The Atlanta Falcons will be using an offense in the Mike Shanahan mold under Arthur Smith’s direction. While variations of this scheme exist across the league, the core principles revolve around outside zone runs and play-action passes that attack the middle of the field. The pre-snap design of plays is intended to create confusion for the defense, with plays building upon one another throughout the game. This unpredictability makes it challenging for defenses to identify key indicators.
This type of offense has become more well-known since Kyle Shanahan’s productive tenure as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2016, and Sean McVay’s introduction of a comparable scheme to the Los Angeles Rams. However, Arthur Smith took it a step further last year by fully committing to the core tenets of the scheme. In 2022, the Falcons executed outside zone runs a league-leading 261 times, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per attempt. Additionally, 44% of their passing attempts were off play-action, the highest rate since 2015, with the next closest team at 37%. The personnel at his disposal greatly aided Smith’s ability to carry out such a focused offensive strategy.
Right guard Chris Lindstrom serves as the foundation of the Falcons’ elite zone-blocking offensive line. Widely regarded as the best guard in the NFL last year, Lindstrom earned a PFF grade of 95, which ties him for the second-highest grade ever recorded for an offensive lineman. Lindstrom exhibits explosive athleticism off the line of scrimmage and can quickly reach difficult landmarks at the second level. His controlled movements and open-field blocking skills enable him to secure and finish blocks effectively. Lindstrom’s consistent footwork and hand placement make dominant reach blocks appear routine, and he excels at diagnosing run blitzes and adjusting his path accordingly. Moreover, he possesses the strength to redirect defenders and drive them to the ground, even seven yards off the line of scrimmage. It is rare to have a right guard who is as crucial and instrumental to his team’s success as Lindstrom, as he is a complete run blocker.
One of the most effective ways to generate big plays with outside zone runs is by having adjacent wins on the offensive line, where a clean reach block is complemented by a dominant block. The Falcons benefit from the services of Caleb McGary at right tackle, who is a proficient run blocker in his own right. When both Lindstrom and McGary excel individually and combine their efforts with combo blocks, the result is massive running lanes that the defense struggles to counter. The Falcons boasted a top-three rushing offense last year, and with the addition of Bijan Robinson, a generational running back prospect, and Matthew Bergeron, a talented guard, in the second round, their strength in the running game is further enhanced. Additionally, the Falcons have impressive receiving options in Drake London and the underrated Kyle Pitts, who had a disappointing season last year due to a low percentage of on-target throws and catchable targets. With these weapons, the Falcons can create explosive plays to complement their elite running game. While squad depth may be limited, the team is relatively healthy, with Desmond Ritter, a quarterback who showed promise in his rookie season, being the biggest question mark for the squad.