If you want to know what Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith will be like as a play-caller, look no further than how he addressed late-game play-calling situations over the past two years, when he was offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. That’s one of the main takeaways from Jeff Schultz’s new feature-length article (published on Friday in The Athletic), which was a product of an interview/film session with Smith.
According to Schultz, the premise of his article was to try to gain “some insight into why [Smith] succeeded as the Titans’ offensive coordinator the past two years while the Falcons failed miserably.”
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“You’re going to learn a lot about someone in tight football games,” said Smith in the midst of their discussion. “When you call plays in a tight football game, your personality is going to show. Are you going to be risk-averse?”
Falcons fans will be happy to hear that Smith won’t be risk-averse, or at least won’t be predictable.
Arthur Smith: ‘You Want to Keep Defenses Off Balance’
In other words, Smith doesn’t want Atlanta’s opposition to be able to predict what is coming their way. Part of keeping defenses off-balance involves being somewhat unpredictable, but also continuously presenting them with formations and personnel groupings that they haven’t seen before.
“You don’t want to become obvious,” said Smith. “Yeah, we’re going to run the football, and we’re going to throw play action at you. But if you’re sitting up there [in the box] and you know what’s coming, then shame on us.”
“It’s about creating conflict,” elaborated Smith. “We want to constantly put stress on the defense.”
Red Zone Success Will Be a Focus, Too
Putting pressure on defenses and maximizing offensive weapons like wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley is going to be imperative if the Falcons hope to experience early success under Smith, as the Falcons currently feature much less talent on the defensive side of the ball. But that mirrors the situation Smith experienced in Tennessee, where the Titans had top-tier weapons like RB Derrick Henry on offense, but could not rush the passer (producing just 19 sacks in 2020, third-worst total in the league) and were historically bad at getting off the field on third downs.
Basically, the Titans had to put points on the board almost every time the offense got the ball—or so it seemed.
Notably, the Titans ranked first in red-zone touchdown percentage in 2019 (77.36) and second in 2020 (74.24), this as compared to the Dirk Koetter-led Falcons offense, which ranked 25th (51.67) and 26th (53.45) in those same years.
So while Smith is no doubt happy to have Younghoe Koo as his kicker (field goals were often an adventure for the Titans last year), he doesn’t want to see Koo trotting out on the field when the Falcons are in the red zone.
Nor does he want to see his team buckling in pressure situations and struggling to win close games, as has been such a problem with the Falcons in recent years. According to Smith, a big part of that is building everyone’s confidence.
“When we got into one-score games [at Tennessee], we thought we were going to win,” said Smith. “We did. That was our mentality. It comes down to guys being confident situationally and trusting each other. It’s just a mentality.”
A mentality that Smith hopes to instill in Atlanta—and quickly.