It’s obvious that what Arthur Smith did in Tennessee might not work in Atlanta due to different personnel. The biggest difference is that the Falcons don’t have anyone capable of doing what the Titans did with Derrick Henry; he was the engine that made their offense go. Terry Fontenot signed Mike Davis to the only multi-year deal this offseason, and he’s expected to receive a majority of the touches out of the backfield. Nobody could confuse Davis and Henry, but the Falcons do have superior personnel at different positions.
Atlanta’s second receiver — Calvin Ridley — is arguably better than Ryan Tannehill’s first option at receiver from 2020. Regardless of you think it was AJ Brown or Corey Davis, Ridley is superior. That isn’t even accounting for Matt Ryan’s long-time go-to receiver Julio Jones, who is still as productive as anyone in the league when healthy. That’s already a significant benefit for the Falcons.
The Titans had one of the best tight ends in the league last year in Jonnu Smith, and he was handsomely rewarded for his success this offseason when New England handed him a lucrative multi-year deal. [Jonnu] Smith is an athletic tight end who does most of his damage after he catches the ball — second to almost no other tight end in the league with the ball in his hands. While Kyle Pitts can probably do the same exact thing as Jonnu Smith, it would be a disservice to his abilities and the offense’s potential to limit him to such a role.
Arthur Smith’s offense last year was predicated on pounding the ball with Henry to soften up coverages in an effort to get receivers behind the second level and attack the intermediate part of the field. Whether Smith designed such routes because it catered to personnel or it’s a staple of his offense, things will have to be different.
With the Titans, Jonnu Smith was in line and covered up for most of his production last year — 24 receptions, 269 yards, and four touchdowns. [Arthur] Smith moved him all over the formation in 2020, and he experienced different levels of production at each one. He caught 14 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns from the slot; 2 receptions for 12 yards and one touchdown split out wide, and 171 yards on 11 receptions and one touchdown when isolated in the formation — alone on one side in line or split out wide.
Pitts is an entirely different animal, and it’s almost scary. At Florida, he also did most of his damage in line and covered up — 19 receptions for 453 yards and five touchdowns. The difference is, Pitts has a more even distribution of production from different alignments. In the slot, Pitts caught 12 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns, tallied 12 more when lined up out wide for 172 yards and four touchdowns, and when he was isolated in the formation either split out wide or in line next to the tackle; Pitts recorded 18 receptions for 291 yards and five more touchdowns.
The Titans used Jonnu Smith in the shorter to intermediate parts of the field, [Arthur] Smith will have to implement more vertical schemes to maximize Pitts’ incredible catch radius. It’s not that he can’t do what [Jonnu] Smith did in running slants, screens, drags, and flat routes, because Pitts can absolutely hurt defenses in this area too. He can threaten defenses in ways [Jonnu] Smith isn’t capable, so [Arthur] Smith is going to have to alter his scheme.
The new-look Falcons offense will have Pitts, Jones, Gage, and Ridley battling for targets, but [Arthur] Smith’s playbook is going to expand from a year ago because of the former Florida Gators’ ability to threaten defenses in every way possible — on short, intermediate, and deep routes from every possible alignment in the formation against man or zone. The Falcons are still going to run the ball more often and more effectively than they have since Kyle Shanahan’s 2016 offense, but they’ll certainly be deploying more extensive passing concepts for the lethal trio of pass-catchers Atlanta has.