The Atlanta Falcons offense had a topsy-turvy season in its last under Steve Sarkisian’s watch. The former offensive coordinator stepped down after watching an offense that averaged 28.5 points in the first eight games of the year slump to 23.3 in the final eight.
Quarterback Matt Ryan had a stellar campaign in spite of the general falloff, posting numbers similar to his 2016 MVP campaign (4,924 yards, 35 TDs, seven INTs). He was also more effective in the red zone, thanks in large part to the play of rookie Calvin Ridley. Ryan will be reunited with Dirk Koetter, who called plays in Atlanta from 2012-14.
The running game loses an electrifying talent in Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a career-high 800 yards while starting 14 games in 2018. Devonta Freeman is in the middle of a hard-earned contract, though he was limited to two games last season due to injury. It’s a major question how he’ll bounce back. If he can, he should be back to his elusive, elite ways. If not, the team will lean more on Ito Smith, who rushed for 315 yards and four touchdowns in his first season. Rookie Qadree Ollison should get in on the action, too. And what will become of 2017 fifth-rounder Brian Hill, who came on strong late last season, with 115 yards rushing in a 24–20 win at Carolina in late December?
The receiving corps is largely intact from last season, with All-Pro Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Ridley leading the charge. All three are good enough to be No. 1 options on most other teams. Koetter loves to air it out, and Atlanta has the perfect receiving group to do so. Jones continued his remarkable run last season, with 113 receptions for 1,677 yards and eight touchdowns (matching the second-highest total of his career). He has had at least 1,400 yard receiving in five straight seasons. Sanu caught 66 passes for a career-high 838 yards in his seventh season in the league. Ridley scored a team-high 10 touchdowns as a rookie. Justin Hardy returns and will be in the mix, and 2018 sixth-rounder Russell Gage will try to make a case to get more snaps.
Austin Hooper leads a talented group of tight ends that will be coached by Mike Mularkey — a former tight end in the league and a three-time head coach. Luke Stocker, who played for Mularkey in Tennessee, was added to the stable in the offseason. Stocker is mainly a blocking tight end but has grown as a receiving option. Logan Paulsen and Eric Saubert also return. Paulsen proved more worthwhile in the passing game than expected, while the team still waits to see what it has in Saubert, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick who has yet to make an impact.
The Falcons’ biggest offensive weakness, the line, could now be a strength. The team invested numerous resources in this unit, using 2019 first-round picks on guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. Both will need time to grow but should be instant upgrades at the right guard and right tackle spots (assuming Lindstrom slots in there and not on the left side). Free agent James Carpenter figures to slot in at left guard, and left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack — both Pro Bowl talents — return to man their spots.