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How will Matt Ryan adapt? Is Mike Davis ready? Questions for each Falcons position group: Offense - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney 

 

Players report in a week and training camp gets underway shortly thereafter. To usher in the new season, The Athletic will take a look at each Falcons position group, posing one question each group will need to answer by the time Week 1 arrives.

Broken up into offensive and defensive units, here are some of the key questions to ask the likes of Arthur Smith, Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and the rest of the Falcons offense.

Quarterback: When it comes to Ryan, how much will he benefit from Smith’s scheme?

Ryan knows offenses are at their best when defenses can’t predict what comes next. And over the past couple of years, Atlanta’s offense — even with its star power — had become too predictable, and in some cases, unbalanced. Enter Smith, whose balanced play-calling in Tennessee caught Ryan’s eye when it was announced Smith was coming to Atlanta.

“We’ve got a head coach who is coming in from that system,” Ryan said before OTAs. “Obviously, they’ve had a different skill set of players there, different guys. So I don’t know what it’ll look like (in Atlanta). My job is to try to operate in whatever play is called. If it’s 200 more passes than it is runs, we have to find a way to make it work.”

But one would hope that won’t be the case and that some of the pressure can be taken off of Ryan in that regard. So the question for Ryan is: How much can he benefit from a more balanced attack?

Ryan has played in several systems, and he acknowledged Smith’s scheme is a combination of a few of them.

“I go back and (Smith’s) formations are really similar to west coast formations, which I played in for a number of years,” he said. “Protections are very similar. The concepts are similar as well. It’s just different names. It’s making sure you have the right word association and you’re speaking the right language.

“I think the biggest difference is getting the flavor for how the coaching staff is going to game plan, what the week is going to look like, how they’re going to call plays, situationally what we want to do, trying to get on the same page as fast as you can, I think, is probably the most important part.”

Enter training camp, the time to get on the same page. At the start of the summer, Ryan said the Falcons had a long way to go. They probably still do, but they should be able to see things coming together a bit more in the next month of work. At least, that’s the goal.

Running back: Is Mike Davis ready to carry the load?

Last season, we saw a glimpse into what Davis in a lead back role would look like. For arguably the first time in his career, the responsibility of that title fell to his shoulders with Christian McCaffrey injured. What he did with that opportunity and responsibility got the attention of the Falcons, who no longer had the likes of Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith in their locker room.

The Falcons, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t use a single pick in this year’s draft on a running back. So that left Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson and Qadree Ollison as the focal points of the position group. Of the three, Davis seems the likely No. 1, with Patterson playing a different role in the offense and Ollison as an emerging depth piece. So, is Davis’ 2020 season a sign of a veteran on the rise?

The 2021 season will be his seventh year in the league. It’s now or never for the running back to prove himself.

Wide receiver: Can Calvin Ridley slide into Julio Jones’ spot with ease? 

The short answer: Yes.

The longer answer: Yes, but Ridley should slide into his own potential, not Jones’.

Even playing in Jones’ shadow, Ridley thrived. And this promotion following the Jones trade seems like the natural progression in Ridley’s career. He thinks so, too.

“I feel like I have been moving toward that (spot),” Ridley said. “I can do it by myself. I mean, obviously I am not by myself. We have other players who are really good. But I’ve been ready. I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions.”

In 2020, he did find himself in those positions, a lot in fact, and without Jones on the field. The Athletic found Ridley’s targets and production went up significantly with Jones off the field. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but it did show the Falcons that Ridley was ready for the next step of leading this offense.

“When you go from getting the least (amount of) targets to getting the most targets and you can play? You’re going to get stats, you’re going to get yards, you’re going to get catches and you’re going to be in the mix of some of the better players in the league,” Ridley said.

He understands the comparison to Jones. He knows it’ll likely always be there for him. It was the situation he was drafted into. However, the goal for Ridley isn’t to be Jones; it’s to be Ridley. If he does that, the Falcons will still have one of the best receivers in the league.

