Welcome to another installment of the 2021 Coaching Systems analysis. Before we start breaking down the NFC South, be sure to check out the Overview of Coaching Schemes so you have a reference point for any terminology with which you might be unfamiliar. Probably makes sense to bookmark it for easy referral since we’ll be doing every division. If you missed any of the ones we’ve done so far, here are links to check them out as well:

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

Now let’s move on the next one!

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Head CoachArthur Smith1st year
Offensive CoordinatorDave Ragone1st year
Defensive CoordinatorDean Pees1st year
Offensive SystemWest Coast 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Arthur Smith -- HC    Dave Ragone -- OC   
Category2018 (TEN)2019 (TEN OC)2020 (TEN OC) Category2018 (CHI)2019 (CHI)2020 (CHI PC)
Pass AttemptsTE COACH314 Pass AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH8
Passing YardsTE COACH2123 Passing YardsQB COACHQB COACH22
Rushing AttemptsTE COACH1020 Rushing AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH27
Rushing YardsTE COACH327 Rushing YardsQB COACHQB COACH25

Offensive Breakdown: The Falcons were one of seven teams to bring in a new head coach and all eyes are going to be glued to Arthur Smith and the production of this offense. The days of Dirk Koetter’s high-volume passing attack are a thing of the past and Smith, who rose to coaching prominence thanks to his last two seasons as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, will install his version of the West Coast offense that is predicated on the run setting up the pass. He brought in Dave Ragone to serve as the OC, but that feels more like he’s there for quality control than anything else. The scheme belongs to Smith and he will call the plays.

Mike Davis won’t see the same volume as Derrick Henry has seen over the last two seasons, so get that out of your mind right away. However, he is still going to see a heavy workload and, as we saw with Davis last season in Carolina, he is more than capable of also handling the passing work. He is heading into training camp with very little competition for touches and it appears as if Smith views him as an every-down back. Expect lots of carries early and, once they establish the run, a lot of play-action which will set up the bigger plays downfield.

Smith likes for his quarterbacks to get the ball out quickly so expect a lot of three-step drops and quick release for Matt Ryan this season. This works extremely well with the high-percentage passing and with Smith using a ton of 12-personnel formations, you can expect a lot of work for Atlanta’s shiny, new toy, tight end Kyle Pitts. The loss of Julio Jones will put a lot of pressure, not on Calvin Ridley, but on Russell Gage who appears to be the WR2 on the opposite side of the field. Gage is going to need to get strong separation and make himself a legitimate threat every game so teams don’t continuously double-team Ridley and float extra coverage to Pitts. There’s a lot of potential to be had here, so if Davis and the ground game are strong, things should open up nicely for Ryan, just as it did Tannehill in Tennessee.

One element of Smith’s system we likely won’t see was his infusion of RPO into this scheme. Ryan just doesn’t have the mobility Tannehill has. They could use RPO in design and just not have Ryan run at all, but how long before defenses catch on and stop biting on the fake?

Overall, though, if run successfully, Smith’s system should yield plenty of fantasy points for those who have invested in the Falcons.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Mike Davis, Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst.

Defensive System: 3-4 base with a mix of both man and zone coverage

Defensive Breakdown: Smith went to one of the best here with Dean Pees as his defensive coordinator and we can probably expect a significant turnaround from the sieve that Falcons defense has been over the last few seasons. The 72-year-old Pees last served as a DC in in 2017 and 2018 for Tennessee, but retired last season. Regardless of his age or time away from football last season, Pees remains one of the best in the game because he gets more out of his players than most expect. His players respect him and no one on his defense stops until the whistle blows.

The base is 3-4, but Pees has switched to some multi-front looks to disguise the pass-rush and keep the offense guessing. He expects his linebackers to be extremely versatile and everyone should be able to rush the passer as well as they stop the run or fall back into coverage. In the secondary, he mixes up the coverage scheme but likes his corners to have a strong physical presence on the field at all times. Atlanta has invested a lot in rebuilding this secondary over the last two offseasons, so Pees has some strong talent with which to work.  

