The excitement generated this offseason about a potential Arthur Smith offense more than likely set expectations too high. Still, after getting the doors blown off them in the season opener, Falcons fans are generally disinterested in the team at this point. Last week, Atlanta traveled down to Raymond James Field in a divisional matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Even though the box score read 48-25, the game was close at one point.
The Falcons scored on back-to-back drives in the third quarter, forcing the high-powered Bucs offense to punt on two straight possessions, bringing Atlanta within three. Unfortunately, the Falcons and Matt Ryan spiraled, failing to score points of any kind for the rest of the game, while Tom Brady‘s Buccaneers would go on to add 20 unanswered points to finish the game.
There was minor improvement across the board, particularly with the younger players. Jalen Mayfield, though still inadequate, was better after his dreadful performance against Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in Week 1. Kyle Pitts flashed the incredible athleticism that warranted a fourth-overall pick, while Ta’Quon Graham and Ade Ogundeji also looked good in the few snaps they played.
So there are positives; however, there are far more negatives surrounding this team in its current state. Some fans, who have felt pain like few franchises have felt, are ready to give up on the Falcons. Other fans choose to be more patient in their opinions; after all, 89% of the season is left.
But when is it time to panic? Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated believes that time is now. In a piece about which 0-2 team should panic the least and most, Orr went through the seven winless teams and designated them on a low, medium, or high panic level — the Falcons were high.
Seven teams have started the season 0–2.@ConorOrr on who should PANIC and who can R-E-L-A-X https://t.co/fKCkNVzxjx
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) September 23, 2021
Orr explains his “high panic” designation:
“The Eagles are going to end up being a better team than we initially expected, and the Falcons had the unfortunate disposition of following that matchup with a game against the machine-like Buccaneers. That said, their complete lack of preparation before the Eagles game was glaring, as is the look and feel of their offense right now. Arthur Smith came from Tennessee, not promising to install a purist’s outside zone system like the one that propelled Matt Ryan to a Super Bowl and developed Derrick Henry into the type of star that earned Smith a head coaching job in the first place. Now, the Falcons are both the fastest and most inefficient offense in the NFL, which has them at the polar opposite end of the spectrum from the 49ers and Packers, teams running a version of the system Smith was calling in Nashville. Football Outsiders has their offense ranked dead last in their defense adjusted value over replacement metric. New head coaching hires are always tremendous risks, but Atlanta made this decision with the hope that Smith would validate the desire to hang onto Matt Ryan amid an offseason where the team could have sold him off for a king’s ransom and drafted Mac Jones or Justin Fields as his replacement. Yes, the Falcons are, from a personnel standpoint, a complete mismatch for their defense. Yes, the roster needed some work before Smith’s arrival, hence the firing of his predecessor and his general manager’s predecessor. That said, a team with Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, a movable tight end capable of making spectacular catches and an offensive line with several anchor points should not look this outmatched”
Orr’s reasoning doesn’t make sense in a vacuum because Arthur Smith is a new coach implementing a new system, the offensive line personnel is severely lacking, and the overall defensive personnel is the same way. Still, when you gander at the other winless teams, it begins to make sense.
The Jets are living up to their expectations; nobody expects them to do anything worthwhile, and the Colts have drawn two tough opponents in the Seahawks and Rams. So, those two teams are going to have less panic than the Falcons. The Lions are similar to the Jets, given their new coach and a clear commitment to a rebuild after trading Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and several first-round picks.
Orr categorized the Giants and Vikings as medium panic level because they’re established regimes and quarterbacks with more expectations than any other 0-2 team as both head coaches’ clocks tick. In his article, the Jaguars were the only other high panic level team, which isn’t overly comforting for Falcons fans.
Jacksonville hired a high-profile coach in Urban Meyer, and for them to struggle this bad, Orr thinks it is panic time. Though I may disagree with his panic levels, I don’t think the Falcons are that far off from a high level of panic. These next three games are absolutely winnable, and if Arthur Smith lays another egg as he did against the Eagles, it will be full-blown hysteria.
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