Atlanta finally made their big hire with the signing of Arthur Smith on Friday. He has led one of the most dominant running attacks over the last 2 years as well as helped turn around the career of Ryan Tannehill after his time in Miami. With Mike Vrabel being a defense first coach, Smith looked like he had most of the control with the Titans offensive unit. I think he has done a great job overall, but does he bring the right fit for a team like the Atlanta Falcons?
First, this seems like it could be a bit of Matt LaFleur bias happening here after his massive success in Green Bay to this point. LaFleur actually struggled quite a bit as the offensive coordinator, ranking 25th in the NFL in 2018 as the OC of the Titans. After the season, Smith takes over as the OC, Ryan Tannehill lands in Nashville and has a resurgence, Derrick Henry becomes an All-Pro running back and AJ Brown becomes one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. I am a huge proponent of right place right time, but too many things have gone in his favor for me to believe that he may be the beneficiary of true talent.
My biggest concern philosophically is that the Titans just came off a season where they were the third leading rushing team. He will be taking over a team that has ranked in the top 5 of passing over the past 3 seasons. This is a team that is built to spread the field and get the ball into the hands of their big playmakers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The current running back room is relatively light with Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith. He does not have too many more years with Gurley due to knee issues, and Hill and Smith are not guys that are going to be bell cow backs for you. With this said, I do have an idea of something that could fix that later on, but I will discuss that in another blog.
Matt Ryan is 37 and in the twilight of his career. Julio Jones is on the wrong side of 30. Todd Gurley is a band aid at running back. All this said, and the defense is much more of the issue for the Falcons. This unit was carved apart week in and week out, suffered injury after injury and could not hold a lead if they were handed a safe to keep it in. I understand Dan Quinn was a defensive minded coach, but he just could not find the pass rushing help he needed and could not keep a healthy starting 11. Arthur Smith is going to need to bring in a quality defensive coordinator in order to attempt to fix this unit.
Atlanta needs to make a big decision on whether they wanna go for a full blown rebuild, or if they wanna try and make one more run at a Super Bowl. If this is going to be a rebuild, Arthur Smith could be a lame duck coach for the next two years and a young talent could be wasted. If they want to go for one last run, why hire a first year head coach for this position? I am not sure, but I hope the Arthurs had a long conversation about the goals and expectations for this team.
Finally, can Smith work with an immobile quarterback? Matt Ryan is not a guy that is ever looking to take off and run unless its an absolute necessity. He has never been the type of guy to run an RPO or run and option with a running back. Smith has only coached Tannehill and Marcus Mariota, both guys can make plays with their legs. He is gonna have to leave a back in to block or have a blocking tight end in to help out Matty Ice and the statue he can become in the pocket. Or does Smith want his own quarterback? One that could be a little more mobile? April will be a huge telling point for this franchise.
Overall, I do think is a good hire. I dont think the offense was ever the issue, which is why I would have preferred another defensive guy, or hold onto Raheem Morris until Ryan is ready to hang it up. Whether it is Morris or Smith as the head man, I dont believe this team has a realistic opportunity of making a deep run in the playoffs as the roster stands. Good luck to Arthur Smith and congrats on the hiring.