When one domino falls, it doesn’t take long for the rest to follow.
The Atlanta Falcons became the third team in the span of a few days to announce the hiring of a new head coach when they agreed to terms with Arthur Smith to become the top bird on the Falcons sidelines in 2020, the team announced Friday.
Expected to be joining Smith on his journey to Georgia will be former Bears passing-game coordinator Dave Ragone, who is the favorite to serve as Smith’s new offensive coordinator in Atlanta, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Smith is coming off of a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, who were able to dominate teams with a power running game led by Derrick Henry, which in turn set up the play-action passing game where play-makers Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and most of all AJ Brown really shone.
Unfortunately for coach Smith, his final game calling plays for Tennessee ended in defeat, as he and the Titans were unable to use all of that talent to get a win last week during Super Wild Card Weekend; their vanquishers, the Baltimore Ravens, are being given a +2.5 point spread at very attractive +102 odds (10Bet) against the Buffalo Bills for their Divisional Weekend matchup.
Smith’s new team, the Falcons, does have an exciting receiving corps that surpasses that of the Titans with future Hall of Famer Julio Jones, burgeoning star Calvin Ridley, and third man Russel Gage. But Atlanta doesn’t have anything close to King Henry and his lords of the offensive line when it comes to the ground game, which may make this a difficult transition for Smith. Only time will tell.
The 38-year-old Smith will be coming in after a disastrous season for the Falcons. An 0-5 start was enough for owner Arthur Blank to send both head coach Dan Quinn (with team since 2015) and general manager Thomas Dimitroff (since 2008) packing in mid-October. Raheem Morris stepped in as interim head coach and led the team to a 4-7 mark to finish off the season.
Smith also interviewed for the vacancies with the Jacksonville Jaguars (since hired Urban Meyer), Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets (since hired Robert Saleh) before deciding to take his talents to the Big Peach. The Falcons, for their part, also interviewed several other candidates for the job, including Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eirc Bieniemy before flying Smith out on Wednesday for an in-person interview and agreeing to terms a couple days later.
Atlanta struggled all season long to hold onto leads, dropping four games during this campaign after having held a fourth-quarter lead. Some of that inability to hold a lead may have to do with that suspect rushing attack, which managed just 95.8 yards per game, good for 27th in the NFL. Smith is really going to have his work cut out for him to recreate the ground success he had in Nashville.
But most of the blame for the Dirty Birds’ fourth quarter collapses obviously has to go to their bottom-of-the-barrel defensive unit. Atlanta’s defense finished 29th in yards allowed per game (398.4), 32nd in passing yards allowed per game (293.6), 19th in points allowed per game (25.9), 32nd in 20+ yard passing plays allowed (66), 25th in first downs allowed per game (22.9), 29th in yards per play (6.2), 23rd in sacks (29), and we could keep going. It was simply a pitiful unit in 2020.
Smith isn’t much of a defensive guy, so those issues may very well leak into next year, but his offense definitely did its job last season, putting up 30.7 points per game (fourth) and 396.4 yards per game (third). He was able to find a happy offensive balance in Tennessee, but will he be able to do it again in Atlanta?