LONDON -- Training camp was winding down, as was the heat in the Atlanta sun, when Arthur Smith was asked to describe what fans across the league could expect from the Falcons in 2023. Smith said he wouldn't give the journalist asking the question any kind of "wild predictions" or "sound bites," but what he said in that moment hasn't echoed into the start of the 2023 season for the Falcons.
"I think what you're going to see is this is going to be an entertaining team to watch," Smith said on Aug. 27. "As we get closer to the season, we have a brand of football that's going to be aggressive in all three phases. We know what the grind is in the NFL week in and week out. It's our job to go down there and certainly win games at home among other things. That means something to us."
Entertaining. That's the word Smith used to describe this team at the end of training camp. In his own press conference not five minutes after Smith on that muggy August day in Atlanta, quarterback Desmond Ridder was asked why this offense would be an entertaining one to watch in 2023. He said it's because the Falcons would be explosive.
In the last two weeks, the Falcons offense has been neither entertaining nor productively explosive as they've lost the last two games to put them at 2-2 entering Week 5 of the season. In those two games, the Falcons offense has scored one singular touchdown. They were shut out offensively by Detroit in Week 3. They were looking for offensive redemption in Week 4 as the team traveled to London to face the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. It was redemption they didn't get.
If you look at the stat sheet alone, without looking at the score, you'd think the game was closer than it was in London. The Falcons had a better third-down conversion rate than the Jaguars. They averaged more yards per play than the Jaguars. Bijan Robinson finished the day with 105 rushing yards (and 32 receiving yards). The Jaguars' entire rushing attack had 105 rushing yards in total, and that included 42 yards on the ground by quarterback Trevor Lawrence on the scramble.
If you cover the score, perhaps you'd think the Falcons had a better day offensively than they did. But then you see the three turnovers, two of which were interceptions on back-to-back offensive plays. One of which was returned 61 yards for a touchdown.
Then, you see how much the offense was pressing in the first half. So much so that it was Smith who pointed it out postgame.
His message at halftime was just to get his team to relax, but the hole they dug themselves into was too deep.
In the lead-up to this game, the one point the Falcons kept making was that they wanted to see the offense start fast. The Falcons went three-and-out in their first two offensive series on the day.
"We have to do a better job and it starts with me jump-starting the offense early," Smith said after the game. "We put ourselves in the hole again, and we can't turn the ball over… You're going to make life harder on yourself."
And Sunday? It was a slugfest. Not unlike it was in Detroit the week prior, too.
The Falcons have not put together the offensive performance they intended to at this point in the season. Some things have been as advertised (Robinson, mainly, this defense's ability to consistently make a stand, definitely). But there's something missing.
So, what's holding the Falcons back?
"Maybe ourselves," Drake London said. "After this one, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and figure some things out. We have talented players in this locker room. We just have to go out and make plays."
When training camp ended, the Falcons offense was advertised as one of the most complex and intriguing in the league. Four games in, they have a lot of work to do to actually become what they hoped they would be.
The Atlanta Falcons arrive in London at Wembley Stadium to face off the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4, presented by Wells Fargo.