Tight end: What role(s) will Kyle Pitts play in this offense?

Ryan found out about the Falcons drafting Pitts the same time everyone else did on Day 1 of the draft. In the moments that followed, Ryan came to a simple conclusion about Pitts.

“When you see a guy like Kyle get drafted and you see the potential he has and the production he had in college,” Ryan said, “those are the things that you look at as a quarterback and you’re like, ‘Man, I would love to play with a guy like that.’”

Throughout OTAs, it felt like Pitts was never lined up in the same spot twice. He’s a fluid piece of Smith’s offense. He won’t be stagnant. But that’s basically all we know right now. Training camp and preseason games will present a much clearer picture of how Smith plans to use Pitts week to week. And if there’s anything to be excited about with this offense, it’s the answer to this question.

Offensive line: Will a starting five be obvious by Week 1? 

In his first press conference as the Falcons head coach, Smith made it clear that a focus of his would be on building depth and competition across both lines of scrimmage. He and general manager Terry Fontenot have pieced it together through free agency and the draft. But there are still questions regarding just what the combination of five linemen will look like.

Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom seem to be the two whose spots are the most secure, but outside of those two, there will be competition.

Matt Hennessy was drafted as the heir apparent to Alex Mack, and he is still likely to be that guy. However, the Falcons did bring in Drew Dalman in the fourth round of the draft. But between Dalman and Hennessy, Hennessy seems the best bet. Matthews even said early in OTAs that Hennessy was coming along nicely, communicating at a higher level than in his rookie year. All signs point to Hennessy being the starting center in 2021, but there is still an entire preseason to go through before that’s official.

The vacant left guard spot may be Josh Andrews’ for the taking. The Falcons released James Carpenter as a cap casualty this offseason and picked up Andrews. He has been the primary figure at left guard since. He’s on just a one-year deal, so he won’t be the long-term answer at this spot, but he’ll do the job in 2021.

Then there’s one more spot to fill at tackle. It’s been Kaleb McGary’s since he was drafted. But the Falcons selected Jalen Mayfield in the third round of the draft. The original thought was that Mayfield would be groomed into a stable left guard, but as time has passed, maybe that’s not the case. And maybe Mayfield would do better competing with McGary for the starting right tackle job. Smith has always been willing to say the best will play. And unlike some coaches who say that for coachspeak purposes, Smith seems like the kind of coach who just might do it.

This isn’t a prediction that this will happen, just that if it does happen during training camp, no one should be surprised.

 

 

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Article states a lot of the obvious points. I still find it hard to believe that we didn’t draft rb in the 2nd or 3rd. Especially if Denver’s pick (trade with us) ends up being a stud. I appreciate Grant was a highly rated pick in a position of need so overall I’m ok with that. However mayfield was drafted as a project OT. However we have to trust in the process and I’m prepared to let TF and AS take as much rope as they want in year 1 and 2.

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25 minutes ago, primetime said:

Article states a lot of the obvious points. I still find it hard to believe that we didn’t draft rb in the 2nd or 3rd. Especially if Denver’s pick (trade with us) ends up being a stud. I appreciate Grant was a highly rated pick in a position of need so overall I’m ok with that. However mayfield was drafted as a project OT. However we have to trust in the process and I’m prepared to let TF and AS take as much rope as they want in year 1 and 2.

Needed a safety more than an RB. Grant will outshine them all. Interesting about Mayfield tho.

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2 hours ago, primetime said:

Article states a lot of the obvious points. I still find it hard to believe that we didn’t draft rb in the 2nd or 3rd. Especially if Denver’s pick (trade with us) ends up being a stud. I appreciate Grant was a highly rated pick in a position of need so overall I’m ok with that. However mayfield was drafted as a project OT. However we have to trust in the process and I’m prepared to let TF and AS take as much rope as they want in year 1 and 2.

Agree - not sure we didn’t need to draft a RB. Hoping Grant is the **** tho. 
MR needs a RB a really good RB to be successful. 

