Smith has Falcons primed for a long playoff run
The Atlanta Falcons are sitting atop the NFC standings at 7-2
and they’ve won three straight games.
Mike Smith thinks they deserve a break.
The coach gave his players the weekend off so they can
recuperate from winning two close games in five days.
The Falcons feel their 26-21 victory Thursday over Baltimore
proves they are as competitive as any team in the NFL.
”You can sense it when they walk into the locker room from
practice, when they’re out there on the field, and this is a very
close-knit group,” Smith said Friday. ”These are men who know
what their jobs are.”
The win against Baltimore is the kind of collective team
performance that could give Atlanta confidence it can advance deep
into the playoffs.
The defense held Baltimore scoreless on its first five
possessions, and despite allowing touchdowns on three of the
Ravens’ last five, played well overall.
Defensive ends John Abraham, Kroy Biermann and Chauncey Davis
combined for five solo tackles, one pass breakup, two sacks and two
additional quarterback hits. Brent Grimes was beaten on two
touchdown passes, but the left-side cornerback had the game’s only
interception, and it led to a third-quarter field goal.
The offense built a 10-point lead as quarterback Matt Ryan ran a
no-huddle offense exclusively throughout the first half. On the
winning drive, the Falcons returned to the no-huddle, and Ryan
completed three passes, including Roddy White’s second touchdown
catch of the game.
Atlanta’s power running game was held to 60 yards rushing on 23
carries. Reserve Jason Snelling, who caught a 28-yard TD pass,
played a bigger role than starter Michael Turner.
”We have definable roles for guys, but those roles can
change,” Smith said. ”They’re an unselfish group, and they know
they have to be accountable to one another if we’re going to be
Smith, whose three-year stay in Atlanta includes a 22-1 record
when his team begins the fourth quarter with a lead, was pleased
with how well Ryan ran the no-huddle offense.
In his rookie season as the NFL’s No. 3 overall draft pick of
2008, Ryan called between 10-12 plays from the no-huddle. Now he
calls 30-32 plays.
Atlanta’s no-huddle formations aren’t so much designed to speed
up the pace of the offense as they are used to keep a defense from
Before the snap, when his receivers take their place at the line
of scrimmage, Ryan instructs each with a different route based on
Ryan used the no-huddle throughout the first half to build a
10-point lead, and the Falcons brought it back on the winning
”I thought he did a good job of getting us into the right plays
based on the looks,” Smith said. ”And the attack at the end of
the game, you can’t operate any better than that.”
Though the Falcons’ offensive identity is based on a power
running game, they changed their approach against Baltimore. In the
first half, Ryan handed the ball to his running backs 14 times for
34 meager yards, but he completed 20 of 28 passes for 160 yards and
”We feel confident we know the system really well and we felt
that it would keep some of what Baltimore did (defensively)
vanilla,” Ryan said. ”The plan wasn’t necessarily to come out and
throw it on every snap, but that’s just kind of the looks we were
Smith loved the outcome for a team that’s 27-14 in his tenure
and pushing for its second playoff berth in three years. He never
doubted the outcome Thursday after Baltimore took a one-point lead
with 1:05 remaining.
”There was an air of confidence about what needed to be done
and what we were going to get done,” Smith said. ”It was a heck
of a drive in the last 65 seconds for us to win the game.”