NFL Analysis: Did Atlanta Falcons Make a Mistake Hiring Dirk Koetter?

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Welcome to Point/Counter-Point. This is where we take a hot topic and look at the issue from two differing perspectives. A couple of weeks ago we discussed Falcons RB Michael Turner and also talked about the infamous Julio Jones trade.

Today we take a look at Dirk Koetter and speculate if Mike Smith and Falcons brass did the right thing by giving him the reigns of the offense.

I'm all for change, and goodness knows the Falcons anemic offense needed to be changed.  But going from Mike Mularkey to Dirk Koetter is like changing your wall color from white to beige.  The Falcons need a shake-up on offense, and I honestly don't think Koetter is the one who can do it.

His track record alone should have sent up an entire fabric store's worth of red flags to the Falcons front office, but Mike Smith I'm sure had a lot to do with calming any fears that they might have had.  He likes his old buddies around him, and so far that formula hasn't worked all too well.  But enough conjecture, let's look at some facts.

Fact 1 - Koetter was in Jacksonville for five years as offensive coordinator prior to being hired by Atlanta.  During that five year span, the Jaguars made the playoffs (ready?...) once.  And that was in 2007, Koetter's first year with the team when he basically used the players and schemes that he had inherited.  Since 2007 the Jaguars haven't even manage a winning record.

Fact 2 - During Koetter's five years with the Jaguars they went from 7th in total offense in 2007, to 29th in 2011, slipping from season to season.  Not exactly the kind of trend that makes your glands salivate if you are a quarterback, running back or wide receiver.  His reputation of the "vertical passing attack" was basically non-existent, as the Jaguars leaned heavy and often on running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew (sound like a familiar formula?)

Fact 3 - Prior to his stint as the Jaguars offensive coordinator, Koetter was head coach at Arizona State University.  During his six seasons at ASU, he compiled a mere 40-34 record in what was a fairly weak Pac-10 at that time.  In addition to struggling to keep the Sun Devils barely over .500 while he was head coach, he held a 1–11 record against top 10 teams, and was 2–19 against ranked teams.

Fact 4 - When Koetter took over the offense in Jacksonville, quarterback David Garrard looked like he was well on his way to becoming the next franchise quarterback for the Jaguars.  But under Koetter's tutelage, Garrard went from a record breaking year in 2007 to being completely out of football by the 2011 season. Is this who we want bringing Matt Ryan through the prime of his career?

No, I think it's clear that the Falcons have once again failed to see the forest for the trees.  There were some big names available, and others who probably would have wanted to come join the Falcons.  Instead, we basically just made a one-for-one trade with the Jaguars.  Fortune favors the bold.  The Falcons were less than bold with this hire, and it may end up costing some people their jobs by the end of next season.  I only hope that Dirk Koetter is on that list.

Michael Collins is a contributor to the Grits Blitz Blog. Check out his weekly "Bird Droppings" column and visit his website Georgia Sports Craze. You can follow him on Twitter @GaSportsCraze.

Why Dirk Koetter was the right choice

On January 15th of 2012 the Atlanta Falcons officially opened the offseason, by replacing former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, with former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The move has perplexed many and has been a source of controversy. Many feel that Owner Arthur Blank and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff didn't hold their word by bringing in Koetter. In truth they did, and despite finishing with the worst offense in the NFL last season Koetter was the best choice for Atlanta. To understand this we have to go back to Koetter's time with the Jaguars, a journey that began in 2007.

At that time Koetter had just been terminated from the position of Head Coach at Arizona State University, and the Jaguars were looking for someone to take their offense to the next level. Having finished 10th during the 2006 campaign, Koetter was expected to come in and help turn the Jags into a perennial offensive powerhouse. Highly regarded as a vertical passing genius, Koetter soon helped the Jags to 7th ranked offense in the NFL and a playoff birth; where they won the wild card game against the Steelers, but were bounced by the then undefeated Patriorts in the divisional round. During the season Koetter had inherited a team with 2 young talented pieces, Marcedes Lewis, and Maurice Jones-Drew. These two would become a testament in later years to Koetter's developmental skills and offensive mind.

