The Atlanta Falcons have made some attractive moves this past off-season. These are not, however, moves of a team beginning a rebuild. They are moves more indicative of a franchise looking toward the immediate future— the Atlanta Falcons look beyond 2021. Contending for a deep postseason run or even a playoff berth seems unlikely for the Falcons. For them to make a playoff push, the Falcons will need to facilitate significant improvements in some vital areas. This seems outside the realm of possibility because the team very well may only be the third-best team in the division. Falcons fans should not be discouraged, however. Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot are progressing this team toward viability.
Atlanta Falcons Look Beyond 2021: A Deceptive Rebuild
It is no secret the quarterback position has become the most crucial position in the sports world. Over the past few years, Atlanta has had the talent to contend but somehow steadily regressed instead. Falcons fans struggled with whether it was the coaching staff and front office or the play of their quarterback, Matt Ryan. This uncertainty went so far as to cause speculation over whether or not it was time to move on from Ryan and start looking toward the future of the position in Atlanta.
Matt Ryan Remains the Quarterback
The current Atlanta brass put an end to this narrative after bypassing Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, they decided to bolster Ryan’s weaponry and add matchup nightmare, Kyle Pitts, to the team. Arthur Smith went on to say Ryan and his abilities were some of the main reasons he took the job in Atlanta.
There is no reason to believe Ryan won’t continue producing even following the departure of long-time number-one option Julio Jones. The new number-one option, Calvin Ridley, reassured Falcons fans he is more than ready to take on the challenge. Arthur Smith likes to run two-tight end sets to open up the outside receivers to do more damage down the field. Atlanta’s tight ends are Hayden Hurst, a former first-round pick, and Pitts, their 2021 first-rounder. This is all without even mentioning a new potential downfield threat: Frank Darby, who the Falcons selected in the sixth round.
The other side to this coin is Ryan is on the back end of his career. He just turned 36 this year. Quarterback shelf-lives are naturally longer than average but the Falcons can only expect a few more good seasons from him. This fact, unfortunately, puts pressure on Atlanta’s front office to make the Falcons a contender sooner than later.
Recently in a podcast with Cris Collinsworth, Arthur Smith emphasized the importance of the “environment” around a quarterback. Smith used Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs before Patrick Mahomes as an example. He highlighted how Reid inherited a putrid Kansas City offense and developed it with then-quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was not comparing himself to Reid here. He illustrated how the culture around a quarterback is just as vital as the play of the quarterback himself.
That culture needs time to be built.
The defense is going to be a work in progress with new coordinator Dean Pees. Pees has had success everywhere he’s been, racking up Super Bowl rings in New England and Baltimore. He’s worked with players such as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Tedy Bruschi. Pees is known for the multiple looks his defense shows, as well as blitzing from various spots on the field.
Pees said, in his initial presser, his defense would be “simple” for the secondary. This simplicity is a good thing considering the current defensive backs for the Falcons are, for the most part, young and inexperienced. For the front seven, they have a bit more to learn and assimilate. Pees says his front seven usually features “stunts” and “twists” to complement his unusual blitzing scheme. The strength of the 2021 Falcons defense is the linebacker position. With their athleticism, they should take some pressure (no pun intended) off of the defensive line.
The Falcons Have Nothing to Lose in 2021
As of June 29th, 2021, the Falcons are +12,500 to win the Super Bowl, +6000 to win the NFC, and +900 to win the NFC South. Betting odds, however, are not the be-all, end-all. If that were the case, Joe Namath would have lost Super Bowl III to the Baltimore Colts by 17 points. Nonetheless, bettors would not be willing to give up $900-plus if they did not realize there the 2021 Atlanta Falcons do not have much of a chance. Fans may take that as a slight, especially considering the hype of a new coach and general manager— and the promise of a new culture.
If you look at it another way, not only is it not a slight, it is a beacon for optimism. Consider the situation Arthur Smith is dealing with. Atlanta was a team that did not know how to win, losing eight of their 12 defeats last year by a single possession. Atlanta fired both their head coach and general manager after an 0-5 start. They are a team that toiled away in mediocrity in 2018 and 2019 with incomprehensible back-to-back 7-9 seasons. The Falcons teams of the late 2010s have a reputation for having the talent to win but not the “it” factor to finish. Smith has a chance to build the culture of winning Atlanta so desperately needs. All he needs is a little time as the Atlanta Falcons look beyond 2021.
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