The question is obviously not can they do it, but will they do it, meaning will they finally take that huge step forward and win in the postseason. This is the big albatross that’s been hanging over this Falcons franchise under Head Coach Mike Smith, and by extension Thomas Dimitroff as General Manager. For as much as this franchise has accomplished in such a short amount of time, they have yet to win in the playoffs. The magnitude of this game needs little description.
Smith has done wonders for one of the most inconsistent and underperforming franchises in NFL history in his very short tenure here. He’s already the most winning coach in terms of percentage in franchise history, was the first to help the Falcons to consecutive winning seasons in franchise history, Smith was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2008, not to mention having them make the playoffs in 3 out of his 4 years as the Falcons head coach.
Many, however, will ignore the immense success he’s had during the regular season and all the accomplishments he’s obtained in his short tenure as Falcons head coach and simply point to his 0-2 record in the playoffs. It seems a bit unfair, but ultimately coaches are judged on their success in the postseason. The Falcons played a hard fought game in their first playoff appearance with a rookie quarterback, but the Debacle in the Dome where they were out-coached, outclassed, and smashed to pieces on the Georgia Dome turf as the #1 seed in the NFC has left him hardly any room for error.
If he wins this one he can drop that awful albatross from his neck, at least for the short-term. But if he leads another failed effort in the playoffs and drops to 0-3 after a year of underachievement, than the whispers will only get louder that Smith is nothing more than a great coach during the regular season and nothing more, fair or not.
D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote an article recently talking about how Coach Smith looked at his two playoff losses and how to avoid another letdown in the postseason. He referred to 7 turnovers and the way they prepared. The turnovers alone were bad, but hopefully that’s not a sign for him to be even more conservative than he already is.
The biggest thing that seemed to be evident was the Falcons lack of toughness and tenacity compared to their opponents, particularly against the Packers. Did Smith and Co. put the players through a tougher week to get ready for a very physical playoff game? Or will they use the time off in hopes that they can magically turn on the physical nature needed for a playoff win? We’ll see Sunday.
Those who are into gambling and betting know which way the data would sway them to pick if they were placing a bet on this one. It’s one of the biggest sources of ire for Atlanta Falcons fans over the last four years, but particularly in 2011. Mike Smith, Brian Van Gorder, and the defensive staff have predominantly run the soft zone coverage where they rush 3 or 4 defensive linemen (and occasionally drop their DE’s into coverage), have their cornerbacks dropped 10 yards from the receivers, never disturb the opposing receivers routes, and expect the linebackers and safeties to get everything in between.
It works decently well with average and below average teams that have either rookie or less-than-stellar QB’s. That same zone gets absolutely shredded and torched when playing great quarterbacks and teams (see Brees and Rodgers for history). This has been discussed ad infinitum throughout the past four years and it just doesn’t work against great teams. It allows the quarterback and offense to get into rhythm and pick them apart at will. If they think that Eli Manning can’t do that, they are in for yet another terrible defensive showing.
It would be one thing if they ran that style out of necessity of not having the right personnel to blitz and be aggressive, but that’s not the case. Curtis Lofton, William Moore, Sean Weatherspoon, Thomas DeCoud, Stephen Nicholas, and Brent Grimes have all shown an excellent ability of getting after the quarterback, not to mention the ability of the front four to get in the backfield. There have been glimpses here and there, but just when fans think they are “turning the corner” into finally being aggressive and dictating their will to the offense, they resort back to the old soft zone. They have proven that when they get after the quarterback (Stafford, Freeman, Newton, Gabbert, Rodgers 1st half), good things happen. Which one will show on Sunday?
No, we’re not talking about the actually weather up in New York, for the forecast is supposed to be pretty good. This is wondering whether the Falcons can take a punch against a good team if necessary and find a way back in the game without making mistakes. The Falcons had an up and down battle with the Arizona Cardinals in their first matchup in the playoffs in 2008, but after a fumbled snap right after halftime led to an immediate score, the Falcons never seemed to be able to get back in the game.
The more magnified example came in last year’s blowout of the Packers. The Falcons actually scored first and the score was 14-14 and then 21-14. A few mistakes later and the Falcons were on their way to getting destroyed. The Falcons were driving down the field and an accidental slip by Michael Jenkins gave the ball back to the Packers, where they increased their score to 21-14. The worst throw of Matt Ryan’s career than made it a quick 28-14. Yes, it’s true the Falcons would have had a really hard road back to win the game as it stood, but the Birds didn’t even seem to put up a fight in the 2nd half. They held the Packers to a 3rd and long deep in their own territory with a chance to get back in the game, and of course Aaron Rodgers converted, went down to score, and that was it.
The question is whether the Falcons can weather an early surge by the Giants in their home stadium and have the fortitude to get back in the game if things don’t go their way from the opening bell. They have proven they can do it against lesser teams such as the Panthers, but doing it against quality opponents on the road and in the playoffs are a different set of circumstances.
Much more coming very soon……….
Until then, get ready for some Falcons Playoff Football here in The Bird Cage.