With the Tennessee Titans promoting from within and naming offensive line coach Mike Munchak their new head coach, it is now clear that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will be staying with the team.
Mularkey interviewed with the Cleveland Browns for their head coaching position in early January, but was turned down there as well. He was also scheduled to have an interview with the Denver Broncos before backing away from the situation.
What this means for the Falcons is that they will be able to sustain the continuity and consistency in the coaching staff created by head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
There has been some uproar within Atlanta's fan base over a potential firing or moving on of Mularkey, with many fans hoping they had seen the last of him on the Falcons sideline.
What they have failed to realize is that this would be a bad thing.
People have jumped on Mularkey for his perceived low-risk, non-aggressive play calls, not seeming to realize that philosophy comes from Smith. Fans also need to understand that quarterback Matt Ryan will be entering just his fourth year in the NFL in 2011.
Yes, Ryan showed the ability to win games with his arm this past season—particularly against Baltimore—but he's still a young kid who has some growing to do. As he continues to develop, the playbook will open up more.
Mularkey and Smith would be well-served to allow the Falcons offense to operate out of the no-huddle more often as the unit is very effective when they do so, and there's little doubt this will happen.
With the team looking to upgrade its depth and overall skill at the receiver position, indications are they will be adding more playmakers to the roster, or at least guys who can help stretch the field.
Ryan also needs to improve on his deep throws. It was a point of emphasis for him last offseason and it will continue to be so this year.
On throws of 21 yards or more, Ryan completed only 26 percent of his passes. When we look at some of the elite quarterbacks in this league—Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—we see they complete close to or above 40 percent of these types of passes.
Does some of that have to do with the receivers on the Falcons roster? Of course. Roddy White might be the best wide out in the NFL, but Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas aren't close.
Jenkins is a solid secondary receiver who makes the most out of what his body allows him to do, but he can't beat anyone deep.
The verdict has yet to be rendered on Douglas due to his ongoing recovery from a torn ACL (it generally takes a season or so for a player to be back to where he was pre-injury). He was a disappointment in 2010, however, and will need to show the coaching staff something in training camp and the preseason if he wishes to remain the No. 3 receiver.
The good news? Peyton Manning was also at 26 percent this past season, and in 2009, when he had his full complement of receivers, completed only 32 percent of his deep throws.
It's safe to say that Atlanta's quarterback will be fine, but this isn't about Matt Ryan, it's about Mike Mularkey.
It's very important for Mularkey to remain the offensive boss. Continuity in the coaching staff is extremely important for young teams and especially young quarterbacks.
Take a look at what's happened to Alex Smith of the 49ers. It seems he has a new offensive coordinator every year and he's lost on the field.
Once a signal-caller gets his feet completely under him and has been in the league for a good amount of time, changing personnel becomes easier to do. They already know what they're doing out there.
As good as he's been, Ryan is still in the developmental phase, with Mularkey being the one developing him.
Mularkey made it very easy on Ryan in his rookie year by giving him simple reads and Ryan responded by having a fantastic season.
With each passing year, the responsibilities placed on the quarterback will increase, and we saw some flashes of just how good Ryan can be this year.
Don't forget about Mularkey, though. Don't forget that he's the one who has allowed the Boston College product to evolve in this way.
Mularkey helped transform the Falcons offense into the fifth-highest scoring team in the league in 2010 (25.9 PPG). Let the guy work.
As with anyone, there's room for improvement. Atlanta desperately needs to reduce the number of carries Michael Turner gets, as he faded down the stretch.
As mentioned earlier, they need to open up the playbook as well. That will happen with the continued progression of Ryan and the addition of more talent to the offense.
Many have completely overreacted to the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, calling for a complete overhaul of the team.
The Packers just won the Super Bowl, didn't they?
In their playoff run, they held every team but Pittsburgh below its season scoring average. Maybe it had more to do with how good Green Bay is defensively than how flawed Atlanta is offensively.
The Falcons are trying to build something here. Mike Mularkey is a part of it, and, really, he's one of the main reasons the team has gotten to where it is.
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