BIRDLAND – Falcons head coach Mike Smith spoke to the media at the NFC coaches breakfast at the league meetings in Orlando on Wednesday.
Smith talked about reducing Mike Turner’s work load, the new overtime rule, cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Chris Houston, defensive ends John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson, the continued improvement of quarterback Matt Ryan and having the defending Super Bowl champs in his division.
(A special thanks to the Pro Football Writer’s of America, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and Sportsxchange.com for providing a transcript of Smith’s interview.)
Here are some excerpts for his session:
Q: What do you think about the overtime rule?
A: I’m in favor of it on a couple of fronts. It’s an improvement from the rule we had. The main reason I like the rule is it puts the onus on teams to score touchdowns. Ultimately, that’s what this game’s all about. And it keeps the sudden
death element with it.
Q: The rule puts more pressure on coaches. Does that part bother you?
A: No, it doesn’t. It’s no different than coming down at the end of the game. There may be a few nuances we have to become familiar with, like play management.
Q: Does the rule put more pressure on you to win the game by scoring a touchdown at the end of regulation rather than kicking a field goal to force overtime?
A: When you’re the home team you play it differently at the end of the game than you do if you’re the visiting team. I think that’s already part of the formula. Who you’re playing, what players will be on the field for your team and their team.
Q: Why was Texans (cornerback) Dunta Robinson your No. 1 target in free agency?
A: Our philosophy is to identify where you can improve your team in a number of areas. Corner was an area we wanted to improve. When it became apparent Dunta was going to be available, we went full force in that direction. We feel like we’ve added a player with the skill set to be a very efficient and effective corner. He’s a very physical player. He’s got good size for a corner. We expect him to be a leader on the back end. He’s very active in the community. He’s from Athens. He went to South Carolina. I think he’ll be a great addition in the dressing room and in the community. Signing him changes our thoughts on the draft. It eliminates that as a position of need. He gives us an option of using him against the opponent’s best receiver or keeping him on one side. He’s done both. Early in his career, he played inside, too.
Q: Since the Saints won the Super Bowl, should they be favored to win the division?
A: Arguably, I think the NFC South is the toughest division in the league. Almost every year there’s been a different winner, but with the Saints as the defending Super Bowl champs, they’ll go into the (division) as the favorite. Offensively, they’re very talented, and it starts with Drew Brees. They’re a powerful offense. Last season, they were probably the most opportunistic defense in the league. They did a great job of attacking the ball and creating confusion and forcing turnovers. At Carolina, John (Fox) will have his team playing hard and well. I think their offense will be set up around their two running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart). They’re always going to play strong defense with John and (defensive coordinator) Ron Meeks. I think (quarterback) Matt Moore has a very good skill set. He’s got the height and arm strength. He doesn’t have the experience Jake (Delhomme) had. He’s got a chance to be a very good quarterback. I think Raheem (Morris) will make big strides in his second season. I really like their big quarterback, Josh Freeman. Not only does he throw the ball, but he can run, too. He’s got some escape ability. He can extend the play. They made a lot of improvement, especially on the defensive side, attacking the offense. I see this as a typical year in the NFC South – some real battles.
Q: As a former defensive coordinator, what do you think about the rules that keep being changed that seemed to affect the defense the most?
A: Most of these rules are about player safety. They defined a defenseless player a little more in depth.
Q: What is Michael Turner’s situation after being hampered last season because of ankle injuries?
A: Michael came back, and in the first game he was back, he injured his ankle. He was really politicking to get back. The doctors cleared him. I think I looked at it in a different light. He’s such a tough guy he wanted to get back in and play. I think he’ll be bigger, faster and stronger this year. It’s important for us to do a good job of monitoring his carries for the game. We have to make sure we don’t overwork Michael throughout the season. We designed our game plan to get others involved. We thought the addition of (tight end) Tony Gonzalez would take some carries away from Michael.
Q: What do you expect out of Matt Ryan going into his third season?
A: Matt improved from Year One to Year Two. I think there’ll be significant improvement from Year 2 to Year 3. He’s improved on and will continue to improve on the two traits all great quarterbacks have. One is decision-making, and the other is accuracy with the football. Matt has really improved in his decision making as far as what he can see and where he goes with the football. His accuracy has improved as well. We’ve opened up the playbook from Year 1 to Year 2. We’ll continue to expand what we want to do offensively. It was very important for us to add more weapons, like Tony Gonzalez. He had 83 catches, and we had almost 100 from the tight end position. We had, like, 14 the year before. That opens up his options and increases his ability to read the defense and get the ball into the right guy’s hands.
Q: What kind of season do you expect from defensive end John Abraham?
A: John had a great year in 2008, 16 ½ sacks. His numbers weren’t nearly as good last season. As we watched tape and spent time evaluating him, we still felt like he had some very effective rushes. The sacks just didn’t come. Historically, he’s had a down year every third or fourth season, and he’s bounced back. We anticipate he will again. Sometimes we missed pressure up the middle when (defensive tackle) Peria Jerry went down. We felt like he was really coming along and could win some of those one-on-one battles.
Q: Why are the pass-rushing defensive (ends) so hard to find?
A: When you find the guy who can win one on one, you’ve got a special player. Sometimes teams commit six to seven players to protection.
Q: What about defensive end Jamal Anderson?
A: Last year, I thought he made big strides in terms of his end play in our base defense. He moved inside the majority of the time with our (nickel) package. He ended up spending half his time inside in passing situations.
Q: What kind of draft is this?
A: I think it’s a very deep draft at a number of positions. There’s going to be value in all rounds at all positions. It’s become an evaluator’s draft as far as who’s going to be available at what position. We have (eight) picks. Our No. 1 priority is to get as many good players as we can.”
Q: Tell us about cornerback Chris Houston, who you traded to Detroit after you signed Dunta Robinson.
A: Chris started 37 games for us and played well. He’s very physical. He can play man coverage. I think he’ll do a real good job at Detroit. When we made the move to sign Dunta, we made a decision. We felt good about our two young cornerbacks, and we acquired Brian Williams last year. Chris is a good guy. He started 37 games for us. It was an organizational move that once we added Dunta, we could (trade Houston).”