The Falcons on Friday completed the third NFL coaching change of the 2021 offseason, hiring Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.
Atlanta is turning to Smith, 38, after a 4-12 season that included the firing of Dan Quinn following an 0-5 start. The Falcons were 4-7 under interim coach Raheem Morris but lost their last five games.
Morris was one of the candidates the Falcons interviewed for the full-time position. Smith was the last interviewee as Atlanta and other interested teams had to wait for the Titans to complete their playoff game against the Ravens on Jan. 10.
Smith joins Robert Saleh (Jets) and Urban Meyer (Jaguars) as new NFL head coaches in the days following the end of the 2020 regular season.
So, who are the Falcons getting as their field boss, and what is Smith getting himself into?
Smith moved up the ranks in Tennessee
Smith has been coaching since 2006, making stops at North Carolina, the Washington Football Team and Ole Miss prior to joining the Titans in 2011. He mostly worked with Tennessee’s tight ends until taking over as offensive coordinator in 2019. As OC, he leaned on running back Derrick Henry in a run-heavy, ball-control attack. Tennessee was second in the league in rush attempts and yards this season. But Smith also got the most out of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who posted a 106.5 passer rating in 2020. The Falcons’ offensive personnel is a little bit different.
Smith inherits a potent passing game in Atlanta
Atlanta had to sling it a lot in 2020, for several reasons: The running game wasn’t strong, the team had big receiving threats around Matt Ryan and it needed to keep up with opponents in high-scoring games. The Falcons finished fourth in the NFL in pass attempts and fifth in passing yards in 2020. As of now, Matt Ryan will be throwing to holdovers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst next season. Running back is an area of need as Todd Gurley and Brian Hill become unrestricted free agents in March. The offensive line will need attention, too, with center Alex Mack entering free agency.
Smith will need someone to straighten out the defense
The Falcons were sixth in the NFL against the run last season but faced the second-lowest number of rushes by opponents. Teams were having too much success carving up the pass defense, which was dead last in yardage allowed. Opponents were also making big late-game comebacks; the Falcons blew leads of 16, 17 and 20 points in 2020. No wonder SN’s latest mock draft has Atlanta selecting Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye with the fourth pick in Round 1. He could be a cornerstone piece for the new defensive coordinator.