What is this, do we see an offense of beautiful and intricate design, one that defies prediction and keeps a defense on its heels with a play-action passing game that is filthy? (After Buffalo, the Titans had the most passing yards this season off play-action).
Of course, to make that work will require a believable running game. Add together the yardage of the Falcons top three rushers in 2020 and you’re still 600 shy of Henry’s 2,027 yards. Whatever became of Todd Gurley, anyway?
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) takes a handoff from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (Wade Payne/AP)
Credit: Wade Payne
Credit: Wade Payne
Yes, running the ball matters. It doesn’t always pay off – Henry was held to 40 yards and the Titans limited to 13 points in a playoff loss to Baltimore a week ago. But there remains a certain fundamental importance to running, that being to football what 4/4 time is to music. So, perhaps envision the Falcons investing in a running back by at least the second day of the draft.
And dare Falcons fans look for a team they can actually watch at the end with eyes wide open, rather than looking away from the inevitable, impending crash? (Tennessee was fifth this season in second-half scoring, the Falcons 24th).
Here’s looking ahead and hoping to find a team that doesn’t treat just getting into the red zone like the end of the workday. It seems that getting those last few yards are as hard as getting the last three outs in baseball. And the Falcons just couldn’t convincingly close. (The Falcons were 26th in red zone scoring efficiency, the Titans No. 2).
Envision an offense that moves the ball with clarity and authority. Say, like a Tennessee offense this year that had twice the number of rushing touchdowns as the Falcons (26 to 13) and was a tick better in converting on both third down (45.4% to the Falcons 43.9%) and fourth (64.7% to 57.6%).
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) hands off to running back Todd Gurley (21) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Jason Behnken/AP)
Optimistically, imagine a coach squeezing the tube and getting the last best days from Matt Ryan. Smith doesn’t need to work nearly the magic he did with Tannehill. In six seasons with Miami, Tannehill was a borderline bust. He hooks up with Tennessee and its new offensive coordinator in 2019, and he is the comeback player of the year. Leads the league in quarterback rating that year, ranks fifth this season.
Ryan doesn’t require nearly that much reno work. He doesn’t have to throw for nearly 5,000 yards as he did in his MVP season of 2016, just be somewhat more efficient and circumspect with his throws (he’s had 25 interceptions in 31 games these last two seasons while Tannehill has had 13 in 28 games).
In fact, might we envision getting more out of Ryan while he actually throws less?
And don’t worry Calvin Ridley. We still see plenty ahead for you. The Smith fellow isn’t running the single wing. Receivers can prosper in his offense — witness second-year man A.J. Brown in Tennessee, all-rookie one year, a Pro Bowl pick the next.
When hiring a new coach, it’s always nice to indulge in these best-case scenarios as long as possible, at least until his introductory press conference.
And, oh, yes, it would be nice when looking forward to see the Falcons playing a little defense, too. That still matters on some level in this game.