Finding the right head coach is never effortless. Never has been and never will be. It takes an approach that is meticulous and detailed, simply because the future of the franchise is hanging in the balance and hiring the wrong head coach with the wrong direction can set back a franchise for years, and in some unique cases, decades.
For the Atlanta Falcons, they reside currently at a crossroads where the head coach and general manager positions have a vacancy. Here at The Falcoholic, we will highlight several head coaching candidates that could and/or should be on the Falcons radar. The series started with Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Today, he turn our sights to another rising offensive coordinator in the NFL.
About Arthur Smith
Smith gets overshadowed a bit because of his play calling philosophy, but his coaching history is extensive enough for him to be credited as an ascending play caller. He started off as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, University of North Carolina, back in 2006. Over the years, he made his way permanently to the NFL as a defensive quality control coach for the Tennessee Titans in 2011. Once Smith landed into the tight ends coaching spot in 2016, he held on to the position until he took over the offensive coordinator spot in 2019, replacing Matt LaFleur once he departed to be the head coach in Green Bay.
Why he is a fit for the Falcons
First of all, let’s start off with the basics. This season, the Titans are one of the best offenses in the league despite not having a number of flashy toys within the group. At the time of this article, the Titans are sixth in the NFL in scoring (29.7), fifth in total yards (407.0), fifth in yards per play (6.2), and fourth in touchdowns per game (3.7). Seeing these kind of numbers, you would assume that the Titans offense is slinging the ball left and right around the field, but that is not the case. This season, the Titans are 26th in pass attempts per game (33.4) and 28th in the NFL in passing play percentage (53%).
What makes the Titans offense compile these type of numbers is a run game that is unquestionably reliable, and efficient play calling that ensures the unit is not behind the sticks fairly often. When you view the analytical side of their numbers, the Titans are third in the NFL in drive success rate at 79%, which measures offensive drives that results in a first downs and/or a touchdown. That ranks higher than teams such as Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Arizona.
For those who have kept a close eye on the Falcons offensive philosophy in recent seasons, what has been one of true strengths for the Atlanta offense? If you answered play-action passing, then you are absolutely correct. Under Smith, the Titans have been able to rely on that staple of execution as they are fourth in the NFL in passing yards generated from play-action. From the Falcons perspective, here is how Matt Ryan has performed so far this season under play-action and non-play action play calls, courtesy of Pro Football Reference:
So a major crux of the Titans offensive approach under Smith plays into a strength of Ryan’s. The passing game is not entirely neglected in the Titans scheme. It is just a little more selective than most playbooks. When veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill took over the starting spot in week seven of last season, things changed for the Titans offense. While they were a run heavy team, they recorded eight games between weeks 7-17 in which they averaged over eight yards per pass attempt.
The Falcons only recorded four in that same time span. The Titans were 6-2 in those games with Tannehill topping 120 or better passer rating in seven of those eight games. Smith worked wonders with a quarterback that struggled mightily in this previous stop and with a scheme that goes against the grain a bit compared to other blueprints around the NFL.
A lot of what makes Smith a viable candidate is how he was able to orchestrate a particular offensive philosophy with the Titans and turn it into the foundation of their postseason run last season. Of course, there are other components to the head coaching checklist. But as a play caller with the background that Smith has, his offensive prowess gels quite well with what is obviously the strength of the Falcons at the present time.
I get it. Smith may not be a flashy name. But neither were Buffalo’s Sean McDermott or Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams. But Smith is a play caller this is getting better by the week and what he has done to resurrect the career of Tannehill should not go unnoticed.
His overall philosophy goes against the grain a bit with how the Falcons operate as an offense, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. A convincing case can be made that the Falcons offense actually operates better when is not chucking the ball 40 times a game. There is an expanding level of respect that is traveling around the league for Smith and his future in the NFL. If the Falcons were to head in his direction, it could be an interesting hire to say the least, especially if they’re willing to draft a back who can carry a Derrick Henry-esque load.