Is There a Disconnect with the Atlanta Falcons Staff?

Questions on Same Vision Remain

Can Smith Change? (AJC)

It’s one of the biggest currents running through many Falcons fans, some for quite a long time: is there some sort of disconnect present within the Atlanta Falcons organization? In other words, is everyone on the same page when it comes to vision and direction, namely Mike Smith, Thomas Dimitroff, and Arthur Blank. It’s been quite the hot topic recently in The Cage, so no better time than now to get the debate rolling………

Yes, a Disconnect Remains

Obviously, this is all just speculation on the fans part, but something still doesn’t feel right in Flowery Branch. Fans hear one thing out of Falcons Headquarters, while their actions say something different. A look at some evidence that something is still adrift in Flowery Branch….

Explosion vs. Conservatism

After the Falcons playoff embarrassment at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in 2011, the ideas of a “disconnect” started to surface.” The off-season buzzword became that of wanting to get more “explosive.” Falcons management, mainly Dimitroff, said that their lack of explosive plays was a reason the Falcons couldn’t come back from a deficit and were limited to a fairly conservative brand of football.

Cue the draft a few months later and the Falcons made a blockbuster trade to move up and snag Julio Jones. The Falcons wanted to get more explosive and they certainly achieved that. Questions arose even before the season began on whether specifically Smith and Dimitroff were on the same page. Many thought the GM wanted to move the Falcons in a more wide-open brand of football, while Smith’s bread and butter remained a hyper-conservative, control-the-clock type of football.

Fears weren’t unfounded in the season, as it appeared there was an ocean-sized gulf between Mike Smith and OC Mike Mularkey. That was one of the only ways for fans to understand the mess that was the 2011 Atlanta Falcons offense. It seemed as though the idea of “explosive” plays were being forced form someone that sure didn’t seem to be Mularkey. Having one of the best wide receiving trios in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Harry Douglas at his disposal, Mularkey seemed incapable of incorporating more than 2 receivers at a time. Many attempts at deep passes were tried, but it just never seemed to click.

Mularkey and Van Gorder or Smith?

Smith or Mularkey? (AJC)

The biggest issue with fans remains whether some of the assistants who left on their own (Mularkey, Van Gorder) or asked to leave (Boudreau, Reynolds) were a cause for the ills the Falcons experienced in 2011 or just symptoms of a deeper disease. Fans continue to fret whether or not Mularkey and Van Gorder were that hyper-conservative in their gameplans and execution or something larger was at play. Namely, Smith having his hand way too far in the cookie jar, so to speak, in terms of dictating and mandating what direction the Falcons truly went in.

Mularkey was always known as being conservative in his past, so the shoe naturally fit that it was Mularkey’s gameplans, Mularkey’s play-calls, and ultimately his success or failures on offense. Fans will soon find out whether or not it was in fact Mularkey or Smith all along. Perhaps nothing exhibited a potential rift anymore than Smith apparently deciding when the Falcons went into the no-huddle offense, essentially taking the offensive responsibilities out of his offensive coordinator hands.

Boudreau a Fall Guy?

One of the more surprising off-season developments was the pink slip handed to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. The former Falcons OL coach was a main driving force in the Falcons success in the Dimitroff / Smith Era. He took a rag-tag offensive line including several undrafted free agents (Dahl, Clabo), a rookie LT, and several other lesser-named linemen and developed one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, including making the playoffs 3 out of 4 years, becoming the first ever team to have back-to-back winning seasons, and grabbing the NFC #1 seed with the best record in the National Football Conference. The offensive line had developed an attitude of being tough and nasty without much of an infusion of talent and almost all the credit goes to Boudreau.

Perhaps it was something deeper, but it was one of the more surprising moves after Boudreau had seemed to have pretty darn good success in his tenure in Atlanta. The Falcons offensive line was a major problem in 2011 and some believe that Boudreau was simply someone to take the fall for much deeper issues, not the least of which includes lack of needed talent.

Real Changes or Not So Much?

