Will the Falcons fire Arthur Smith? Loss to Panthers increases pressure on embattled Atlanta coach

The Falcons did what they could to position themselves for success in 2023. They extended two stalwarts of their offensive line, added Jessie Bates and David Onyemaya to their defense and drafted one of the most dynamic running back prospects in recent memory.

Quarterback remained a question entering the season with Desmond Ridder still very much unproven, but a strong running game and improved defense were expected to be enough to make Atlanta a strong contender in a weak NFC South.

With three games remaining, the Falcons’ season is nearly on life support. Atlanta has fallen behind both the Buccaneers and Saints, and a loss to the dismal Panthers on Sunday marked a new low for a franchise that appears to be struck in neutral.

MORE: Buccaneers, Saints separate from Falcons in crowded NFC South

Losing leads to changes, and as three teams have already proven this season, those changes can go as far as the head coach. Could Falcons coach Arthur Smith be next on the chopping block? Here’s what you need to know about his status.

Will the Falcons fire Arthur Smith?

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported earlier in the week that Smith is believed to be on track to return for a fourth season, barring a late-season collapse. “The sense I get after asking around is that Arthur Smith is safe in Atlanta,” Fowler said, with a collapse as the exception.

While the report painted a positive picture for Smith, a loss to the Panthers, who entered Week 15 just 1-12, could certainly qualify as the start of a late-season collapse. Bijan Robinson touched the ball only eight times in rainy conditions in the defeat, which led to more questions about Smith’s usage of his top offensive weapons as the Falcons scored just seven points.

If the Falcons’ offense can’t find its footing over the final three weeks of the season, it may beg the question of whether Smith is qualified to lead the unit at all. Atlanta finished 15th in points last season, but the team has dipped from 21.5 points per game in 2022 to 18.4 in 2023.

The Falcons close out their season against the Colts, Bears and Saints. A third consecutive 7-10 finish, or worse, could make it tough to justify keeping Smith with few signs of progress.

Why could the Falcons hold onto Smith? Owner Arthur Blank has demonstrated serious loyalty with recent coaches, retaining Mike Smith after a 4-12 season in 2013 and keeping Dan Quinn after back-to-back 7-9 seasons. Both were fired the following year, however, which may have taught Blank a lesson about waiting one year too long to make an inevitable change.

Smith is 20-28 through nearly three seasons in Atlanta and would need to win out to achieve his first winning season with the organization.

MORE: Which NFL teams have clinched a playoff spot?

NFC South standings

Place Team Record
1 Buccaneers 7-7
2 Saints 7-7
3 Falcons 6-8
4 Panthers 2-12

The Falcons spent a large portion of the season atop the NFC South, but a 4-8 record over their last 12 games has sunk Smith’s team to third in the division. 

At this point, Atlanta needs to start winning for its Week 18 matchup with the Saints to mean anything for the franchise. Since it may not take a playoff appearance for Smith to keep his job, even entering the final weekend of the season with something on the line could be a major boost for Smith’s chances of returning in 2024.

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