For Falcons, winning isn’t a formula

The 2-6 Atlanta Falcons are underperforming this season. Losing five offensive linemen for the year is hard overcome and the ball hasn’t bounced Atlanta’s way at times. However, no part of this team is playing close to its full potential. Head coach Mike Smith is taking the bulk of the blame and that is understandable as the guy making the biggest decisions on game days. Smith is a very detail-oriented coach and his focus is on doing the little things right.

In Smith’s first five years, the core of the team remained intact and details within the course of a game like penalties and clock management were handled better with a more veteran presence and identity on both sides of the football. When you are still trying to figure out what your offense is capable of doing behind a makeshift line, it is hard to play a polished game. Confidence is the key to executing a game-plan and when the pieces have continuously changed week to week in the lineup it creates a disconnect that can turn wins to losses. Details work with a veteran team, but when youth takes over and the lineup shuffles, details go out the window. A team that has been the staple of consistency in the NFL in recent years is going to have to learn how to scrap the little things and find success in the ugly games when things don’t go to plan.


Smith has been an open and transparent coach in terms of handling the media since taking the job in 2008. He’ll explain the decision-making process behind key plays and why the staff decided to go that route based on a series of variables. During the New Orleans game, the Falcons forced and recovered a fumble in overtime and could win the game with a field goal. Instead of trying to run a couple plays and get closer, Smith put in a jumbo package that put Julio Jones and Roddy White on the sideline and used consecutive running plays up the middle to eventually get to fourth down without inching any closer to the endzone. Matt Bryant was left with a 52-yard field goal attempt that he sent through the uprights for the win. In the postgame press conference, Smith explained that the Falcons were in Bryant’s range and they liked their odds to get to fourth down and leave the game up to the veteran kicker. The planned scenario worked in Atlanta’s favor that time.

These different scenarios and variables are talked about and game-planned for before the team ever steps on the field. This past game, the Falcons were up 21-0 in the first half and had a chance to put more points on the board but played it conservative based on specific details of the game. Smith explained the process behind the decision in his Monday press conference.

“We went in [on the possession before the half] and said we were going to throw the ball on the first down,” he said. “If we had an efficient play and got the ball down the field we were going to get into our attack mode. When we didn’t, I made the decision that we were going to go ahead and take it into the locker room.”

These decisions make sense and I understand that everything is done to find the highest percentage of success in each situation, but it is time to throw out the script. Wins do not have to be pretty and as a 2-5 team heading into that game, there should have been more desperation and trickery involved in the game-plan. The formulas work when you can trust your defense and trust your offensive line to not commit penalties and not get beat on the pass rush. Great coaches have to make the difficult decision in the heat of the game and they have to learn to go with their gut rather than their heads. This is not the same Falcons teams that had Michael Turner pacing the offense and John Abraham heading the defensive side of the ball. Once the team finds consistency in any phase of the game, a team can began build around that first sense of identity and play winning football.

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