The Falcons will look like a different team in the upcoming season for many reasons. Between roster turnover, new coaches on both sides of the ball, different schemes and a new culture that's being instilled, there's a lot of change that has taken place.
With change comes uncertainty at times, but if there's one thing that's almost guaranteed with head coach Arthur Smith calling the shots for Atlanta's offense, it's that the Falcons will emphasize running the ball.
Smith was the architect behind one of the NFL's best rushing attacks over the last two years as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. The Falcons have finished in the bottom half of the league in the run game since the 2017 season: No. 27 in 2018 (98.3 yards per game), No. 30 in 2019 (85.1) and No. 27 (95.8).
Matt Ryan and Atlanta's offense has had tremendous success when they have balance between the run and pass game. Smith will be implementing an offense that's centered around the wide-zone scheme that made the Falcons' offense virtually unstoppable in 2016.
Left tackle Jake Matthews is one of the few players still remaining on the roster from that year. He's looking forward to playing in a scheme with an identity focused on running the ball effectively.
"I love the wide-zone scheme," Matthews said. "We've had a lot of success with it in the past. I'm excited to be going back to more stuff like that. I'm excited to run the ball more. That's our goal as an offensive line to take over games like we used to. That's the standard we have."
As for what's behind running the ball more, Matthews said it comes down to a number of things. Smith has emphasized accountability and toughness as two main pillars of his program – both of which apply to being able to run the ball at a high level.
In addition to the attitude and culture Smith is putting in place, his play-calling experience and ability to put his offensive players in the right positions will be a huge advantage. Smith has said he’ll continue to call plays for the Falcons in addition to managing his duties as head coach.
And while Smith and his new team have only been able to take the practice field for a short period of time, Matthews said he's already feeling the difference that Smith is hoping to bring.
"I think one of the biggest things is tying everything together," Matthews said. "The keepers, the play pass, the running the ball, the protections. There's a purpose behind it. And you throw it all together and it keeps the defense on their heels. They aren't exactly sure what's coming. You can run the same play out of a ton of different looks and when you do that and you're consistent and you mix it up a lot, you have a lot of success. He's very adamant about sticking to what works and being good at the little things. And if we keep doing the little things and we stick to them, they add up. That's a big part of running the ball, you have to stick to it."
Take a look at the best images from Day 2 of OTAs.