Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith instilling red-zone success in first year

New coach Arthur Smith has the Falcons operating at high efficiency in the red zone. Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA -- When Arthur Smith took over as the coach of the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, one of the principle traits his teams with the Tennessee Titans carried -- part of what made him an attractive candidate -- was his team’s efficiency.

Particularly in the red zone.

No one scored touchdowns in the red zone better than Smith’s teams in Tennessee the two years he was the Titans’ offensive coordinator. If Tennessee reached the red zone, the Titans were going to find a way to score. Translate that to Atlanta and the team Smith is trying to build.

It started poorly -- two red zone possessions in Week 1 leading to two Younghoe Koo field goals. Since? That same level of red zone performance has started to show up.

Starting in Week 2, Atlanta has scored touchdowns on 78.6% of its 14 red zone drives -- fourth in the NFL -- and the Falcons have turned red zone drives into points on all 16 red zone appearances this season, including Week 1. They are one of only five teams to do so through Week 5.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Smith said. “I think all of our guys know they can get the ball at any time. I’ve said we’re not an isolation basketball team, so it’s not like you can just go down there and say, ‘Hey, let’s double the stars.’

"I think there’s a natural progression that happens. Usually your better players emerge, and they’ll end up getting more touchdowns, but we really feel like all our guys, they know that they’re viable options.”

Particularly because of how the Falcons are approaching the red zone. Unlike when Smith was in Tennessee, when the Titans ran the ball 53.1% of the time -- having the NFL's leading rusher in Derrick Henry helps also -- the Falcons are passing 70% of the time in the red zone.

Atlanta has targeted eight different players in the red zone over the first five weeks -- none more than rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who has eight targets, two catches, nine yards and one touchdown.

Seven different players have caught passes for touchdowns in the red zone, led by Cordarrelle Patterson’s three -- on seven targets. He also leads Atlanta in red zone catches (six) and yards (60). Not surprisingly, Patterson has the best target rate of any Atlanta player in the red zone -- 50% of his routes run.

In all, the Falcons have had 12 players run routes in the red zone. Quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 61.8% of his passes in the red zone with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

Atlanta has 15 red zone rushes -- 10 for Mike Davis, five for Patterson -- and both Davis and Patterson have combined for the team's two rushing touchdowns.

“We've evolved. We're a lot different than we were in Tennessee,” Smith said. “So, I think that you're seeing week over week as we get a feel for this team and they get a feel for us.”

In Tennessee, Smith’s teams scored touchdowns on 75.2% of those drives -- the only team in the NFL to be over 75% in 2019-20 combined. In those two seasons, only the New Orleans Saints (83) had more red zone touchdowns than the Titans’ 82.

The byproduct of that was no team made fewer field goals than the nine the Titans made in the red zone in that span, which hurt the team’s overall red zone scoring efficiency (83.5). Tennessee had six red zone turnovers in those two years.

So while the ways Smith’s teams are producing in the red zone are different in Atlanta than in Tennessee, the result is largely the same. Efficient. Productive. And more often than not, finishing with touchdowns.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this story. Follow Stats & Info on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.