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The 2008 season was a complete 180 from the successful 2007 campaign, the Jags finished 5-11, part in due to a string of injuries and one tragic accident that inflicted the offensive line. Both starting Guards for the Jags went down in the first quarter of the first game and didn't return for the rest of the season. On September 2nd, 2008 the Jags suffered a tremendous setback, OT Richard Collier was shot 14 times. Collier survived but was paralyzed from the waist down. David Garrard also struggled through the year as it became clear that he was not the end all be all for Jacksonville. In 2009 Gene Smith was brought in as General Manager to help get the Jags on track but his first draft was an utter failure. Only recently has OT Eugene Monroe started to pay dividends and Eben Britton has had injury issues along with poor play. 4th round pick Mike Thomas is currently the teams #1 WR. He showed promise in 2010, but his play dropped off dramatically after getting a new deal from the Jaguars. The Jaguars decline into mediocrity continued, hitting rock bottom in 2011.

That offseason the Jaguars selected Quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first round, deciding to part ways with tenured starter David Garrard. Gabbert initially started the season behind veteran journeyman Luke McCown. After a string of unsuccessful starts and posting the lowest QB rating in Jags history (1.8), McCown was benched in favor of the rookie Gabbert. Gabbert never had the tools to succeed with, RT Guy Whimper was abused week in and week out by opposing DEs, and the Jags WR corp consisted of Mike Thomas, Kasim Osgood, Cecil Shorts, and Taylor Price by the seasons end. Osgood for the most part of his career had been a ST player, was the Jags #2 receiver, Cecil Shorts was also a rookie late round pick, while Taylor Price was a Patriots reject picked up mid-season.

Koetter never had the tools to succeed with in Jacksonville. The talent got worse with each passing year, and ultimately he was fired. However, he did help transform Maurice Jones-Drew into a premier NFL running back. Many people had passed on MJD due to his height (5'7"), but he quickly proved the doubters wrong, and Coach Koetter was a key player in his success, as well as the development of TE Marcedes Lewis who is the best receiving threat the Jaguars currently have. To say Koetter was completely responsible for the Jags offensive woes is incorrect, he simply lacked the talent to develop the vertical passing game that he was known for in the college ranks. Koetter was criticized for being extremely predictable during his last season with the Jags, but how extravagant can you get when your #2 Wide Receiver was a former career ST player. It also didn't help that the Jags had an astonishing 21 players on injured reserve, several of them being offensive players.

Here in Atlanta, Koetter has all the tools to be successful. Atlanta's offense was stagnant vertically. Dirk Koetter brings the experience needed with the vertical passing game to Atlanta. Along with the belief that Atlanta's main target this offseason is to address the porous Oline, Koetter should be able to help the Falcons develop their vertical passing game as well as their screen game. In Atlanta, Koetter will have the tools necessary to install the offense he's always wanted to.

Here's an interesting piece of trivia for you. In 2005 the San Francisco 49ers finished 31st in total offense. Their Offensive Coordinator that year; Mike McCarthy. The same Mike McCarthy that has brought a golden age to the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl in 2010, and going 15-1 during 2011 before a quick exit from the playoffs. The Packers offense is considered the measuring stick in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers is setting a torrid pace in terms of statistics, and Mike McCarthy is being hailed as a genius. in 2005 the 49ers had a rookie QB by the name of Alex Smith, a WR corp featuring no one of prominence and were lead in terms of offense by rookie RB Frank Gore. Eerily similar circumstances to the ones Koetter had during his final year as Jaguars offensive coordinator.

Ultimately Atlanta's top choices were Brian Schottenheimer, the former Jets coordinator who had been fired for the same exact reasons many wanted Mularkey gone in the first place, Brian Billick; Coach Mike Smith's brother-in-law and the famous conductor of the 1998 Vikings, but has been out of the league for nearly 5 years and hasn't been a coordinator for a decade, and Dirk Koetter a man who's scheme and mind was bogged down by the lack of talent. It may not be the "sexy" big name hire everyone wanted, but it's the hired that made the most sense, and fit Atlanta the best, and that's why everyone needs to give Koetter his fair shot.

Follow Zach on Twitter @ZodiacFalconFan and you can read an unedited version of his Dirk Koetter arguement here.

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