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Dissecting Mike Mularkey's Offense: Were The Falcons Too Predictable?

Although NFL playbooks continue to grow thicker by the year, it still holds true that offensive coordinators still rely on the "core" offensive plays quite often. These are a small number of the basic, go-to plays that define an offense. Come game time, they are run early and often, designed to be effective against most basic defensive packages. Think of that off-tackle run the Falcons call every game in an attempt to bump Turner to the outside and bust off a big play.

However, in addition to a set of fundamental plays, included in every offensive scheme are "constraint plays." These are your play-action, slip screen, and draw plays. They are designed to take advantage of that safety who may be cheating up in the box, or that OLB who is cheating inside.

Remember how many times the Falcons ran the ball up the middle three times in a row, only to then catch a defender out of position on a play-action bootleg pass to Roddy White for 12 yards. This both keeps defenders honest and creates chances for a big play. Every offense has both of these play types.

However, there were certainly times last season when Mike Mularkey was almost too committed to the core offense. As the season progressed, it became pretty clear that opposing defenses started to pick up on the Falcons' tendencies. Heck, even I began recognizing some of Mr. Mularkey's favorite plays.

Look no further than the week 16 loss against the Saints for proof. After Turner gashed the Saints front seven for 114 yards on the ground in the week 3 Falcons win, the Burner was completely shut down, held to only 48 yards on 17 attempts in the second meeting of the season.

The Falcons began constantly deferring to the safe, proven, well-practiced play. When crunch time came in the playoffs, the Falcons weren't prepared to deal with defenses that could effectively shut down the core offensive plays.

The problem was that the offensive playcalling didn't incorporate enough constraint plays. The rare screen was often ineffective. The WR reverse was even worse. Teams easily started recognizing that Matt Ryan would simply dunk pass to Jason Snelling when in trouble. The offense simply became too predictable.

With the acquisition of playmakers like Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, hopefully the Falcons can open up the playbook a little bit more in 2011. Variety is the spice of life, Mr. Mularkey, and the Falcons offense needs some seasoning.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.