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How Arthur Smith’s 2020 TItans offense ranked against the Falcons and the rest of the NFL

It’s all about efficiency and balance for Smith, but can he bring that to Atlanta?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons are hoping Arthur Smith winds up coaching the Falcons well enough to get them back into the playoff picture and eventually a Lombardi Trophy. They would not have hired him if they didn’t think he could do that, but whether he can actually do that is very much an open question.

Much will depend on whether Smith’s offensive acumen translates over to the Falcons. This is a league where great offense can carry you a long way, and the Falcons have become mired in mediocrity for long stretches over the past three seasons, with that problem becoming most acute under Dirk Koetter. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Smith’s top task is getting that thing back on track, and one of the primary reasons he was hired is because of his work with the Titans in that regard over the past two seasons, as he took Matt LaFleur’s solid but unspectacular attack in 2018 and transformed it into one of the league’s strongest in 2019 and 2020.

Bear in mind that personnel adjustments are coming for Atlanta, because even if Smith is as adaptable as he’s said to be, the team has holes that he’ll have a hard time working around. Still, I thought taking a closer look at the offensive rankings for Smith’s TItans team versus the Falcons over the past two years might help give us a sense of what Atlanta’s hoping for with the hire.

2020

NFL Rankings 2020

Team Points Scored Total Yardage Plays Run 1st Downs Passing Yards Passing TDs Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Penalties 3rd Down Conversions 3rd Down Conversion % 4th Down Conversions 4th Down Conversion Percentage Red Zone TD%
Team Points Scored Total Yardage Plays Run 1st Downs Passing Yards Passing TDs Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Penalties 3rd Down Conversions 3rd Down Conversion % 4th Down Conversions 4th Down Conversion Percentage Red Zone TD%
Falcons 16 18 5 9 5 13 27 26 24 4 10 9 14 26
Titans 4 3 17 5 23 9 2 2 17 14 5 19 9 2

Last year, Tennessee was one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. They were middle of the league in plays run and leaned heavily on an effective ground game that meant Tannehill did not have to air it out all day every day, in stark contrast to a Falcons offense with a claptrap run game and a volume passing attack. Tennessee was miles more efficient in the red zone, had fewer third downs and converted them at a better clip, and did the same thing on fourth downs. A balanced, talented attack translated to an offense that was both impressive from a volume stats perspective versus the rest of the league and didn’t get bogged down in critical situations.

If Smith is calling plays—there have been mixed reports in that regard, but Adam Caplan reported that Dave Ragone is set to join Smith’s staff in more of a planning and strategy role with Smith calling plays—the upgrade over Koetter is likely to be immediate and substantial regardless of personnel changes. Smith was not my top choice for head coach, but as one of Koetter’s most vocal and frequent critics, I’m certainly excited for the swap. The chief question with Smith is how well things will translate over.

The Falcons probably won’t turn Qadree Ollison into Derrick Henry, but it’s worth noting that Henry blossomed with Smith in a way he simply didn’t in previous offenses. Perhaps some of that was just timing and trust, but it’s still noteworthy, and it bodes well for whatever rookie draft pick or free agent comes in to take the lead back role.

The Falcons won’t have a quarterback with Ryan Tannehill’s mobility if they keep Matt Ryan, either, but the attractive piece of Smith’s coaching acumen for analysts like For The Win’s Charles McDonald is that he was able to take players like Tannehill, Henry, Jonnu Smith, and A.J. Brown and get the absolute best out of them. That should—or at least we hope—mean that Atlanta does not need to overhaul its entire offensive line and playmakers outside of Calvin Ridley to be a more effecitve and efficient offense in 2021.

There are so many unknowns with Smith’s hiring and the immediate future of this Falcons team that feeling very confident about anything is probably foolish. That said, I am pretty convinced that simply swapping out Dirk Koetter for Arthur Smith is going to lead to better outcomes for this Falcons offense so long as they invest wisely at running back, and hopefully many things flow from there.