Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC SOUTH

Written by :: Mike Johnson

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Atlanta mercifully relieved Arthur Smith of his head coaching duties after the 2023 season. After hiring a defensive minded head coach, the Falcons hired Zac Robinson to run their offense. Robinson was previously the passing game coordinator for the Rams.
  • Defense: New Head coach Raheem Morris has previous head coaching experience with the Bucs and worked most recently as the defensive coordinator of the Rams. Morris will be involved on the defensive side of the ball and brought many co-workers from the Rams with him.

Personnel Changes::

  • Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are out at QB. Kirk Cousins is coming off a torn Achilles and signed a massive contract, while the Falcons used the eighth overall pick on 24-year-old QB Michael Penix Jr. out of Washington.
  • Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier are back to lead the Falcons backfield which is now without Cordarrelle Patterson.
  • Drake London could finally flourish in a more pass-centric offense with the best QB play of his career. The Falcons expected starting WR group will likely include free-agent acquisitions Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore.
  • Kyle Pitts should be back to full health in an improved offensive environment and he no longer has to share the TE work with Jonnu Smith.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • CAR x2, NO x2, TB x2
  • NFC East (4)::
    • @ PHI, @ WAS, vs. NYG, vs. DAL
  • AFC West (4)::
    • @ LVR, @ DEN, vs. KC, vs. LAC
  • Other (3)::
    • Vs. SEA, vs. PIT, @ MIN

Bull Case::

The Falcons offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, and regardless of the mess they’ve created for themselves by selecting Penix, their QB play will be drastically improved from 2023. Zac Robinson comes from the Rams and the Sean McVay coaching tree. The Rams run primarily 11-personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) and are known for playing their core skill group at very high snap rates which is a big deviation from Arthur Smith’s tendency to rotate personnel often. This feels like a match made in heaven, as Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts should all be on the field for almost every play and have their skill sets used appropriately and creatively. Robinson is more explosive and talented than Kyren Williams and could easily have a similar role for the Falcons to what Williams had in 2023 with the Rams. Tyler Allgeier isn’t going away completely and would be a high end RB any week Bijan is out, but Bijan has overall RB1 squarely in his range of outcomes. Darnell Mooney fits perfectly as a field stretcher that works opposite London, while Rondale Moore is a talented and explosive player who never seemed to “fit” right with the Cardinals for a variety of reasons. He could blossom working as an explosive slot receiver and movable chess piece who benefits from all the attention the “Big 3” will draw for the Falcons. 

Kirk Cousins is the perfect QB to open things up for this offense, and Zac Robinson inserting the Rams scheme should be great for everyone. We should also note that Cousins has experience in this system from his time in Washington and playing under Kevin O’Connell in Minnesota. He should hit the ground running and have no trouble acclimating to his new surroundings. The upside scenario here is that the pieces fit together perfectly and Cousins is able to recover from his injury and return to the form he had at the start of the 2024 season. There is rightfully a lot of negativity around the Falcons after their selection of Penix at #8 overall, but make no mistake, this offense has the potential to be one of the best in the league in 2024.

Bear Case::

The Falcons are seemingly set up for a big 2024, but the downside is that Kirk Cousins is 35 years old and coming off a major injury. The selection of Penix puts a lot of uncertainty around the recovery of Cousins and many draft experts had a lot of questions about Penix as an NFL prospect. While the Falcons will almost certainly have better QB play in 2024 regardless of how this plays out, the questions around the position cast a cloud around the team’s ability to hit their upside scenario. Likewise, offensive coordinator Robinson will have to be creative and adjust his scheme to fit his personnel to maximize it. London and Pitts are different players in terms of their skill sets and strengths compared to Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. While the “talent” is there, there is a chance that the fit isn’t quite right if Robinson doesn’t build in the right concepts to fully unlock those two dynamic young talents. Again, even the “Bear Case” for Atlanta is an improvement from last season, but considering the steep draft costs of the players involved it is very much in their range of outcomes to disappoint. The “worst case” scenario for this offense would be a setback in the recovery of Cousins, which thrusts Penix into a starting role before he is ready for it, and it doesn’t give Robinson a chance to acclimate and adjust to his new weapons. A relatively soft division and schedule could also leave Atlanta willing to play conservatively and racking up wins if Cousins is less than 100% or Penix is forced into action.

Expectations/Takeaways::

The Falcons could be one of the most exciting teams in the NFL in 2024 and I am here for it. Bijan Robinson is my pick to be the RB1, and assuming Cousins is the starter for the majority of this season, and considering what TJ Hockenson did last season, I wouldn’t be shocked if Kyle Pitts is a top-3 TE. I also love the fits of Mooney and Moore as complementary pieces that will have some games where they disappear but should have a couple of explosive performances and benefit from the rising tide of a potentially elite offense. Atlanta’s schedule is relatively favorable and Robinson should be an aggressive play caller like McVay, giving us reason to believe the Falcons will have several high scoring games this season after failing to score 30 points in a game last season. The Falcons defense should be solid, but not elite, meaning that they will be in a position to win a lot of games but should have to score points and keep their foot on the gas to do so. If Cousins is healthy, things could really get interesting as he may be playing with a chip on his shoulder after the Falcons added Penix. Atlanta should be really fun to watch and have a lot of storylines in 2024.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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