Can the Falcons compete in 2021?

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Peter King recently revealed just how confident Arthur Smith is in the Falcons’ ability to compete in 2021. “They hired the wrong guys if they thought we were going to lower expectations, take our time, and rebuild,” Smith said. “That’s just not who we are. The expectation is to win now, build for the future, have plans. With Matt, I see a really high-quality starting quarterback who’s thrown for 55,000 yards in this league and had unbelievable experience and is still throwing guys open. It doesn’t sound absurd anymore to say, ‘Hey, I want to play till I’m 40.’ If he didn’t want to play, that would be a different set of problems.”

There aren’t many coaches in the NFL who come into their first head coaching job with the mentality that the team won’t compete. The difference is most rookie head coaches don’t have a veteran quarterback to cover up some kinks that a new regime inevitably faces. Matt Ryan will ease the transition for the entire offense and team because of his natural competitiveness and leadership — complacency isn’t in his vocabulary. Kyle Shanahan and Ryan had to sit down before the 2016 season to figure each other out — preferences and other idiosyncrasies. Matty Ice and Smith will not accept failure.

In his first season with full control of an offense, Smith led the Titans to a tenth-ranked scoring offense. The Titans ranked first in the NFL in red-zone efficiency — the highest since the 2013 Denver Broncos (76.1) — at 75.6 percent, third in rushing offense (138.9 yards per game), and fourth in yards per play (6.12). There is reason to believe the Falcons offense will experience a notable improvement in all facets of the game in the first year under Smith.

In fact, I believe as a whole that the Falcons 2021 offense is superior to the Titans 2019 offense — personnel-wise. In every mental aspect of the game, Ryan is superior to Ryan Tannehill — their arms are relatively similar. Obviously, Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs in the league, but I will die on the ‘the offensive line and scheme make the running back’ hill. Mike Davis, if healthy, will surprise quite a few people in the league this year. The skill positions aren’t even close; nobody in the league can touch Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst, and Kyle Pitts. The offensive lines are rather similar in production. Even if both groups are considered even, it will improve from last year’s Falcons offense.

The questions lie where they have for over a decade in Atlanta — with the defense. The personnel on that side of the ball is rather concerning, but there are high hopes for Dean Pees and his ability to make great-tasting lemonade out of some sour lemons. He is known for being able to out-scheme offensive coordinators by accentuating what his players do well and exploiting weaknesses in the offensive system.

Regardless of how the Falcons’ defense performs in 2021, the offense will be good enough to carry the team to a 9-8 record. Nowadays, that doesn’t get you into the playoffs, but with one of the easiest upcoming schedules, there is reason to believe Atlanta could overachieve in the first year of this new regime.

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