After looking last week at what Mike Nolan brings to the Falcons defense, I turn my focus to former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator and new Atlanta Falcons play caller Dirk Koetter. Koetter comes off a season in which his offense averaged nearly 16 points per game, good for 29th in the league, and the Jaguars also had a last place passing offense.
However, much of those struggles were due to a rookie quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) being introduced into the starting role and a lack of weapons to support him. Now that all changes with Koetter in Atlanta, where the Falcons have a four-headed attack with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Koetter brings a downfield attack that wasn’t present last season in
Atlanta under play caller Mike Mularkey, who instead settled for crossing routes off of play action passing concepts.
Mularkey’s offense was effective at times, but overall it was inconsistent, and after trading up for receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Falcons front office wanted to see more bang for their buck with vertical passes thrown his way. Koetter will bring that, as he’s well known for building his offense around vertical pass concepts such as 4 verticals.
In a sit-down interview with Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar of X and O Labs, the new Falcons offensive coordinator was asked about his most effective horizontal stretch, and he explained the concept of 4 verticals:
DK: “I look at the concept of four verticals to be a horizontal stretch route. I look at a vertical stretch as three levels: you’re stretching the defense high, intermediate and low. Four verticals don’t really do that. They call it four verticals. Whoever came up with that based it on what the offensive guys are doing. It stretches the field horizontally. Number one, we have a whole bunch of ways to tag it and change it. It’s more complicated than four guys running down the field. In its purist form, if you’re running four verticals against a three deep zone you’re working a horizontal stretch against a free safety. Or if you’re running a four vertical concept against a two deep zone you’re going two on one on the half field safety. That is a horizontal stretch on a safety. When people think about horizontal stretch they think a curl/flat concept. But a curl/flat concept is too easily defeated by a two deep, five under coverage. It’s not my favorite. There would be a place for it, but it’s not my favorite. What I like about a four vertical package, based on how you tweak it, you could give your QB an answer against any coverage. The weakness of it is that you need to be in five or six man protection. There’s no way you can get four verticals protecting with seven or eight.”
The concept is one of the most popular in football today, as it has an answer for every coverage thrown at the offense, especially when route conversions are built in as Koetter has done with his outside receivers who typically run ‘Go’ (or 9) clear-out routes. Instead, Koetter converts these routes into “read stop” patterns, as is often seen with teams like the Green Bay Packers.
As previously noted, Koetter changed his play-calling tendencies in 2011 due to the presence of a young signal caller and lack of weapons. But when he had the strong armed, veteran David Garrard at the helm, Koetter was able to attack down the field with more success, and we saw that passing game at work when Jacksonville played Denver in the beginning of the 2010-11 season.
After calling for a running back to motion wide, Garrard set up a 3×1 Trips set look against the Broncos defense that would ultimately help set up a 24-yard touchdown pass.
At the snap of the ball, Garrard took a 5-step drop while his 4 receivers released from the line of scrimmage and developed into their routes. The two outside receivers appeared to initially run ‘Go’ routes but stopped them short by converting to “read stop” routes.
Meanwhile, tight end Marcedes Lewis (originally in-line as the No. 3 receiver) ran a shallow crossing route that saw him go under the near strong-side inside linebacker and over the weak-side middle linebacker.
The most important route on this play came from the slot receiver, the No. 2 from the top of the screen, who ran a bending (or what Koetter calls a “bender”) route (in red) that starts with an outside release and brings it back across the middle of the field by splitting the two safeties.
When slot receiver Kassim Osgood split the two high safeties, he got himself open in the middle of the field, and Garrard threw it for the touchdown.
When Mularkey broke the news that he was going to become the new head coach of the Jaguars, reports surfaced that some were happy to see him go because he wasn’t using his weapons to their full potential.
Mularkey was vanilla, and he didn’t use the entire length or width of the field in his passing game. However, that’s set the change with the hiring of Koetter, who was hampered last season but is well known for his vertical passing game. Koetter bases his passing game out of the 4 verticals concept, which attacks the field both vertically and horizontally.
The 4 verticals concept puts pressure on defensive backs by pinning them back on their heels while they’re in coverage. This is a very successful concept and it’s used throughout football, but less in the NFL. While Koetter likes to utilize his vertical passing threats, he also doesn’t mind calling for short passes from this concept, and throwing it to the tailback who is “leaking” out of the backfield and has a matchup advantage against a linebacker. This is where running back Jacquizz Rodgers, a small but dynamic runner, could come into play for the Falcons.