Players Who Best Fit the System: Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler, Deion Jones, Richie Grant

Carolina Panthers

Head CoachMatt Rhule2nd year
Offensive CoordinatorJoe Brady2nd year
Defensive CoordinatorPhil Snow2nd year
Offensive SystemSpread/Pistol 
Blocking SchemeFlex 
Matt Rhule -- HC    Joe Brady -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category2018 (NO)20192020
Rushing AttemptsBAYLOR HCBAYLOR HC21 Rushing AttemptsOFF. ASST.LSU WR COACH21

Offensive Breakdown: If you’ve listened to me on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, you know I am extremely bullish on this Panthers offense. What they did last year versus what they wanted to do were two totally different things as they were limited in a number of ways. They lost Christian McCaffrey for 13 games, their offensive line struggled with a number of injuries and once teams realized Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t throw deep, they countered defensively and worked harder at taking away the short-passing that was working extremely well.

This is a spread offense that incorporates a lot of pistol formation. In the pistol, the quarterback is just four steps behind the center with the running back flanking him. From there, the quarterback can get the ball out of his hands quicker in the short-passing game or, better yet, can run designed RPO, something the Panthers weren’t able to do with Bridgewater. That element gets revived this season with Sam Darnold, who is a much more capable runner should he opt to keep the ball himself.

As for the passing attack, Joe Brady loves to utilize the entire field and send his pass-catchers all over the place. He’ll have McCaffrey block and release in designed screens or as a safety valve. While that’s happening, you’ll see two of the receivers, and the tight end, run slants underneath while sending another receiver deep. This spreads out the defense to the point where there are a number of one-on-one coverage situations and allows Darnold to hit the guy who likely has the best separation at the moment. This ran particularly well early on last year as Bridgewater was able to hit the receivers in stride underneath and allow for more yards after the catch. In fact, the Panthers had the 23rd-ranked average depth of target (aDOT) but the eighth-most yards after the catch (YAC). With Darnold’s ability to hit the deep receiver, we should see a lot more downfield work as well.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore

Defensive System: 4-3 base with multi-front looks and Cover-3 zone

Defensive Breakdown: At Baylor, DC Phil Snow use a lot of multi-front looks with a 3-5-5 base as his linebackers were both effective and versatile enough to float back and forth between stopping the run and falling back into coverage. He tried to implement that more last year but has since opted for a more traditional 4-3 base due to the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. The defensive line is strong up the middle with Derrick Brown and fast on the outside with Brian Burns. They’ll also use Shaq Thompson in the pass-rush, but there isn’t as great a sense of urgency to send Denzel Perryman up the middle to help block the gaps. He’ll be able to play in a more traditional linebacker role.

The secondary got a nice boost with rookie corner Jaycee Horn, but the bigger help comes in the form of Jeremy Chinn remaining at safety most of the time rather than going back and forth between being a defensive back and being a linebacker. The overall coverage in the secondary should see some improvement as a result. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn

New Orleans Saints

Head CoachSean Payton16th year
Offensive CoordinatorPete Carmichael13th year
Defensive CoordinatorDennis Allen8th year
Offensive SystemAir Coryell 
Blocking SchemePower 
Sean Payton -- HC    Pete Carmichael -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category201820192020
Points335 Points335
Pace293129 Pace293129
Pass Attempts231325 Pass Attempts231325
Passing Yards12719 Passing Yards12719
Rushing Attempts5175 Rushing Attempts5175
Rushing Yards6166 Rushing Yards6166

Offensive Breakdown: Welcome to the 13th year of togetherness for head coach Sean Payton and his offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. The overall offensive scheme will remain the same and Sean Payton will continue to call the plays, but this will be a true test to see how things work with massive player personnel changes.

First off, this is a traditional Air Coryell system which leads with a heavy rushing attack to help set up the pass. The tandem of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray will continue to see a high volume of touches. In this scheme, the passes are quick, timing routes where the quarterback throws to a certain spot on the field and the receiver is expected to be there once the ball arrives. It’s the same for slants as it is the vertical game. To be successful, receivers and tight ends need to be in lock-step with their quarterback. 

That’s where the question marks are going to arise. Will it be Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill under center? While most believe this will be a bona fide QB competition in camp, many believe that Taysom Hill could land the gig because of how infatuated Payton seems to be with him. I’ve said it a million times – I wish I liked anything as much as Payton likes Hill. Personally, I’d like to see Winston land the job, but even if he does, you can expect Hill to come into the game in the same situations as he did for Drew Brees.

