When Atlanta coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey sit down to look at the film of the game against the Jets, they should look at just one play.
Then, remember it and forget almost everything else the offense did -- or did not do -- Sunday. I’m talking about the 16-yard pass to Roddy White late in the fourth quarter. It turned into a 31-yard play because New York defensive back Donald Strickland grabbed White’s face mask.
White’s catch wasn’t anything real special and neither was the throw by Ryan. But as Mularkey and Smith look ahead to next season (and that’s all they’ve got because the Falcons are out of the playoffs), they should remember that play to White.
It’s a perfect example of what’s possible when you take some shots downfield. Injuries, more than anything else, have spoiled what once seemed to be a promising season for the Falcons. Some shaky play by the defense, which actually fared very well Sunday, also has contributed heavily to a .500 record.
But maybe the biggest disappointment of all this season has been that the offense hasn’t been nearly as prolific as the Falcons hoped. Injuries can’t be the full excuse here. Even before Ryan and running back Michael Turner got banged-up, the offense wasn’t exactly prospering.
There’s no real reason for that. The Falcons have loads of talent at the skill positions and an offensive line that’s not bad. Most of all, they’ve got Ryan. He hasn’t exactly gone through a sophomore slump, but he hasn’t exactly built on a very strong rookie year.
Maybe that’s because the Falcons haven’t really let him. Yes, Smith and Mularkey share a run-first philosophy. But maybe it’s time to re-think that just a little. Gonzalez has been a wonderful addition and it’s obvious Ryan feels very comfortable using the tight end as a safety valve.
But maybe it’s time -- next year -- to change things up slightly and put Ryan in a better position to make big plays. The kid can throw the ball downfield, and White (and, to a lesser extent, wide receiver Michael Jenkins) can catch it. The Falcons also will get Harry Douglas back next year. He had a very promising rookie season as a speed receiver, but got hurt in training camp.
That’s a pretty good corps of wide receivers. Next year, it’s time to let Ryan use those guys a little bit more. Sure, keep Gonzalez and Turner heavily involved. But take some shots downfield because good things can happen when you do.