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Very hopeful that the scheme will really help the Oline. One of the strengths of Smith's playcalling is being able to run or throw from most formations. The defense not knowing what's coming by personnel or formation  should make the Oline's job much easier.

Wouldn't be surprised to see plenty of 3 TE sets to start the year, until the Oline gels.

If Pitts can become a good blocker by the end of the year, going to be a very difficult offense to stop.

Ryan should feast on play action this year. Could be a very good year for the offense.

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47 minutes ago, Atl Falcon said:

But Free sure as hail got paid like one. And yes the system helped but they were pretty dang good. 

Look at what Free did before and after Kyle. And Teco couldn't jump up higher than a role player. That's the thing with good running systems, you don't need an incredible RB to succeed. Sure it helps, but it's not a necessity.

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10 hours ago, Lornoth said:

No he doesn't. Neither Free nor Teco were really good; but the system was.

Bruh y'all say some of the most insane stuff sometimes. I'm being VERY generous with my wording right now. Free was amazing before the injuries and Teco was a monster who couldn't stay healthy. Stop lying and being a bitter EX because they aren't on the team anymore. 

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11 minutes ago, jetpac said:

Bruh y'all say some of the most insane stuff sometimes. I'm being VERY generous with my wording right now. Free was amazing before the injuries and Teco was a monster who couldn't stay healthy. Stop lying and being a bitter EX because they aren't on the team anymore. 

It has nothing to do with that. I said the same thing when they were on the team. Free was average before and after Kyle. Teco isn't bad but he's a role player, not a "Really good" rb.

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1 minute ago, Lornoth said:

It has nothing to do with that. I said the same thing when they were on the team. Free was average before and after Kyle. Teco isn't bad but he's a role player, not a "Really good" rb.

Free was never average. Ever. To each their own, but this whole take is beyond silly. I bet you think Mike Davis is the next big thing.

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Just now, Lornoth said:

If you think that you're not paying attention to anything I'm saying.

You're not saying anything worth paying attention to. Free was a **** good back before Kyle got here that Smitty refused to play. He always chose vets over rookies or younger players. I.e. Stephen Jackson > Free. Teco was ALWAYS good, again his only knock was his injury history.

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2 hours ago, Lornoth said:

Look at what Free did before and after Kyle. And Teco couldn't jump up higher than a role player. That's the thing with good running systems, you don't need an incredible RB to succeed. Sure it helps, but it's not a necessity.

Also see Mostert in SF for more evidence 

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2 hours ago, jetpac said:

Free was never average. Ever. To each their own, but this whole take is beyond silly. I bet you think Mike Davis is the next big thing.

IDK, his best years were clearly the two years KS was here.  Had two really good seasons and the rest seem pretty average.  This has regularly been the case with KS and his dad's Denver teams.  Can make a RB with the right attributes look better than they really are. 

Always had good moves, loved watching him break ankles those first few years.  Seems like the injuries weighed on him.

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Wait and see.  Work in all the new guys in preseason and see who rises.  I don't doubt Ryan's ability to complete passes.  And I think with a short route option added (read as include tight ends in the scheme) I think Ryan and the team will certainly benefit offensively.  To me the "adaptation" question is whether we will put more on the line to compete.  Because being highly talented isn't enough when every team is highly talented.  

That said, I believe we will see better results this year and I can't wait.  I think we are on the way up.

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4 hours ago, Lornoth said:

Look at what Free did before and after Kyle. And Teco couldn't jump up higher than a role player. That's the thing with good running systems, you don't need an incredible RB to succeed. Sure it helps, but it's not a necessity.

Enter Justin Forsett under Gary Kubiak’s WCO/wide Zone scheme backs what you are saying upto a tee.

We don’t need an all pro in every spot like some may well think.

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6 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

Enter Justin Forsett under Gary Kubiak’s WCO/wide Zone scheme backs what you are saying upto a tee.

We don’t need an all pro in every spot like some may well think.

Yea Mike Davis will do lol

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