The 2021 Falcons had a tough time taking yards in chunks. There were exceptions to that rule, with Cordarrelle Patterson's closer at New Orleans, Russell Gage's highlight-reel haul-in at San Francisco and Kyle Pitts showstoppers versus Miami and New York Jets front of mind.
- Positional breakdowns: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Receivers/Tight ends, O-line; D-line
- Bair Mail: On Arthur Smith and Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, plus a lot more
- Falcons Building Blocks: Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell, Chris Lindstrom, Drake London
- Finding the Falcons rookie class: Drake London, Arnold Ebiketie, Troy Andersen; Desmond Ridder; DeAngelo Malone, Tyler Allgeier, Justin Shaffer, John FitzPatrick
Taken as an overall body of work, however, the results weren't great. The Falcons were not an explosive offense last season. While several factors were involved in that, it doesn't alter the previous sentence as a statement of fact
They ranked 25th in pass plays of 20-plus yards, 20th in run plays of 10-plus yards and 25th when those two categories were combined, per Sharp Football Analysis stats.
Those stats don't vibe with an Arthur Smith offense. Tennessee was excellent and efficient creating big plays during Smith's two years as Titans offensive coordinator.
In 2019, the Titans were second in explosive pass plays, fourth in explosive run plays and third overall. They were down a bit in 2020 but still impactful, ranking 14th in explosive passes, 10th in explosive runs and ninth overall.
The primary reason for Titans explosive success under Smith vs. Falcons' 2021 struggles in that category is obvious: talent disparity.
The Titans had Derek Henry and A.J. Brown leading a deep and talented group of skill players in those years. Last year, the Falcons had Pitts and Patterson and not much else.
Before we say that this is all talent and not Smith's scheme, take a look at the 2021 Titans. They tanked in explosive plays, ranking 24th overall. Henry missing a significant chunk of the season plays a part but can't account for all of such a precipitous drop.
Before we get too bogged down in stats, points and rebuttals, let's re-center a bit and apply this discussion to the 2022 Falcons as we head into next week's training camp.
Can the Falcons be more explosive in 2022 and operate Smith's offense as intended? Personnel upgrades have created such potential.
We know what Pitts can do downfield and Patterson can do in space. Adding receivers Drake London and Bryan Edwards and running back Tyler Allgeier adds to the Falcons explosive potential.
Key word in the last sentence (and several others before it): potential. These new guys, however, will have to go out there an prove it.
Edwards' 17.0 yards per reception and the fact 17 of his 45 NFL receptions have gone 20-plus yards is a real sample size of his explosiveness.
When we're talking about rookies in London and Allgeier, they were able to take big yards in college. Can they do it in the pros? Time will tell.
But, don't forget that explosive aren't simply generated by long throws downfield or runs through empty space. They're also about skill players running through (or around) defenders.
London was good at that at USC, with 22 missed tackles forced in 2021 (sixth in the nation), had 3.52 yards per route run (fifth) and 5.23 yards after the catch per reception. He had 19 contested catches, which were best in the nation and proof he can go get a ball both deep and in traffic. Those stats, by the way, came from CBS.
Allgeier averaged 4.2 yards after contact and forced 107 missed tackles last season at BYU. While it'll be harder to duplicate those numbers in the NFL, he has the potential to churn out 10-plus runs the Falcons struggled to earn the hard way last year.
There are also Falcons skills players with the frame, toughness and/or speed to create big plays.
I'm sure there are some who have read 583 words to this point and are screaming – none of that matters if you can't protect or deliver the ball on time and in the right spot!!!!
That's an x-factor in this whole thing. Marcus Mariota's mobility – and Desmond Ridder's, if the Falcons go that way – should help some. Mariota was efficient throwing deep in 2018, his last season as a starter, though passing in the deep (20-plus) or medium range (10-19), per PFF, though only 34 percent of his passes went that far.
The 2021 Falcons were limited by protection for mostly pocket passer Matt Ryan, in addition to a lack of overall explosiveness from the skill spots.
The Falcons could see a marked improvement in this area in 2022 – and by improvement, we mean somewhere in the middle of the pack – which would make for a more impactful (and entertaining) product in 2022.
All those statements, however, were conditional. There's potential to be more explosive. Now Falcons have to go out a prove they can be.