How new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian fits Atlanta’s offense
Fresh off one of the most prolific offensive seasons in recent memory, the Atlanta Falcons have started to fall victim to coach poaching. First it was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who signed as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Later it would be reported that quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur was heading to LA to be the Rams offensive coordinator.
With a glaring vacancy on the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons have reportedly turned to the college ranks. Steve Sarkisian had served as offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama all of one game—the National Championship game—before Atlanta tabbed him as their next offensive coordinator. Once seen as one of the top up-and-coming coaching talents in the country, Sarkisian’s career was derailed after he was fired from USC in 2015 amidst reports of alcohol-related issues. Prior to that, Sarkisian led PFF’s highest-graded passing offense in the country in 2014, his first year with the Trojans.
In that 2014 season, Sarkisian had QB Cody Kessler, WR Nelson Agholor, and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster all playing like first-round talents. There they ran a mix of pro-style run and pass concepts out of spread formations. They utilized play action at the sixth-highest rate in the entire country (35.8 percent of passes), leaning heavily on receiver screens and run-pass options.
Philosophically, that all aligns with where Atlanta has been trending under OC Kyle Shanahan the past two seasons. And that’s likely the most important factor in this hire. It’s obvious that the Falcons have a good thing going, and the organization does not want to start back at square one. The only two starters on Atlanta’s offense set to hit free agency—right guard Chris Chester and tight end Levine Toilolo—are also the two lowest-graded starters on the offense. It’s a risky move, considering that the last time Sarkisian donned a headset in the NFL was all the way back in 2004 when he was the quarterbacks coach for the Raiders, but at this point, the Falcons were likely left with few options in their coaching search.