Fans are hard-pressed to say the Falcons front office haven’t done anything this off-season to adjust to their mistakes. They found a new offensive and defensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach, and defensive backs coach, among others. Mularkey and Van Gorder found other jobs (conveniently) and they let go of Boudreau and Reynolds. The Falcons added Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan to the coordinator spots, and Pat Hill to offensive line coach, among the most notable of positions.

It’s hard to argue with the pick of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator since he’s one of the most successful defensive coordinators in the NFL that has produced good-to-great defenses everywhere he’s been. It’s hard to imagine the defense not being much improved in many areas.

Smith or Van Gorder? (AJC)

The offense is the big question mark. Many fans are still reeling with what they see as a very interesting selection of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator at best and an extremely weak selection at worst. For all the talk of trying to incorporate a vertical passing attack, Koetter’s resume lends itself to being heavily reliant on the running game. Sound familiar? Some fear that the Falcons staff have replaced the real Mularkey with Mularkey 2.0 and a different name.

A final complaint comes about the confusion on the offensive line and general setup. Many think that the Falcons will going to some sort of zone blocking scheme on the offensive line in 2012. A zone blocking scheme requires linemen who are quicker on their feet and more agile than a traditional power blocking scheme that was supposed to have been present under Mularkey the last 4 years. The selection of Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes leads credence to the potential of a zone blocking scheme, but what running backs would even thrive on that system of needed cut-backs? Maybe Jacquizz Rodgers, but surely not Michael Turner or Jason Snelling. Ultimately, many are frustrated by what they perceive as mixed signals from the organization.

No, Problems Have Been Addressed

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An Off-Season of Change

For all the talk of a disconnect and inaction from the Falcons front office including Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, they have taken as many steps as fans could ask to address the inefficiencies and issues that plagued the Falcons in 2011. No one will ever know if the coordinators would have been asked to leave if they didn’t get other jobs, but Brian Van Gorder getting the Auburn defensive coordinator job less than 24 hours after the embarrassment in New York sure lends itself to a conspiracy theory of someone asking him to look for another job. The same goes for Mularkey and his head coaching job in Jacksonville. Regardless of how it happened, they were able to get two new coordinators.

Mike Nolan was a slam dunk hire since he’s been successful everywhere he’s gone so it’s hard for anyone to argue with that pickup. The Dirk Koetter hire is certainly one that many were upset about and will have a closer eye on as this season rolls around. He has had success in the NFL, but that was many years ago. Recently, however, his results have been mixed at best. Koetter can’t ask for any better situation to come into than what he has in Atlanta. He will have a plethora of weapons here with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Jason Snelling among many others. Luckily for Koetter, the bar hasn’t been set too high with Mularkey’s offense often looking lost and failing to even score an offensive point in the playoff game in New York. As many have said, he only has to be better than Mularkey.

One of the favorite examples that fans bring up in a positive manner is the fact that Mike McCarthy was offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, which ranked as one of the worst in the NFL. He was hired with heavy doubt as the Packers new head coach and led them to being one of the best offenses in the league. Perhaps a reach, but anything is possible.

Trusted Coordinators

The idea held that Smith had way too much control over the offensive and defensive gameplans and hamstrung both coordinators in their ability to do their job and the fact that everything he touched reeked of hyper-conservatism, whether it be offense, defense, or special teams. While that may be true at times, it’s hard to place all the blame on Coach Smith and leaving the coordinators without sharing a large part of the responsibility, especially Mularkey.

Hard to Argue with Nolan (AJC)

The former Falcons coordinator was always known as being very run-oriented and conservative all on his own. After all, Smith was the one to put the Falcons in the no-huddle, not Mularkey. It was Mularkey’s failure to integrate more than 2 receivers in an offensive gameplan. It was Mularkey’s failure to making any adjustments after the initial gameplan fell apart. It was Mularkey’s failure to integrate ANY screen passes into the offense or be anything other than completely predictable in his scheme, something said by many opposing defensive players. “We knew exactly what they were going to do,” has been said on many different occasions by many different teams. Most argue that Van Gorder was never really qualified to jump from linebackers coach all the way to NFL defensive coordinator. However, much of that blame does go to Smith for making that initial hire in that case.

