the NFL over the past two seasons. Matt Ryan attempted 34 passes of over 20 yards to Jones. Of those 34 passes, he completed 14 (41.1 percent) for 502 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception.
By just attempting so many passes deep to Julio, Ryan was able to keep the defenses on its toes and open up the underneath routes for the rest of the team. Jones' explosiveness needs to be harnessed even more in 2013.
As he's entering his third year, Jones will only know more ways to get open deep. And an open Julio Jones behind a defense is a dangerous thing. Especially considering he can take one to the house at any time. So the Falcons need to make sure this stays in their offense or they won't be maximizing their potential.
Attack the Intermediate Areas with Roddy White and Then Vary His Routes
Over the past six seasons, Roddy White has had over 80 catches, over 1,150 yards and six or more touchdowns each year. The only other two players in NFL history to do this are Jerry Rice and Torry Holt. They each had eight consecutive years completing this feat.
So what makes Roddy so good?
Yes, White can go deep and be a tremendous threat there.
Yes, he can catch screens and take them to the house.
Yes, he can also get a slant and gain a ton of yards after catch.
However, the thing that White does best isn't any of those three things.
White's best attribute is his ability to gain separation in the intermediate levels of the defense and just pick them apart. By doing this as his primary focus, it makes it that much tougher to cover him when the Falcons do send him deep or have him catch a screen pass.
If it's not broke, don't fix it. White has been the most consistent wide receiver over the past six seasons using this strategy, so continue with what works.
Keep the Chains Moving with Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end to have ever played the game of football. And I said that before he was traded to the Falcons back in 2009 for all of a second-round pick. His 326 catches for 3,328 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past four seasons has been crucial to the offense.
However, even more than that, 211 of his 326 catches have gone for a first down. That's 65 percent of his total catches over the past four seasons. Gonzalez is a true chain mover. On third downs in 2012, he had 26 catches and scored two touchdowns.
His best value is still as that chain-moving third-down option. And if he can continue to make the ridiculous and acrobatic catches, there's no reason for the Falcons to not try to get him to come back after 2013 despite his 100 percent done proclamation.
Spread the Defense out with the Multitude of Receivers
Steven Jackson. Roddy White. Julio Jones. Tony Gonzalez. There's big-name firepower of the Falcons. But the biggest threat could be that fifth member of the crew on the field.
Whether it's Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Levine Toilolo, Chase Coffman, Jacquizz Rodgers or someone else who earns a role on the offense during training camp this season, Atlanta needs to utilize them. The best way to do that is to have as many formations that bring in as many options as possible.
So the Falcons will have to do just that. Three-tight end sets. Base sets of a fullback, running back and one tight end. Eleven personnel for a three-wide receiver set. Shotgun sets with five wide receivers but with different groups of personnel will give the Falcons better sets.
Use the Height Advantage of the Tight Ends in the Red-Zone Passing Game
Last season, the Falcons had a ton of troubles in the red zone. The running side of things should be corrected with bigger offensive linemen and Steven Jackson coming into the fold. However, the passing game should receive an added boost with the heights that the tight ends can reach.
Standing at 6'5", 6'6" and 6'8", respectively, Tony Gonzalez, Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo will be the tallest receiving corps in the NFL. As a whole, they can all provide similar abilities as receivers who can find the holes in zone coverages while also being able to adequately block.
The biggest advantage to the three tight ends will be their ability to box out linebackers and safeties in the red zone. Your average linebacker or safety stands in the 5'11" to 6'2" range. The Falcons will be able to start out with an upper hand of at least three inches on any defender. That way all Matt Ryan has to do is throw it up there so the receivers can go get it.
Don't Go Super Crazy with Pass Protection Schemes
I chose a deep passing video for a reason. You can really see just how simple a lot of the Falcons' pass protection schemes really are. It's basically a zone-blocking pass protection scheme with running back help when blitzes are expected.
The current Falcons offensive line is much more athletic with Peter Konz at center and two of the four of Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley, Lamar Holmes and Mike Johnson playing on the right side of him. They will be much quicker and stronger at the point of attack.
And as such, Matt Ryan should see even less pressure than he does in this video. Yes, still throw the ball away quickly, and yes, still run a lot of play action. However, don't make the pass-blocking scheme any more complicated than it is right now.
And of Course, Don't Forget the Screen Passes
Screen passes were a huge part of the Falcons offense in 2012. It was something that was completely missing in 2011. According to ESPN Stats and Information (h/t ESPN's Pat Yasinskas), Matt Ryan was 16-of-20 (80.0 percent) for 68 yards and no touchdowns in the 2011 season.
That completely changed in 2012, as Ryan improved to 60-of-67 for 483 yards and six touchdowns. The increase in screens not only helped the Falcons passing attack by giving it a more horizontal element, but it added a piece to the offense that had been missing for four seasons under Mike Mularkey.
For the offense to continue its already excellent momentum, screen passes should be used just as much as they were last year. The Falcons have too much potential for wrinkles off of the screen to not capitalize on it again this season.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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