Sooner or later, Mike Smith is gonna run out of leash space. During his four years running the show with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta, the Falcons have made the playoffs three times and finished with a winning record each season. That’s good. But during that same stretch, Smith and the Falcons have won exactly zero playoff games. That’s bad. And while no one has called for either Smith or Ryan to lose their jobs yet, another one-and-done playoff effort might change things for that coach-quarterback duo in Atlanta.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith joined David Archer and Mike Bell on 790 The Zone in Atlanta to discuss how his team needs to change the way it approaches the postseason, the work Matt Ryan has been doing to take his game to the next level and his emphasis on creating competition at multiple positions. He also addressed how the new collective bargaining agreement is restricting what he can do with his team this offseason, broke down the benefit of adding Asante Samuel to the secondary and looked back one more time at that now-infamous fourth-down gamble in overtime of a Week 9 game against the Saints.
On the new collective bargaining agreement limiting practice time in the offseason:
“Well it’s a lot better than it was last year, that’s for sure. But in terms of what we’re accustomed to, it’s not close. It’s been cut down from 14 weeks to nine weeks and the first two weeks you can’t go on the field with the players as a coaching staff. The next three weeks you can go out on the field but you can’t run against each other, you only can run against air. And so our guys have to do some creative thinking in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s really hard, it’s different — we’ll adjust to it and I think that our guys have done a nice job to this point. But I tell ya, it was very, very encouraging to see the way our rookies came in this week and we were able to actually practice with them.”
On how different the offensive line could look in 2012:
“Well I think it could be significantly different. And we made a conscious effort in the draft to bring some new guys in to compete. We didn’t do anything in free agency, albeit one position we brought in the guard, Vince Manuwai. But it’s gonna be very competitive and I liken this similar to our first year here. I think it’s important for us, we’ve had some continuity with our football team and we need to become more consistent. We need to get back to talking about competition, not only on Sundays but competition during the week and competition for our 53-man roster, competition for our 46-man roster, and then really competition in terms of what plays we’re gonna call on game day and how we’re gonna distribute the football. And I think competition is the biggest motivator for every athlete and competitor that there is.”
On the addition of Asante Samuel to the secondary:
“Asante makes our team much better. When we were able to consummate that trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, I know the Atlanta Falcons got a lot better. He has got a great skill set in terms of playing corner. Forty-six, I think, interceptions in his career. He’s gonna be a guy that’s gonna come in here and again that’s gonna create a competitive atmosphere in the secondary and I think that’s something that we need.”
On Matt Ryan’s effort to add muscle this offseason:
“Oh I think it can have a big effect. And I think it’s not only his work in the weight room but it’s a natural maturation process when you start talking about his age and quote the prime years of a football player and a quarterback. And Matt’s starting his fifth year, he’s a lot stronger than he was when he was a rookie and I think that was one of the things that he identified and we identified. And he came back, and he was the first one in the weight room when the guys could come in. In fact, he and a couple of the other offensive players were in a lot earlier than I thought they’d be, and that’s a good sign. Because you have to unplug, but Matt was ready to get back in, not only in the weight room but he started his offseason study. And Matt is a guy that is very cerebral and wants to study what other people are doing as well.”
On if he looks back on the failed fourth-down gamble that might have cost them a game against New Orleans in 2011:
“Yeah, Mike, you look at every play. It’s not just fourth downs. You try to look and evaluate and some of them are critical decisions that you have to make. And I would not have done, or we would not have done it any differently. We felt we had a lot of confidence — unfortunately the play didn’t work. If it works, it’s a good call. If it doesn’t, it’s a bad call. And that’s really what it’s all about. And I can’t sit here and say that we’d do it differently, and I can’t sit here and say we’d do it the same. Again, it’s gonna be the flow of the game, how we feel. We make those decisions as a coaching staff, or I take input during the week and we’re gonna make those decisions on game day.”
On if the Falcons have to change their approach to the playoffs:
“Well obviously we have to do it different than what we’ve done in the past. We’ve been there, we just haven’t been very successful. So it starts with me in evaluating how I prepare our football team, or we as a coaching staff prepare our football team. And believe me, we’ve done some soul searching. When you go to the places that we’ve been and not have the success that you want in those situations, it’s tough. And I know everybody’s disappointed, but nobody’s more disappointed than I am — I can assure you that.”