After a strong season on offense last year, the Atlanta Falcons lost their Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his place, Falcons' GM Thomas Dimitroff and HC Mike Smith hired Dirk Koetter, the former OC of the Jags.
The Falcons Website gives this little blurb on Koetter's past exploits:
Koetter led the Jaguars to the 7th overall Offense in 2007, accumulating 357 YPG and 26 PPG, before experiencing a slight downward turn, hovering around the middle of the pack (20th in '08, 18th in '09, 15th in '10). However, in 2011, the Jaguars Offense was absolutely abysmal with rookie signal caller Blaine Gabbert at the helm (32nd in '11).
Dirk Koetter enters his first season as the Falcons offensive coordinator after being hired on January 15, 2012. Known for his expertise in the passing game, Koetter has 30 years of coaching experience, including five seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2007-11). He also brings with him 22 years of coaching expertise on the college level, including nine seasons as a college head coach (Arizona State, 2001-06 and Boise State, 1998-2000).
On the other hand, while putting up nice numbers last season, many pundits/fans were upset with the relative absence of a deep passing game in the Falcons Offense. Especially so, with the potential of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and the burner Harry Douglas.
Dirk Koetter learned his trade under the likes of former Panthers OC Dan Henning, and Eagles HC Andy Reid, and has tutored college coaches Dan Hawkins and Chris Peterson, who both worked under Koetter, before installing similar offensive systems on their own teams.
Koetter runs a '4 Vertical Offense' which seeks to take advantage of the coverage that the defense provides, ultimately exploiting weaknesses, and hitting home runs. As it's etymology suggests, the '4 Vertical Offense' is derived from running four receivers down the seams, outnumbering the safeties and DB's in coverage.
The '4 Vertical Offense' relies on a strong run game and standard usage of hard play action to suck the defense closer to the line of scrimmage. On any given play, the QB is given autonomy to change the play given the context of the defense and it's perceived coverage.
However, one clear weakness of the '4 Vertical Offense' lies in pass protection. On any given play, the maximum players that stay in and block is 5-6 in order to facilitate vertical passing and mismatches. As such, a competent pass rush can/should be able to affect the outcome of the game, hassling the QB and neutralizing the deep ball.
If you want to learn even more, or you just would like something to read, I suggest visiting these links to delve further into the workings of the '4 Vertical Offense'
With Matt Ryan running the show, the Falcons have an experienced quarterback with a talented arm capable of making all the throws. Ryan is adept at reading defenses, and is not skittish under pressure. However, there are concerns amongst some Atlanta fans over Ryan's deep accuracy.
In the running game, the Falcons still have the venerable Michael Turner pounding the rock, although at this stage in his career, he has a lot of wear and tear on his body. Nevertheless, the Falcons spent a fifth round pick on Jacquizz Rodgers in the 2011 Draft, and hope to see him play a bigger role next season. Rodgers possesses great speed and elusiveness, which could be deadly on screens and outlet passes.
The Offensive Line of the Falcons is not as strong as it has been in past years, and is filled with road graders, with a notable absence in finesse blockers. As it stands now, the Falcons O-Line is a mediocre run blocking unit, with deficiencies in pass blocking. If the Panthers (or any other defense) can confuse Ryan with their blitzes, the Panthers Front 7 could wreak havoc on the Falcons.
The strength of the Atlanta Falcons is their WR Corps. With Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons boast one of the top WR duo's in the entire NFL. Jones possesses top flight speed and size, with the ability to elevate quickly, while White's route running is superb, as is his size. In concert with Roddy and Julio, the Falcons also have return specialist Harry Douglas, and the dependable Tony Gonzales, who can help spread the field and find holes in coverages.
The Panthers will need to vary their coverages against the Falcons, as any predictability will lead to exploitation. I'd expect to see heavy dosages of zone coverage in order to hide the deficiencies of the Panthers Secondary. The Panthers rejuvenated LB Corps will also help in covering Gonzales and Rodgers, as well as stopping Turner.
All in all, I expect that the Falcons Offense will be very good in 2012, at worst repeating their successes from last year. The Offense will appear similar to the Mularkey model, however, expect to see an increase of vertical passing, with a smattering of screens to the RB's. In short, it will be a daunting challenge to stop the Falcons in 2012.