As offseason arrives to NFL cities like a vicious smack to the face (to all but one locale, that is) every year, the discussion on how to reconfigure, rebuild or maintain success jumps to topic No. 1. It’s the cycle in the NFL’s 365-day-a-year, always-important calendar.
Since the final whistle blew on Atlanta’s season last Saturday in Philadelphia, the hottest discussion point has been the Falcons’ offense. How do they fix it, and is offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to blame?
Rarely has a problem so significant had so many layers to peel back in terms of the how and why.
In 2016 the Falcons scored 33.8 points per game, a figure that placed them tied for seventh with “The Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams of 1999 in terms of scoring in a season since 1990. Only six teams in the 26 seasons prior had been more potent.
Just a season later, the Falcons didn’t even finish in the top seven of 2017, scoring 22.1 points per game, good for a tie for 14th that year.
The Falcons didn’t just suffer from a scoring drought. Red-zone success fell from 54.6 percent to 49,2, third-down success fell slightly and yards per game dropped from 416.4 to 357.8.
Most of the time, drops like that in productivity at least spark a conversation about changing the coaching staff responsible. Atlanta fans have been crying for a change at offensive coordinator since the Eagles won 15-10 in the Divisional Round. The Falcons, however, seem set to keep Sarkisian around for another season.
That could be an extremely smart move.
John Fricke and Hugh Douglas discussed the idea that Atlanta retain Sarkisian for another season with the help of Beau Morgan on The Morning Show (audio above) Wednesday.
“Take the emotion out of it,” former Pro-Bowl pass-rusher Douglas said. His point… In Sarkisian’s first season with the Falcons, he orchestrated a playoff run and a road playoff win. “That’s not a bad way to enter the league.”
The 2017 season was Sarkisian’s first in the NFL at the coordinator level and just his second (he spent the 2004 season with Oakland as the Raiders QB coach) in the league. Instead of giving Sarkisian the benefit if a second season, Atlanta fans seem ready to run him out of town. Check back in very recent history before purchasing those pitch forks and torches, angry mob.
Between 2015 and 2016, the notion to fire then-OC Kyle Shanahan was louder than this current talk to part ways with Sark. Had Atlanta sent Shanahan packing, would the Falcons have gone to the Super Bowl on the back of one of the most prolific offenses in the history of professional football? No.
“The easy out is to blame Sark for everything that went wrong,” said Morgan, the show’s producer. Many of the offensive coaches, including Shanahan, left Atlanta after 2016. The Falcons had to retool with an enormously different offensive landscape of coaches.
Another huge difference… this Falcons team, to a man, publicly screams his support of Sarkisian. That wasn’t the case for Shanahan after 2015.
If so many of the offensive players have Sark’s back, who’s to say that the jump from 2017 to 2018 can’t be as significant, or even more so, than Shanahan’s jump two years prior? Sarkisian is in a better place than his predecessor was between Year 1 and 2 and he’s earned something already Shanahan didn’t have, seemingly unconditional support.