Koetter eager to help Falcons' offense succeed

By George Henry

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 16 2012 4:11 p.m. MST

ATLANTA — Dirk Koetter believes the Atlanta Falcons already have the pieces they need to become an elite offense.

Now it will be his job as offensive coordinator to make Atlanta reach that level.

"The Falcons have done very well the last four years," Koetter said during a teleconference with reporters Monday. "You've got to make it to the playoffs first, and they've done a good job of that. I've got to come in there and do the best job I can and try to help everybody be the best they can be. That's all any coach can do."

Head coach Mike Smith hired Koetter on Sunday to replace Mike Mularkey, who left last week to become head coach in Jacksonville. When Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski left to join Mularkey's new staff as offensive coordinator, Smith in turn hired Koetter as the Falcons' new coordinator.

Before moving forward with a contract, Koetter met for an hour Saturday with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to make sure both sides would fit well with each other.

"You can tell Matt is a guy that really understands offensive football, that he's got a great passion for not only playing but winning," Koetter said. "I couldn't be more excited to work with Matt as well as some of the other players they have on that offensive group."

Koetter will be charged with helping the Falcons become more efficient, particularly against the NFL's better teams.

Despite making the playoffs for the third time in four years, Atlanta beat only one team with a winning record that advanced to the postseason (Detroit). In a 24-2 wild-card loss at the New York Giants, the Falcons were a mess offensively.

They were stopped on two critical fourth-and-1 runs, and the ground game was held to a 3.0 average on 21 attempts. They converted 4-of-14 third-down attempts, and Ryan, who rarely had time to set his feet in the pocket, completed 24 of 41 passes for 199 yards.

"We had some opportunities but we couldn't get it done," Ryan said after his career playoff record dropped to 0-3. "Our guys played hard up front, but we couldn't make any plays down the field like we usually do."

Koetter oversaw a balanced attack during his first three years with Jacksonville, which ranked 13th in total offense, seventh in rushing, fifth in third-down conversions and first in fewest interceptions.

But the Jaguars bottomed out last season as rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggled and Jacksonville finished last in total offense and in yards passing. The Jags' 15.2 scoring average ranked 29th.

With Falcons owner Arthur Blank having made heavy financial investments in Ryan, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, Koetter knows success must be quickly evident in 2012.

"There's pressure everywhere, and nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself," Koetter said. "All I can say is I'll be extremely dedicated to the task at hand and I understand the task at hand."

Koetter was pleased to land a sought-after job. The former Arizona State and Boise State head coach interviewed recently for vacancies at Alabama (offensive coordinator) and Hawaii (head coach) before he joined the Falcons.

One of the biggest challenges will be helping Ryan maximize downfield chances for Jones, last year's No. 6 overall draft choice. Ryan's two other primary targets, White and Gonzalez, matched their expectations statistically, but Atlanta's passing game lacked a consistent vertical threat.

"Your offense is always going to be dictated, to some extent, by your personnel," Koetter said. "Everybody in the NFL knows you have to be able to run when they know you're going to run it and you have to be able to throw it even when they know you're going to throw it."

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