Novel concept for the Atlanta Falcons

ESPN Stats & Information has put out its first packet of the season of league leaders in various statistical categories.

I’ll share many of them with you at different times over the coming days, but I wanted to start with one that really jumped out at me. That’s only because I’m not used to seeing Atlanta’s Matt Ryan so high in this category.

Yep, we’re talking screen passes.

As most of you know, I frequently noted last season how little the Falcons used the screen pass. Ryan attempted fewer screens than any starting quarterback who stayed healthy for the bulk of the season. He attempted 20 screens and completed 16 of them for 68 yards and no touchdowns. Even when Ryan did get the chance to throw screens, the Falcons didn’t make much happen.

But the Falcons have replaced offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey with Dirk Koetter. It’s already apparent that they’re different in at least one way. Mularkey really didn’t believe in the screen pass. Koetter does.

In Sunday’s season-opening win against Kansas City, Koetter let Ryan attempt three screens. He completed all three for 36 yards. More importantly, one screen, to Julio Jones, went for a touchdown. That’s one more touchdown than the Falcons got off screens all last season.

Look, I’m not saying the Falcons should throw screens all the time. But it’s nice to finally see a little variety in their offense.

By the way, the other three NFC South teams didn’t get much production out of the screen in their openers.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees completed two of three attempts for 14 yards. Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman completed his only attempt for 2 yards and Carolina’s Cam Newton completed both of his attempts, but they totaled minus-1 yard.

Maybe this year we’ll be praising the Falcons’ screen game and questioning why the other division teams don’t use it more.