Great Falcon read - McKAY

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by Nors, Jan 20, 2005.

  1. Nors

    Nors Benched

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    McKay follows Pats' model to retool Falcons

    By Vic Carucci
    National Editor,

    (March 1, 2004) -- Rich McKay grasps the enormity and difficulty of the task ahead.

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    "We've got a little work to do," the Atlanta Falcons' new president and general manager says, knowing full well there is nothing "little" about returning a team that finished with a 5-11 record in 2003 to the playoff qualifier it was in 2002.

    Fortunately for the Falcons, McKay has an equally good handle on the necessary steps to improving a club that ranked dead last in the NFL in defense and near the bottom of the league in offense.

    The Super Bowl ring that he owns marks the culmination of eight years of focusing on a single mission, which was to help transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from a laughingstock to a champion. But McKay's ability to see the NFL in the broadest of terms, to thoroughly understand the way the league works and how to build and maintain a successful franchise, is what makes him arguably the Falcons' best catch since drafting a certain quarterback who made football a whole lot more exciting in Atlanta and everywhere else he has taken a snap.

    McKay didn't allow himself to be blinded by the glitter of his ring from the Bucs' magnificent 2002 season. Typical of the approach that has made him so effective as co-chairman of the league's competition committee, he didn't assume that he had all of the answers. Tampa Bay's former GM kept his eyes and mind wide open to all that was going on elsewhere in the NFL. He paid particular attention to the New England Patriots, who not only rebounded from their struggles in '02 but also managed to overcome a staggering number of injuries to win their second Super Bowl crown in three seasons.

    What McKay saw, first and foremost, was an organization that truly recognized it is far more important to have a team than a team of stars.

    "They did a great job -- starting with the head coach, obviously, and the owner and the management -- of creating a real team atmosphere, where they were able to plug in players when they had players injured and not miss a beat," McKay says. "I think that's obviously very important for the Atlanta Falcons, just considering what they went through last year with the loss of Michael Vick for most of the year and the plunge that we took.

    "You can have individual stars on your team, but it's very rare that a guy's going to make it through a 16- or 20-game season without missing a game or a practice or part of a game. I think (the Patriots' approach) emphasizes for everyone how important the team concept is."

    The new management in Atlanta will try to help star QB Michael Vick avoid injury.
    Make no mistake. The Falcons have every intention of continuing to take every advantage of Vick's enormous talent as a passer and a runner. McKay understands what was underscored by the quarterback's broken leg in the preseason -- the Falcons are a far better team with Vick than they are without him.

    But in an effort to end the team's 38-year history of never putting together back-to-back winning seasons, he has made sure the Patriots' model is always close to the new Atlanta blueprint. Jim Mora, who replaced Dan Reeves as the Falcons coach, certainly had no problem embracing it. As a former defensive coordinator, he is well versed in the idea of having someone other than the quarterback constantly serve as the engine that constantly drives a team. Along with McKay, he is determined to build the Falcons into a club that can lean on other elements of the offense and, when necessary, the defense to carry the load.

    It is a message Mora plans to preach whenever he has his players' ears.

    "For us, there's so much emphasis on Michael Vick that we have to find ways to divert the attention to other players that are also valuable to our success," Mora says. "That way, players on our team don't feel that the successes that we have are completely connected to Michael Vick, that they realize that there's importance in every position, importance in the team playing well together.

    "We'll get that done. You've just constantly got to pound it in their heads."

    It also takes developing schemes designed to work well with interchangeable parts. That, perhaps, is one of the biggest reasons Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff deserve to be recognized as the best coaches in the NFL.

    Not to take anything away from two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, but offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has maximized Brady's skills by having him work from a playbook that emphasizes high-percentage passing and doesn't ask him to do it all with his arm or his legs. Maybe another signal-caller wouldn't enjoy the sort of success Brady has had for the better part of three seasons, but the Patriots offense is quarterback friendly and somehow manages to succeed despite the absence of superstar receivers or a strong running game.

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    New England's defense has plenty of good players, but it, too, thrives every bit as much from its structure as it does from its talent. Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel do a masterful job of changing fronts and disguising coverages. They have baffled some of the brightest quarterbacks in the game, including Peyton Manning, who runs an offense that is supposed to allow him to make the last-second changes to avoid such confusion.

    Those lessons have convinced the Falcons to make Vick a West Coast-style quarterback. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who followed Mora from San Francisco to Atlanta, will spend the offseason and training camp teaching Vick the finer points of an offensive system that will give him many safer throwing options than he has had previously and help discourage him from too frequently choosing to run and exposing himself to injury.

    "I think that it'll be a good thing for Michael," McKay says.

    Mora and new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, are switching the Falcons from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme that they believe is a better fit for the core of players they have inherited on defense. They also plan to add players who can thrive in what they are convinced will be a more aggressive, playmaking approach.

    "New England doesn't get enough credit for what a good job their coaching staff does and their personnel staff does in understanding what they're all about -- the schemes they play, the players that fit those schemes, how those players fit -- so when a player does go down, the guy that comes in actually fits the scheme and he might not be at the same level, but he fits," McKay says. "And one thing we've tried to emphasize in the last four weeks in meetings is making sure the staff spends a lot of time with the scouts and all the personnel people, taking us position by position through the team and what the definition is of that player at that position. I think you can't spend enough time doing that."

    It is that sort of thinking that should allow the Falcons to feel comfortable that their team is in good hands.

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  2. trickblue

    trickblue Not Old School...Old Testament...

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    It just goes to show what a top-flight executive can do for a team... Tampa will rue the day they let him go...

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