Welcome to the new day and age of the Atlanta Falcons: The Arthur Smith era. Falcons’ fans will be going back to the days of offensive creativity based off a wide zone running game. The defense will be ultra-aggressive under new DC Dean Pees. Smith was known in Tennessee for his humility and how he molded his offense to the strength of the Tennessee players. Not to mention that the wide zone running game is what Kyle Shanahan based his offense on the year that the Falcons made their Super Bowl run. They had a two-running back system that year with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Smith has an entire projected stable of running backs from Mike Davis to Qadree Ollison to Cordarrelle Patterson. This offensive scheme is going to be the centerpiece for the year as it seems to be every year. With the defense lacking an identity last year, the projected faces of the 2021 Atlanta Falcons all are offensive.
2021 Atlanta Falcons: Faces of the Team
Matt Ryan finished last season ranked the 12th best quarterback by PFF, 17th in EPA/play and 16th in ESPN’s QBR metric which sparked the debate of whether the Falcons should draft a quarterback. The Falcons passed on a quarterback for Kyle Pitts in the 2021 NFL Draft. For half of the Falcons fans, this was an oversight that may spell doom for the 2021 season. For the other half and Arthur Smith, Matt Ryan is due for a breakout year under the creativity of his new signal-callers.
According to Arthur Smith, “[Smith] studied every drop-back pass, every play-action pass…we thought as a staff that he was still performing at a high level.” Ryan’s 2020 season for most quarterbacks may have been a career year. He ended with a 65% completion percentage, 4581 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs, and a cumulative 93.3 Passer Rating. Thankfully for Ryan, he will be the recipient of a more creative offense than he has had in recent years. Now there is no reason why this unit should not be a top-10 unit if everyone stays healthy. There’s definitely no reason if Matt Ryan plays how he’s played over the past few years.
Kyle Pitts, for many football fans, was the next athletic freak that was going to cause matchup headaches for defenses throughout the league. Some of his highlights are that you can throw him anywhere on the line, in-line and in the slot. Pitts did not have a single dropped pass last season at Florida. He also runs routes that can get him open against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks. With the departure of Julio Jones, who just so happens to be an athletic phenomenon in his own right, Pitts will have huge shoes to fill. However, he has many traits that are Jones-like and will contribute immediately to Arthur Smith’s tight end-heavy attack.
Pitts’ catch radius is huge, he is a willing blocker, especially in pass protection, and he is a “cheat code” in the red zone. Pitts is not new to producing on the big stage either. In an All-SEC schedule, Pitts had 43 receptions for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pitts is not going to come in and be Julio Jones, we know that. However, he is the prototype for the new age of tight end in the NFL- a chess piece that teams use in the middle of the field to take the pressure off their outside threats. This year will be a testament to how Pitts will be used in Smith’s offense; he will draw the double-teams away from the outside receivers against both zone and man-to-man defenses.
Julio Jones’ departure did not have an effect just on Pitts and Ryan. It also moved every wide receiver on the Atlanta Falcons up a slot in the depth chart. The new number one wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, has a chance to be a superstar starting next year, especially with Smith’s creativity and Pitts drawing double-teams in the middle of the field. Ridley’s 2020 stats last year amassed to 143 targets, 90 receptions, 1374 yards and nine touchdowns with only six drops.
With Julio out last year, Calvin Ridley either got 50+ yards or he scored a touchdown and got nine or more targets in every outing. Now, there are reservations to be had because it is very reminiscent of the Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuester situation in Pittsburgh as outlined by Jacob Camenker of Sporting News. Also outlined, Matt Ryan is better at this stage in his career than Ben Roethlisberger. Further Calvin Ridley is just better than Smith-Schuester. It can’t be stressed how much Calvin Ridley’s success in Smith’s offense is going to be necessary for the 2021 Falcons to be a viable playoff team this year.
The faces of the 2021 Atlanta Falcons are all offensive. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have really placed a focus on the development of this offense. This year, all the splash moves have either been offensive additions or departures. With the fourth-lowest strength of schedule for the year, Falcons fans may have room for optimism this soon after earning the fourth overall pick. It’s got all of the makings of 2008 all over again.
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