The idea is that he has hired coordinators he can fully trust and will not tamper with their gameplans, decision-making, or schemes. It’s hard to believe that he’ll be telling Mike Nolan what to do since he worked for him in Baltimore and his success speaks for itself. The hope is that he will also let Koetter do his thing since he coached against him and was on the same level as him while in Jacksonville.

Case Against Paul Boudreau

As mentioned above, Boudreau was one of the main reasons the Falcons had early and continued success since Mike Smith took over in 2008. He put together a rag-tag group of linemen and turned them into a nasty unit that was physical and helped pave the way for the Falcons being a run-first offense. Boudreau’s success was especially impressive with many fans feeling that hardly any talent was infused into the offensive line.

A deeper look at Boudreau does paint a different story. His success was unquestioned in the beginning, but the idea that the offensive line has ever been a great protection for Matt Ryan is fairly laughable. Ryan has rarely had the time in the pocket that other elite quarterbacks have had and that lack of time definitely affected his play this year as he often seemed jittery and uncomfortable. Even though good in the running game, Boudreau’s OL was never confused with being a solid pass protection line.

Perhaps one of the biggest failures on Boudreau’s part was his failure to develop the offensive line prospects over his tenure. Although it is true that Dimitroff never spent many high draft picks on the offensive line, there were some candidates that have never shown any progress. Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, and now departed Jose Valdez never showed any progress under Boudreau, despite being in his system 2 or more years. It’s true that none of the candidates were high draft picks, but tons of great offensive lines in the NFL contain players that were taken in the later rounds and developed into solid and even Pro Bowl players.

Boudreau Gone (AJC)

This was no more evident than the debacle at right guard. They let Harvey Dahl go in free agency and felt they had enough talent to fill in the gap while retaining both Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo. Yes, that may have been a call made by GM Dimitroff, but if Smith and Boudreau had said that he absolutely had to be kept, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have tried. The competition included Mike Johnson and exclusive right tackle Garrett Reynolds. Reynolds won out and performed extremely poorly. Sam Baker gave it a shot and was just as bad. It got so bad that they had to bring over Joe Hawley to play right guard after being considered the heir to Todd McClure at center.

Finally, a look at Boudreau’s resume indicates that he hasn’t stayed with any NFL team more than 3 years since being with the New Orleans Saints for 7 years from 1987 to 1993. Perhaps that’s unfair, but it would lead credence to Boudreau being unable to continue his improvement and development after his initial success. Some may think that Boudreau was a fall guy, but he shares at least some of the blame for an offensive line that had a major regression in 2011.

Examples of Change

Mike Smith has already established himself as arguably the best head coach in Atlanta Falcons history in only 4 years with the club. Yes, the glaring omission from his resume includes no playoff victories in 3 attempts, 2 of them being downright embarrassing. However, Smith has earned the right to correct it after all he’s accomplished in such a short time. Smith will likely get not only this year to get the errors fixed, but also a few more chances as well. Arthur Blank has said that Mike Smith will be the Falcons coach for a very long time. Smith has to change, but he’s certainly earned the right to prove it.

Koetter the Big Question Mark (AJC)

Tom Coughlin is a good example. Coughlin was 4 and 4 in the playoffs in Jacksonville when he was hired as the Giants head coach. He followed that up with losing in the playoffs the next two years, with an 0-2 record for the Giants and a 4-6 overall playoff record. Most fans were ready to dump him immediately. They hung onto him, he made needed changes in his coaching style, and has delivered two Lombardi Trophies since. Yes, Coughlin did have success in Jacksonville in the postseason before losing each year, but the idea that coaches can change is a valid one.

Verdict

There’s certainly evidence that something was wrong with Atlanta Falcons in 2011. Even from preseason, the Falcons looked off. Their offense was a trainwreck, the offensive line was a mess, the defense looked like an old-Willie Martinez led D, and even the special teams didn’t measure up.

