Why Arthur Smith can turn the Falcons around

"Matt Ryan in drills" by Thomson20192 is marked with CC0 1.0

The Falcons will have a new look defense

By: Andy Davies

The Atlanta Falcons had a disastrous 2020 season, with a gradual freefall since their heartbreaking Super Bowl 51 loss to the New England Patriots.

Just over four years on and the Falcons have a new head coach after Dan Quinn was fired during the 2020 season.

His replacement is Arthur Smith, who spent two seasons as the Tennesee Titans’ offensive coordinator. He oversaw the arrival and improvement of Ryan Tannehill, who won the Comeback Player Of The Year’ after an impressive 2019 season. Is Smith the man to turn Atlanta’s fortunes around?

The Offense He Will Inherit

Despite their 4-12 record in 2020, Atlanta still has a great offense.

Matt Ryan continues to go under the radar, with yet another 4,000-yard season in 2020. He threw for 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions but was sacked 41 times.

The offensive line was an issue for the Falcons, as was their run game.

Former Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley may have scored 9 touchdowns but only recorded 678 rushing yards. The Gurley experiment is over after just one season.

Former Carolina Panther Mike Davis, who had a breakout season in 2020 during Christian McCaffrey’s absence, will now take the role as the lead back in Atlanta unless Atlanta takes a running back during the draft.

Legendary wide receiver Julio Jones had a rare down year, with just three touchdowns and 771 receiving yards in 9 games during 2020. Calvin Ridley saw more progression in his NFL career by becoming the top Falcons receiver. He scored nine touchdowns and caught for 1,374 receiving yards.

Wideout Russell Gage (786) and tight end Hayden Hurst (571) both played their part when it comes to receiving yards recorded in 2020, combining for ten touchdowns between them.

It is not the offense that is the problem. With the Falcons’ struggles in defense, this is the issue for the Falcons and is one that Smith will need to address for the 2021 season and beyond.

Working On The Defense

The Falcons kept finding new ways to lose in 2020. This included Todd Gurley “accidentally” scoring a touchdown against the Lions.

Atlanta finished last in passing yards allowed (4,697), 18th in total points allowed (414) and 29th in total yards (6,374). Despite this, only five teams allowed fewer rushing yards in 2020 than the Falcons (1,677).

Linebackers Foyesade Oluokun and Deion Jones recorded over 100 tackles each. No Falcons player recorded more than 4.5 sacks. No defensive back had more than 3 interceptions and Oloukun recorded the most forced fumbles with 4.

This shows an issue all around. The Linebacker position seems to be the only area Falcons fans can be happy with, specifically Oloukun, who was Atlanta’s leader in tackles, sacks and forced fumbles.

Atlanta’s fourth overall pick appears too high for a defensive player unless they trade down.

There is bound to be a defensive stud available in the second round, should the Falcons stick with the number four pick. Securing multiple defensive players throughout the draft can go a long way to make Atlanta a threat on both sides of the ball.

The Power Of Their Fourth Overall Pick

Atlanta has the fourth overall pick. With this, they hold plenty of power. The 2021 Draft class is filled with several top quarterback prospects. It will be hard to see Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson available when the fourth pick is on the clock.

The San Francisco 49ers traded up to obtain the third overall pick. This almost guarantees that they will take a quarterback, especially with the 49ers openly talking up the idea of taking a QB at 3. Mac Jones appears to be the favorite but we could also see Justin Fields or Trey Lance.

Teams such as the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have been rumored to want a quarterback in this year’s draft. It is not out of the question that the Chicago Bears or Washington Football team take a quarterback for the future.

Ryan is still putting up the numbers. As a result, it feels too soon to take a quarterback in the draft.

As previously mentioned, defense is the area that Atlanta needs the most in the draft. Most of the teams in the top 10 need offensive weapons, which means that the top defensive prospects will be still available. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are two teams that seem the most likely to trade up.

Being an offensive-minded coach, Smith may want to add to the roster with a tight end prospect as good as Kyle Pitts. Otherwise, it is more than likely that the Falcons should trade down, collect draft capital and help a struggling defense.

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