Bair Mail: On Arthur Smith's first season, short-yardage struggles, upgrades up front, NFL Draft needs and where Falcons go from here

Your questions get answers in Monday's mailbag

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The Falcons trip out west didn't go according to plan. They lost a crucial contest to the 49ers, which will be viewed as a pivot point in this 2021 season. A win could've shot them up the conference standings. A 31-13 result has done the opposite, sharply decreasing odds of making the postseason.

While that's a disappointment to fans dreaming big, the fact the Falcons were players in the postseason conversation late in December was certainly a positive step. Expectations weren't sky-high entering head coach Arthur Smith's first season, considering the state of the roster and the impact of salary-cap constraints.

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The loss was still bothersome to many, a point identified while sifting through the mailbag. You want to discuss what went wrong, what can be fixed and what upgrades are required to do better next season.

Let's dive into all that and more in Monday's Bair Mail:

Jerry B from Hinesville, Ga.

Hey Scott! I just wanted to say a positive statement about Coach Smith. Given the situation of the team with the salary cap, free agency, and the glaring holes on the roster. I think we can say that Coach Smith has done an outstanding job for him never being a head coach. Think about it, we don't have a #1 or # 2 receiver, no DB with the exception of A.J. Terrell could start on another NFL roster, we have zero pass rush, and our offensive line only has 2 true starters. However, we have still managed to win six games. I predicted a 4 win season and we have achieved more already so I think he's done a great job with what he has. However, this off-season will be tough given the cap issues and the number of holes in the roster. Is there another Julio in this years draft? Or younger Ryan in 2023?

Bair: Thanks, Jerry, for the question/comment. I also think Arthur Smith has done a solid job as a rookie head coach. He has set a proper tone of accountability and resilience, receiving the buy-in required to build a proper culture. He needs more talent. That's clear.

While he hasn't been perfect, Smith has transitioned well from an offensive coordinator role. He's well respected inside and outside the organization and has helped the Falcons perform better in the clutch. The Falcons, if you recall, have a 6-2 record in one-score games. It will be interesting to see how he can do with an upgraded roster in the coming years.

You also bring up a good point that, with so much roster turnover coming and lingering cap issues, a massively upgraded roster is not guaranteed. They have to keep making do until cap problems get cleared up, and must consistently draft well to build a strong foundation.

Gwen Davis from Decatur, Ga.

I know and everybody else knows that our Falcons lack talent on both sides of the ball. What gets lost is even with that lack of obvious play makers, Coach Smith managed to eke out wins with this team. If we had some first-rate talent on offense and defense, I believe Coach Smith has the coaching ability to take a talented team far.

I'm no pro football expert, but even I can see that our current roster has more leaks than a sunken boat. I am hoping the new regime will be able to scout better talent, however, than the past 2 coaching staffs. Do you think GM Terry & Coach Smith Boulder an O & D line from the draft or will they go wide receiver as some sport models predict? Thank you for taking my question.

Bair: That's a rational take, Gwen, one that I wholeheartedly agree with. The Falcons offensive and defensive schemes are good. Smith and Dean Pees are good play callers. They need more talent to execute plays better. And, yes, that's especially true on the offensive and defensive fronts. They need edge rushers, plural, and a big-bodied nose tackle, maybe another Chris Lindstrom-type guard and an offensive tackle. That's a lot, probably a multiyear project to fortify those areas through the draft.

Receiver is also a need, and first-round picks are typically premium positions. Receiver is one. I still this a pass rusher is most important, but there are so many needs the best player available is the obvious move.

Mike S from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Well, goodbye to the playoff chatter for this season, was good to be in the mix this late after those last three years. How is it that with every year focusing on the same two spots (edge rusher and o-line) both are still lacking? Also, I think AS has done a decent job this year coaching but I question 2 of 3 of the 4th down play calls.

Bair: I agree, Mike, that the playoff talk has to die down right now. The odds are too small for serious consideration. The fact they were in it late is a plus and a suggestion that the Falcons are somewhat ahead of schedule, but there's so much that must improve for the Falcons to take that next step.

Right now, I believe they're atop the league's lower tier. They routinely beat teams in that class and struggle against better, more talented opposition. That's what we saw on Sunday. The 49ers were the better team on paper and on the field. The Falcons need upgrades to compete, which is part of the evolution from a franchise that has struggled to one that's routinely successful.

Luke Appleby from Newark, N.J.

Why don't the falcons QB SNEAK!!!!!! I don't think they have snuck it more than once this season, and it was successful. They always opt to do something fancy on 4th and 1 and never make it. Every team QB sneaks and makes 4th and 1s easily. I do not get it!!!!! It is simple, just sneak!!!!

Bair: You weren't the only person asking this question, Luke. It was a common comment after the Falcons struggled against the 49ers in short-yardage situations, especially inside the red zone. Smith has explained a few times that the Falcons package plays, with one selected based on the look they get. A sneak is in the playbook. Could it be used more? You all would certainly like that after the Falcons have struggled in short-yardage situations. That, and direct runs up the middle, is aimed at a weaker part of the offensive line. That's an area the Falcons have to fix, with too many opportunities missed due to struggles in that area.

Bill Whitten from Killen, Ala.

Mr. Bair, "a team in transition"? Are you kidding me? That implies they are transitioning from a good or at least a decent team. They have been TERRIBLE for 4 years. Scott, make it real. We don't need you making excuses for them.

Bair: Appreciate the passion, Bill, and I never mind a critique. Thanks for writing in. I do thing the transition tag is fitting for this group. It's a team adjusting to new schemes, a new head coach and a new general manager. They're working to implement tactics, establish a culture, get right with the salary cap and upgrade the roster. That's a lot of new. And there's a lot of work left to be done. That's why I used the term.

I don't think the Falcons have been terrible this year. I think we're identified their standing as a team in need of significant upgrades. They aren't the Jags or the Texans, nor are they the 49ers or Cowboys or Patriots. They need to improve and upgrade the roster to consistently compete with the better teams. That has been made clear by this season’s results.

Call for questions

Let's refill the mailbag by submitting questions right here about the Falcons present and future for inclusion in Wednesday's Bair Mail.

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