The Falcons injuries and offense dominated headlines this week, particularly the passing game or lack thereof. Arthur Smith’s offense lost 35-17 in which Marcus Mariota threw the ball 13 times — the second-fewest attempts in a game this season — despite trailing by two scores for much of the contest. Down 18 in the fourth quarter, Mariota threw just three times. But this isn’t anything new.
In two other losses, Arthur Smith followed a similar approach regardless of the score. In Week 2 against the Rams, Atlanta passed just two more times than they rushed in the second half, despite being down 28-3 at one point. Against the Buccaneers in Week 5, Smith and the Falcons trailed 21-0 heading into the fourth quarter and rushed five more times than they passed in the final quarter. All while almost completing comebacks in each of those contests with timely turnovers and mistakes from the opposing teams.
Arthur Smith is sticking to his guns. Passing less and running more often than just about every team in the league in various situations — down and distance, quarter, deficit, etc. — is par for the course. Smith doesn’t trust his signal caller, and rightfully so. Mariota has shown no ability as a passer this season, with a lack of anticipation and accuracy. Still, the offense has improved from a year ago, ranking ninth in DVOA after finishing 28th in the same category last season.
The Falcons offense is one of the better units in the league by the numbers. Atlanta is just doing it in what’s considered unorthodox ways. Instead of throwing the ball all around the yard like the Bills or Chiefs, the Falcons are methodically running the ball and supplementing play action down the field. The Falcons rank in the top ten in points per drive, as well as rushing and passing expected points added per play. Despite the small ball approach, the Falcons are still generating chunk plays with a league-average explosive play rate.
Outside of maybe Brian Daboll, nobody is doing more with less than Arthur Smith. He’s brought back ’90s football with Parker Hesse and Keith Smith leading the way as the team’s H-back and fullback. Despite having one of the least talented rosters in the league, the Falcons have remained competitive in every contest this year, outside of the Bengals beatdown. The team has the least amount of cap dollars allocated to the active roster, and they still sit in first place. It’s a strange formula, but it’s working, and the Falcons’ offense is on pace for a historic feat, averaging just 17 passes per game and on pace for the second-fewest pass attempts per game by a team since 1990.
There are millions of ways to win a football game, and the best teams are able to win in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, the Falcons can only win by controlling the clock and limiting the mistakes of their quarterback.
Photographer: Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire