The hiring of Steve Sarkisian had disaster written all over it from the beginning.
To replace offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons needed someone who could at least keep the attack on the same level. Maybe add some power to the short-yardage package and keep it moving.
Sarkisian had not been in the NFL since the 2005 season. He was essentially a college coach given the keys to the kingdom. The Falcons were far from the team offensively that led the NFL last season in several categories.
The Falcons’ 15-10 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Divisional playoff game Saturday left more questions on whether the team made the right hire in the key coordinator position.
Even players, while being kind to Sarkisian, know the offense under performed this season.
“We are way better than we played this year,” Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones said. “But that’s just on us. We were just (not) executing, taking advantage of opportunities.”
You can’t place the NFL-leading 29 dropped passes on Sarkisian.
However, how Sarkisian held Jones to four touchdowns in 18 games is one of the remarkable feats in modern leaguge history.
The fourth-and-2 play on the Falcons’ final possession, an incomplete pass to Jones on a roll out, was unimaginative. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said they knew the call and jumped routes accordingly.
Perhaps the Rooney Rule should be extended to coordinator positions. Sarkisian couldn’t have been the best possible candidate to replace Shanahan. If the Falcons would have done a thorough national search of all viable candidates, it’s unlikely they’d hired Sarkisian, who, like Dan Quinn, comes from the Pete Carroll coaching tree.
There had to be a better experienced-scheme fit coordinator available.
Now, the Falcons are likely married to Sarkisian.
“Like all things, we assess it all the way through,” Quinn said after the loss. “How can we do things better? There are a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like. In terms of, I can take a long time to go through different spots, so it’s easy to place blame all onto one person.”
The only offseason changes in offensive personnel were at right guard and fullback.
The Falcons did have more injuries this season as right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion), left guard Andy Levitre (torn triceps), running backs Devonta Freeman (concussion; who blew another blitz pickup, too) and Tevin Coleman (concussion) all missed games.
Also, it didn’t help that Jones and speed receiver Taylor Gabriel didn’t practice for much of the offseason. Jones missed a lot of days during the season and the timing of the passing game was never sharp.
Tight end Austin Hooper was a disappointment after opening with a big game against Chicago.
Quinn is standing by Sarkisian.
“That’s a shared responsibility when we don’t achieve at the level that we would like to,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of really good things that we’ve done and it was highlighted certainly (against the Eagles) where we didn’t get the job done at the end of the game.”
No, you didn’t get it done all game.
“Like all parts of the organization, we assess and see how we can do things better, and there’s certain parts offensively that we’ll want to do better,” Quinn said.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t getting any younger and the franchise wasted a year of his prime breaking in an offensive coordinator. Ryan turns 33 in May.
“The reason I play this game is to win a championship,” Ryan said. “That’s why we put all of the hard work we put in all of the time. When you don’t get that result, it’s difficult.”
Ryan plans to use this latest failure to help motivate him over the offseason. Perhaps, he will demand, more play-calling responsibility, but that just isn’t in his nature.
“Falling short is sometimes the best motivation to keep pushing forward and trying to really yearn to become a better player, to become a better team,” Ryan said. “I’ve never shied away from that. I always feel like it provides great motivation and there’s a fire inside of me that continues to burn. I’m not going to stop working until we get that done.”
Perhaps Sarkisian will make a big leap from year one to year two in running the offense.
The Falcons’ offense didn’t immediately flourish under Shanahan before taking off in his second season en route to the Super Bowl.
But there is no other conclusion, the Sarkisian hiring was suspect from the beginning. Now, the Falcons are in a position of trying to make it work.