All season long, this Atlanta Falcons offense has remained a mystery to most. The addition of Julio Jones, the "revival" of a dominant Tony Gonzalez, and the supposed full recovery of Harry Douglas from his torn ACL two seasons ago should have meant the offense would have an outstanding year.
That has clearly not been the case. You can point to a host of reasons as to why exactly the offense hasn't really clicked; almost every fan has cited Mike Mularkey's inability to effectively use all of his weapons as a potential explanation (and rightfully so).
But unfortunately, that situation won't change until next season at the earliest. Sitting at 7-5 with one quarter of the 2011 season remaining, the Falcons will have to make a few adjustments on the fly as try to push past a few weaker opponents (and the Saints) and on towards the playoffs.
Today, I come to you, Mr. Mularkey, bearing three simple changes that can improve the offense against the likes of Carolina and others as the season draws to a close.
1- Divide up the RB carries and more evenly
In the Falcons' archaic offense, Michael Turner is the feature back and clearly has received an overwhelming majority of the team's carries. In fact, see for yourself:
Total carries - 338 Michael Turner - 233 carries Jacquizz Rodgers - 39 carries Jason Snelling - 27 carries
The Falcons have not only two, but three backs that are more than capable of carrying the ball. Rodgers is the very definition of "change-of-pace back." Heck, Snelling has proven he can be just as effective as Turner as an every-down back. What's more, the Falcons are really the only team doing this. Don't believe me? Here's a look at the top five rushing attacks in the NFL and how they divide their carries:
DEN 399 total carries Willis McGahee - 182 carries Lance Ball - 71 carries
PHI 340 total carries LeSean McCoy - 215 carries Ronnie Brown - 19 carries
HOU 432 total carries Arian Foster - 224 carries Ben Tate - 138 carries
OAK 366 total carries Michael Bush - 173 carries Darren McFadden - 113 carries
CAR 333 total carries DeAngelo Williams - 119 carries Jonathan Stewart - 107 carries
While Philly looks to be the one exception, don't forget they have 'ole No. 7, who has over 70 rushes of his own. Also factor in that both Denver and Carolina have two very mobile QBs in Newton and Tebow, both of whom account for a large chunk of their team's carries.
Point is: if you have a capable No. 2 back, use him! Teams that don't monitor carries almost always have running backs that experience injury (see: Peterson, McFadden, McGahee... heck, Turner's on the injury report right now)
2- More screen passes and halfback flares
As our good friend Dave Choate over at The Falcoholic has aptly pointed outed, the Falcons have only even attempted 16 screen passes all year. Why? Great question.
It's not as if the Falcons don't have a physical receiver on the roster (I'm looking at you, 6'4/220 Julio Jones). They are ridiculously easy completions that often times result in "cheap," easy yardage. Talented offensive minds such as Andy Reid often use these plays to help a struggling offense (see: Falcons) get back into its rhythm.
And for all that is holy, stop throwing the ball to Michael Turner. He has stone hands. The Falcons have two other running backs in Rodgers and Snelling who have proven to be reliable receiving options. Actually, Snelling has proven himself to be a great receiving option.
3- Less emphasis on deep passing plays
Not that there much existed to begin with, but I actually agree with Roddy on this one. Think about it: timing on deep passing routes is not the sort of offensive facet quarterbacks can usually fix mid-season. You don't "become" a gunslinger overnight.
Clearly, that 'gunslinger' label also doesn't apply to Matt Ryan. He is now 7-of-32 on passing attempts of 20 yards or greater. As an offensive coordinator, you have to play to your quarterback's strengths.
Fewer deep passing plays on first and second downs will also eliminate the possibility of third-and-long, another area Ryan has really struggled with this season (in third down and six+ yardage situations, Ryan is currently 45-of-79 with three interceptions, compared to six TDs and no INTs in third-and-short)
4- Less Roddy White, more Julio Jones/Harry Douglas
White, who currently leads the league in dropped passes with 12, is the most-targeted wideout in the NFL as well (128). I'm all for featuring White as one of the main receiving threats in this offense. He's a talented receiver to be sure.
But at this point, his inconsistency in actually catching the ball, his tendency to commit stupid penalties, and the tendency for his drops to turn into interceptions make him a liability for the offense and the entire team.
As for Jones and Douglas, both have shown pretty consistent hands this season and both have the speed to turn a short completion into a long gain. I understand where to throw the ball on any given play is obviously Ryan's decision to make, but at least for now I feel the Falcons should de-emphasize Roddy.
For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic; for the Panthers, head over to Cat Scratch Reader.