Then there’s the whole Michael Thomas issue. If you somehow missed that, be sure to check out the Fantasy Football Fallout piece regarding his timetable and draft value. As the X-receiver in this system, Thomas saw a boatload of targets and emerged as one of the best receivers in the game. With him on the sidelines, the Saints are going to need to see Tre’Quan Smith step up his game as well as see one or two of these fringe wideouts like Marquez Callaway or Deonte Harris. What shouldn’t depend on wideouts stepping up or not, is the likely targets headed tight end Adam Trautman’s way. We witnessed Jared Cook average 600 yards and eight touchdowns a year over the last two seasons. Trautman should be able to deliver at least that, if not more.

The Saints have been one of the best offenses for fantasy football over the years, so if you believe in the system, hop aboard. There’s definite risk involved, though.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Adam Trautman

Defensive System: 4-3 base with multi-front looks and Cover-3 zone with some man-coverage mixed in

Defensive Breakdown: Dennis Allen continues to teach and develop his defense and has taken a once-atrocious unit and turned it into something a whole lot more respectable. He uses a 4-3 base, but has definitely been known to mix it up often depending on the opposition. He also likes to use a lot of Cover-3 packages, but he also started mixing in some Cover-2 looks last season. This year, we actually may see a little more man-coverage used simply based on the strength of the corners. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Cameron Jordan, Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head CoachBruce Arians3rd year
Offensive CoordinatorByron Leftwich3rd year
Defensive CoordinatorTodd Bowles3rd year
Offensive SystemAir Coryell 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Bruce Arians -- HC    Byron Leftwich -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category2018 (AZ)20192020
PointsN/A43 PointsQB COACH43
PaceN/A89 PaceQB COACH89
Pass AttemptsN/A46 Pass AttemptsQB COACH46
Passing YardsN/A12 Passing YardsQB COACH12
Rushing AttemptsN/A1529 Rushing AttemptsQB COACH1529
Rushing YardsN/A2428 Rushing YardsQB COACH2428

Offensive Breakdown: While I won’t ever apologize for my personal, Jets-fan hatred of Tom Brady, I will tip the cap out of respect for the quarterback and what he did last season, working with head coach Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich.  We make jokes on the SXM show about Brady being the GM, the coach and the offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl-winning season, but while his influence was a major factor, it was his ability to work within Arians’ system and Arians’ ability to trust his QB implicitly that helped bring the title to Tampa Bay.

Arians’ system is an Air Coryell base with a healthy dose of spread formations mixed in. The goal is to get the ball into the hands of the play-makers and get them running in space. He and Brady worked together to shorten up many of the routes which allowed Brady get the ball out quickly to his receivers, something he excelled with in New England. The shorter routes even helped Arians incorporate the tight ends more which is what helped Rob Gronkowski finish as TE8, the first top-10 TE for Arians since he was in Pittsburgh with Heath Miller.

The ground game is where things got a little dicey. Arians likes for his running backs to be versatile – to be able to catch passes as well as power-run through the line. After not being satisfied with Ronald Jones or Ke’Shawn Vaugn, Brady lobbied for the Bucs to bring in Leonard Fournette. Unfortunately, he struggled at times as well which is why we now have 82 different running backs on the roster. OK, slight exaggeration, but what we’re looking at this season is a rotation of Fournette, Jones and Giovani Bernard who was brought in as a free agent at the request of Brady. 

The scheme will stay intact, just as the coaches and players did as well. It’s rare to see almost zero turnover on a roster or coaching staff, but everyone involved has completely bought into what they are doing and that is attempting a back-to-back title.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Tom Brady, Giovani Bernard, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski

Defensive System: 4-3 base with multi-front looks and a mix of man-to-man and zone

Defensive Breakdown: While the base is 4-3, you can expect some multi-front looks as Todd Bowles likes to bring pressure from all angles. He’s got Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea to help clog the middle and stuff the run which should allow the edge rushers a little more freedom to pass-rush. Bowles loves to blitz and will continue to add more pressure to the quarterback so long as his secondary is strong in coverage.

Bowles actually likes to mix up the man and the zone coverage at all times. He’ll have the outside corners in man-coverage while the middle linebackers and safeties work in a zone throughout a series and continue to change things up to keep the offense guessing as to where the coverage is softest. The addition of Antoine Winfield, Jr. proved to be a major asset to the Bucs secondary and combined with the coverage abilities of third-year starter Sean Murphy-Bunting, that right side of the field should remain in lockdown all season.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Ndamukong Suh, Shaquil Barrett, Devin White, Antoine Winfield