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NEWTON: What could have been for the Falcons
Evan Newton headshot

What could have been. 

Four simple words that best describe the Atlanta Falcons and their 7-10 campaign in 2023.

I think back to a story I did on Aug. 10 for The Monticello News where I covered Falcons training camp for a day. 

To paraphrase, I mentioned that 2023 was a defining point for the former Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, and that if he failed to execute with the talent available, he would be on the hot seat.

I think I ought to go to Vegas for that writing.

Basically put, this season was one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history for the Falcons. Not because we went 7-10 for the third consecutive year, not because we barely missed the playoffs (somehow), but because this team was one of the most talented Falcons teams that we have ever produced.

And yet somehow, despite the numerous additions on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the team was in a lot of ways the same. 

What went wrong?

As predicted, the season outcome came down to two defining factors: quarterback play and coaching, particularly with the head coach.

I’ll start with quarterbacking. I said many weeks ago that Ridder just isn’t the guy, and I stand by that. I can also safely say that Taylor Heinicke isn’t that guy, either. Both quarterbacks showed minimal flashes that they could be the leader this team needs, but the flashes were just that – minimal. 

Ridder finished the season with 2,836 passing yards, 12 TDs and 12 INTs in 15 games played. He had a QBR of 39.9. Heinicke finished the season with 890 passing yards, 5 TDs and 4 INTs in five games played. He had a QBR of 47.1.


And then there’s coach Smith.

His ineptitude as a head coach is the No. 1 reason why we sit at the spot where we are today. To go 7-10 two consecutive seasons and not show significant improvement from year one to year two should’ve been the first giant red flag for Falcons fans, and I’m not talking about the one flown by Freddie the Falcon each week.

He came into all 17 games this season underprepared, he underutilized top talent such as Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson, and worst of all he took a team with the potential to go deep in the playoffs and turned it into a team that couldn’t beat the 2-15 Carolina Panthers.

And if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s a stat that will show how bad this Falcons team was this year. The Falcons went 3-2 against teams that will be in the playoffs this year. They went 4-8 against teams that won’t be in the playoffs this year.

Doing the math on those numbers, the Falcons went… 7-10… again.

Thankfully, Falcons owner Arthur Blank felt the frustration of Falcons’ fans and decided to fire Arthur Smith not even 12 hours after the New Orleans Saints loss. I’m not one for calling for people’s jobs in any situation, but in this case, it was more than warranted.

So how do I categorize the Falcons season? A team with mass amounts of potential – and at times a team that was capable of being up there with the best. It was also a team that was hampered by less than average quarterback play and inept play calling from what may have been one of the worst head coaches in the league this year, if not the worst.

Where do we go from here?

The first order of business is to hire a head coach that will come in and best utilize the talent that we have on offense, defense and special teams.

My personal pick? Give me Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.

Slowik is considered by many as the mastermind of the Texans offense. He’s also considered to be the mastermind in helping rookie Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud, the young phenom who is a lock for rookie of the year. In addition to all of that, he’s a part of the “Shanahan-McVay coaching tree”, a list that includes Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur among others.

At 36 years old, he fits the wave of young, upcoming coaches that could make an impact on how the game is played. I see no difference with Slowik.

There are a lot of young, qualified coaches that are available in this head coaching cycle. Guys like Mike Vrabel, Ben Johnson and Eric Bieniemy come to mind. Truthfully, I would be fine with any of those aforementioned names – just as long as it isn’t Bill Belichick. But that conversation may be for a different column.

(We’re totally hiring Belichick aren’t we)

Secondly, we need a quarterback – a true successor to Matt Ryan. The draft pool is very large this year with Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. and Jayden Daniels among the pool of quarterbacks available. There’s also a lot of chatter that Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields will be available for trade.

Any of these options will allow the Falcons to have that next franchise player that will hopefully elevate the Falcons into the playoffs and into Super Bowl contention.

Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to fortify the weak gaps of the team to make the team complete.

The talent is there, but there are some gaps to be filled.  I like Mack Hollins, but 251 receiving yards in 16 games played isn’t gonna cut it. Richie Grant was probably one of the worst safeties in the NFL this year. I’d expect him to be replaced, too. 

Oh and of course, we need pass rush help. Shocker.

Using free agency and the draft to fortify some of those weak, overlooked positions will make the team that much better.

In closing, I can’t express my disappointment of the Falcons’ 2023 season more than I already have, but change is on the horizon.

And with change, I hope it leads to wins, playoff appearances and even championships. Just as long as it isn’t another 7-10 season.