In Arthur Smith’s first season as head coach, the Falcons put together one of the most peculiar seasons I’ve ever seen. Mainly because it was so consistent, which isn’t typical in a league that is littered with parity. If you were a betting man, picking Falcons games couldn’t have been more predictable. Against any team with a pulse, they were walloped, but against bad teams, they were nearly unbeatable.
Expectations for Smith in Year 1 should have been tempered. Anybody who thought this team was going to compete for a Super Bowl, or a playoff spot for that matter, was nothing more than a wishful thinker, especially once the team decided to trade Julio Jones to the Titans. Entering the season, this Falcons roster was undoubtedly inferior to the one that took the field in 2020 — a team that only won four games. And the task only became more complicated for Smith when Calvin Ridley took a leave of absence to address his mental health for over half of the season.
With all of that in mind, a three-game win increase should be viewed as an overwhelming success for a first-year head coach, right?
I’m not quite there yet. Many Falcons fans are very confident in the direction of the team under Arthur Smith; I’ve even seen some claim he should receive Coach of the Year consideration, which is utterly ridiculous. Smith did do some refreshing things in his first year with the Falcons. Most notably, he found a way to win close games, which was the Achilles’ heel for the previous regime. The Falcons were a remarkable 7-2 in one-score games after finishing 2-8 in such games in Quinn’s final season as head coach.
That deserves some applause. After all, in the NFL, a win is a win. But when you take a look at most of those games individually, a lot of the same warts from 2020 showed themselves. The Falcons were often up by multiple scores and took their foot off the gas, allowing downright abysmal teams to work their way back into the game, giving them a chance to win. Thankfully, the Falcons were able to make the critical plays at the very end when needed, but it wasn’t a work of art. Much of their success can be attributed to the teams they beat, who loved to find a way to beat themselves.
Because of the way the Falcons looked in most of their victories, those seven wins don’t move the needle for me as much as a three-win increase from the year before typically would. And when you couple that with just how hopeless the Falcons looked against any team that was worth a damn, I will reserve the excitement that much of the fanbase already has for a later date.
The first season under Smith was littered with embarrassing losses. A lot of that can be attributed to the lack of personnel, but the fact that Smith couldn’t at least make his team look competitive against a playoff team one time is problematic. This is the NFL; the talent discrepancy between the Falcons and contenders was significant but not great enough to where they should be losing every game by 20+ points.
It’s easy to look at Smith winning three more games with a more depleted roster as a success, and it is, but there remain several concerns. The offense that he implemented looked anemic all season; his red-zone play calls were questionable at best. That’s likely to improve in year two, but it cannot be taken for granted. The teams that Smith did beat were miserable, and the games often came down to the last drive because the Falcons lost their level of intensity, just like they did with Quinn. And most importantly, Smith never came anywhere close to elevating the Falcons to compete with teams that had better talent.
Was Year 1 under Smith a success? I would say yes. But let’s pump the breaks on calling him a Coach of the Year candidate. The season left much to be desired from a coaching perspective.