Falcons hope Ryan-Koetter reunion will spark offensive resurgence

Graziano: Falcons are very committed to Matt Ryan at QB (1:56)

Dan Graziano, Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi break down the teams most committed at the quarterback position. (1:56)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan didn't step to the podium last week rambling about the adjustment period a quarterback has to go through with a new offensive coordinator.

There was no need.

That's the luxury Ryan has when his new coordinator is an old, familiar face. The Atlanta Falcons brought back Dirk Koetter, the guy who called the offensive plays for Ryan from 2012 to 2014.

"I'm excited to work with Dirk again," Ryan said. "I learned so much from him the first time around. And he's kind of picked up a few different things along the way, too; he has come up with some really good stuff. It's been a lot of fun the last couple of months of getting back to work with Dirk."

Maybe the real adjustment will be for Koetter, because the Falcons are expected to incorporate some of the outside zone blocking schemes with play-action and QB keepers that Ryan mastered under his two previous coordinators, Kyle Shanahan and Steve Sarkisian. Koetter even mentioned how Ryan is probably a lot more versed in the offense than the coordinator himself at this point.

That drew a chuckle from Ryan.

"I know more of the terminology because I've been around it for the last four years," Ryan said. "He's pretty smart. He's a really smart coach. He's well-versed. Having played against us a bunch as the head coach, he's well-versed in what we do, too. It might take him a second to remember what we call certain things, but he knows exactly what they are."

Although outside zone blocking was a large part of the offense last season, the Falcons utilized it less than 50 percent of the time. Expect a more even distribution of outside and inside zone this season, with other concepts sprinkled in here and there based on personnel.

"The relationship with Matt is really good," Koetter said. "We're combining systems right now, some old and some new, so we're working through some things. Obviously, I think Matt is playing really good at this point of his career, and I'm going to try to help him the best I can."

The Falcons hope the Ryan-Koetter marriage, along with the return of Devonta Freeman and a revamped offensive line -- with veteran James Carpenter and rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary -- will guide the offense back to the same type of explosiveness generated during the 2016 Super Bowl run, when the Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points. Shanahan engineered that offense, and Ryan won the MVP while running it. The Falcons ranked 10th in scoring last season at 25.9 points per game, but failed to run the ball consistently without Freeman, averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and faltering too many times in goal-line situations.

Koetter, who didn't last as the head coach of the Buccaneers, didn't have a quarterback nearly as accurate as Ryan in Tampa. But his offenses weren't too shabby. The Bucs finished in the top 10 in total offense three of the four years Koetter was offensive coordinator (2015) or head coach (2016-18). The Bucs simply couldn't get the ball in the end zone consistently and had issues running the ball.

Now Koetter returns to Atlanta after Ryan has amassed more than 4,900 passing yards in two of the past three seasons. Julio Jones remains one of most feared receivers in the league. Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowler, is running healthy and should be much more mature than he was as a rookie under Koetter in 2014.

Not to mention that tight end Austin Hooper is coming off a Pro Bowl season, wide receiver Calvin Ridley is expected to make a leap after a stellar rookie year, and Mohamed Sanu has been as sure-handed as ever with one drop on 92 targets last season.

Ryan noted how, the first time around with Koetter, he learned a lot about how to process information as a quarterback, eliminate certain elements pre-snap, pick up on keys and cut out parts of his progressions to play faster. Ryan averaged 4,642 passing yards and 631 pass attempts per season in those three seasons under Koetter. He made a career-high 651 pass attempts under Koetter in 2013, which also saw Ryan absorb a career-high 44 sacks and throw a career-high 17 interceptions. In fairness to Ryan and Koetter, Jones played only five games that season following a foot fracture, and the Falcons ranked last in rushing offense with Steven Jackson the primary back.

Ryan hasn't changed his businesslike approach since then and has evolved into a leader at age 34.

So what's different with Koetter going into 2019?

"I think just some of the ways that they used certain guys in Tampa were different from some of the ways we used the personnel that we had here in Atlanta," Ryan said. "I think he does a great job of adjusting to the personnel that he has on his team. He was one of the best that I've been around of doing that during our time together.

"They had a different skill set of guys in Tampa and they utilized some different things that we didn't do during our time together. So it's been interesting to hear about that to see if some of those things they did fit with some of the guys that we have and how we can use some of those guys in spots that they did in Tampa."

Asked about how much offensive input he might have, Ryan responded, "I think I have a fair amount of input. I'm very clear with them about things I do like, things I don't like. I think Dirk would tell you he knows exactly where I stand on the stuff that we have installed."

Maybe the underrated element to the whole equation is that Ryan not only has Koetter with whom to work, he also has the coach who was his first NFL offensive coordinator in Mike Mularkey. The Falcons hired Mularkey as the tight ends coach, and Mularkey's heavy influence was evident during rookie minicamp when Koetter was away attending his daughter's graduation. Mularkey's history suggests a smashmouth style of football with a power running attack featuring two backs and two-TE sets. The Falcons got bigger on the offensive line this offseason, which should allow them to incorporate some gap schemes, on occasion.

"Mike's a great coach," Ryan said of Mularkey. "Mike was my first OC in the league. I learned a ton. If there's a guy or two coaches that probably shaped the way I view things in the NFL, it'd be Mike Mularkey and Mike Smith.

"[Mularkey's] one of the most detailed people that I've ever been around, and that group that we have at the tight end position will be extremely detailed. Everybody feeds off that and sees his presence in the building. Working again with Dirk and both of those guys, they each have inner strengths that I think fit well which each other. I think they'll have a great working relationship, and it's going to benefit our organization having both of those guys."