The Falcons’ offseason was about progress, about slathering mortar on bricks and trying to build a structure that wouldn’t fall apart when the first quality opponent came to town. Terry Fontenot and the front office largely did an admirable job of working around cap limitations to deliver a young roster with genuine upside. From there, it was all about the steps the players and the coaching staff were going to take to get better in a year where improvement, not bundles of wins, figured to be the yardstick.
We’ve seen some of those steps, albeit with stumbles, in the early going. While the defense remains a major work in progress with some highlight reel-worthy plays punctuating tough stretches, the offense is taking shape a bit more quickly. As SportsTalkATL wrote recently, the Falcons are statistically light years ahead of where they were last year, with the caveat that the season is still young. The net result has been, in my opinion, an objectively better football team, even if nobody should be setting aside money for playoffs tickets just yet.
In Smith’s first season, the Falcons offense averaged 18.4 points per game (26th), averaged 85.4 rushing yards per game (31st), averaged 303.8 total yards per game (29th), averaged 18 first downs per game (20th), 38.8% third-down conversions (19th), and averaged 28:10 time of possession (29th). Those figures look much different through three games in 2022.
Atlanta is averaging 26.7 points per game (9th), 156.7 rushing yards per game (5th), 354.3 total yards per game (14th), 22 first downs per game (9th), 40% third-down conversion rate (T-12th), and 30:31 time of possession (11th) through three weeks of the 2022 season.
This is in many regards a top ten offense through three games, and if that’s too nascent for you, maybe just good will suffice as a descriptor. They’ve run the ball very effectively in two out of three weeks, have done enough through the air to score close around 27 points per game, and are playing in close football games despite a raft of easily identifiable (if not necessarily easily correctable) mistakes. Last year, Atlanta had scored 48 points through three games, and this year they’ve scored 80. That just about says it all.
Outside observers are not just noticing, but lavishing praise on Arthur Smith and the team’s playmakers.
The Falcons offense is one of the most fun and well coached units in the entire NFL.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 28, 2022
A smörgåsbord of personnel groupings, formations with shifts/motions, play action concepts/protections and a sound run game.
Weekly appointment viewing. pic.twitter.com/fFpU32F7zb
What’s more, as SportsTalkATL wrote, this is beginning to resemble the feared offenses from Smith’s days in Tennessee, which played a major role in getting him hired in Atlanta in the first place. There’s the physical ground game, the mobile quarterback who can extend plays and isn’t shy about attacking downfield, and a host of sizeable receiving options to work with. Those options are, I think it’s fair to suggest, better—or at least have higher upside—than what Smith and Ryan Tannehill were working with during their shared time with the Titans.
Again, there are hiccups. If you wanted to suggest the Falcons should have easily cleared 30 points in all three matchups thus far, but were ultimately undone by untimely drops, annoying penalties, and Mariota misfiring or fumbling, you’d get little in the way of an argument from me. Smith has Knowing that this team is likely to make personnel changes, either midseason or heading into next year, and that the season is still young is encouraging enough. The fact that they’ve made mistakes and we know all that and they’re still scoring at a much better clip and moving the ball well this season is even more encouraging.
Now it’s time to prove that this seeming monster in the making isn’t just a little danger casting a much more threatening shadow on the wall. As Arthur Smith said in Scott Bair’s piece about the team outlasting its opponent in Week 3, the win is encouraging and the progress is there, but it has to continue for this team to keep achieving victories and for the offense to start clicking at the level this early production suggests it can.
“There were no moral victories [after the first two weeks], but you have to be objective and understand that there was progress being made,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “It was good to get a win and break through. Now the challenge is, can we sustain that? Can we improve with a big game coming up at home?”
This is not this offense’s final form, as there will likely be a different quarterback under center in 2023, hopefully further improvements to the receiving corps and offensive line, and continued tinkering from Smith and company to get the most out of this football team. It’s still taking a more threatening and viable shape than it ever did in 2021, and lord willing, we may not be all that far away from the Atlanta Falcons pummeling teams on a weekly basis.