Offseason Playbook: Falcons

A look at Atlanta's philosophy, team needs and a key free-agent move

Originally Published: February 26, 2013
By Gary Horton and Field Yates | ESPN Insider
Tony GonzalezJonathan Ernst/ReutersIf Tony Gonzalez retires, the Atlanta Falcons will have a big hole at tight end.

In a new offseason series, Insider takes an in-depth look at NFL teams before free agency begins March 12. What is each team's philosophy on offense and defense, biggest needs and one player who could make for an ideal signing in free agency?

Team philosophies

Offense -- Coordinator Dirk Koetter has opened up this formerly conservative, run-oriented offense and quarterback Matt Ryan seems to like the scheme. Although they are still committed to the run game, the Falcons are a pass-first offense with their explosive weapons on the outside. They are quietly making the transition from a man power blocking scheme up front to more zone looks, but right now they are not quite athletic enough to run it consistently. They don't run wide a lot and when the run game is going well it sets up play-action. Koetter also is using more no-huddle/up-tempo plays with added emphasis on the screen game, especially the bubble screen. They will flex and use motion to get good one-on-one matchups, they take advantage of their receivers' leaping ability and Ryan loves to throw the high ball where his receivers can elevate. He also loves to work Tony Gonzalez down the seams, although there is a good chance Gonzalez will retire. They also will use bunch formations to confuse defenses and avoid press techniques. This has become an effective quick-strike offense.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.