Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith made his name as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. In his two seasons at the helm, Tennessee ranked 12th and third in total yards, 10th and fourth in total points, and sixth and fourth in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA.
Of course, in Tennessee, Smith had Derrick Henry around whom to base his team's running game. Henry carried a league-high 303 times for a league-high 1,540 yards and a league-high 16 touchdowns in 2019, then carried a league-high 378 times for a league-high 2,027 yards and a league-high 17 touchdowns in 2020.
Despite totaling 31 more carries than Henry, Falcons backs in 2020 combined for just 1,532 yards and 13 scores. So, not as good. And Smith is under no illusions that he'll have a Henry type in his backfield in 2021 and beyond.
"We're not going to have Derrick Henry here," Smith said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "So, it's not like I think we're going to have Derrick Henry. Hand it off and watch him stiff-arm 15 people and go 99 [yards]. You'd love to have that, but that's not reality."
Instead of one bell cow, Smith intends to replicate Henry's production by using multiple backs within the same system that helped make him such a success.
"The reality is that we'll get multiple backs in here, and we'll have the way we trust our schemes and the way we teach the details of it, and we'll commit to it," Smith said. "That should provide hope to people because of that mindset."
That's difficult to do, but not impossible. The Cleveland Browns, for instance, ran for nearly as many yards and scores as did the Titans, splitting the workload between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Falcons don't have any back like Chubb and/or Hunt, either, but there are opportunities to add any of a number of free-agent running backs, and they should be in position to land a complement in the draft as well.
Either way, marrying the run game with a strong play-action passing game will be key to the team's success, and that means fortifying the offensive line and putting Matt Ryan in position to succeed.