There are still signs that everyone may not entirely be on the same page, but the Falcons front office have attempted to address many issues, gaining two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, a new defensive backs coach, infusing the offensive line with talent, and trading for one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Falcons fans have every right to be skeptical of Mike Smith and their Birds heading into the 2012 season. However, they at least have to get the benefit of the doubt on attempting to improve their team that has clearly underachieved. The comforting thing is that fans will know pretty quick whether the disconnect has been bridged this season.

Bird Cage Critics Turn


1) Straight up: Do you believe that a “disconnect” still remains at Flowery Branch?

2) Do you feel confident or skeptical heading into the 2012 season?

3) Have the Falcons done enough to address their issues going into 2012?

4) What is the most worrisome aspect of the Falcons moving forward?

5) Your thoughts on the new coordinators: upgrade, downgrade, or the same?

6) Should Mike Smith be on the hot seat soon?

265 comments Add your comment

Unca' Bob

May 24th, 2012
12:39 pm

Enter your comments here

Seminole Warrior

May 24th, 2012
12:39 pm

Gut check….simply put, a gut check is required.

The Falcons need to adopt an “us versus the world” mindset if only for a moment. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, myself included, has some degree of doubt about what is happening at the Branch. It is a natural thing to have such feelings.

But, IMHO, the Falcons need to come out quick and learn to finish. The rising tide in places like Detroit will make it harder to get to the playoffs in the NFC.

Early playoff contenders look like this. ATL, PHI, DAL, NYG, GB, CHI, NO, SF, and DET. That is a loaded gun. Sure, each team has its share of issues but each team is LOADED with talent that is primed to raise their game to new levels. New personnel, new coordinators, addressing needs, etc. All these teams are primed.

The challenge is daunting. Gut check is required; not an evaluation. We know what we have…the question going into 2012 is the same as it was in 2011, at least from the TeePee point of view.

Can you finish the job?

Unca' Bob

May 24th, 2012
12:43 pm

Screen Pass

May 24th, 2012
12:52 pm

“I would add one clrification. The biggest GUT CHECK in the organization rest with one man… Smitty. This team was already good enough to win two superbowls. The probalem? The coach isn’t.” – Coop

Mostly agree. After the new post goes up later I might do some way too early analysis but for right now the most important things for this upcoming year are Smitty letting the dog hunt and praying our O-line can achieve even basic competency. There is still time for TD to get us a full feature back to use in 3wr1terb sets but I don’t think that will happen. This leaves relying on Snelling or Quiz to fill that role and neither are particularly dangerous or major home run threats. That leaves snowplowing Turner in 2back sets which means we better pray the O-line can make the massive holes neccessary for this to work. If Cooter is forced into 2back sets that keep our biggest talent advantage on the bench (Our WR core, sorry Turner homers) than this year basically hinges almost entirely on our O-lines ability to win big in the trenches.

EDIT. Moved from last thread.

SeminoleWarrior

May 24th, 2012
1:14 pm

Bravo, D3, Bravo!!

As one of the leading proponents of the disconnect theory, the TeePee’s record is well established. Last year, as we treaded the shark-filled waters of the lock out, I began to wonder. As we then moved quickly to get ready for a season, I was still left with more questions than answers. It just did not feel right.

Here we are heading into the summer of 2012 and while the cast of characters has seen some new members, the script we hear seems to suggest that in some parts, the show will still be presented in black and white.

Going to let a few others take a shot at it first…again, the TeePee position is quite clear and has been for some time. Want to re-establish a point. I am not anti-Mike Smith. I simply want to see a more aggressive, more disciplined, more flexible approach to the team come game day. The talent is there and we can honestly, IMHO, play with the big boys IF we believe we can.

And that is where one of my issues starts…does Mike Smith believe he can be a championship caliber coach or is he seeking lightning in a bottle?

SeminoleWarrior

May 24th, 2012
1:19 pm

Will give you a few hints as to where my debate will go.

1) Mad Mike, Paul Boudreau, and Alvin Reynolds were sacrifical lambs.

2) BVG was smart to leave for what he does best, the college game, it appears.

3) There is no REAL player development process at the Branch.

I will give the masses time to think and research before I chronicle my defense of my statements on Friday.

SeminoleWarrior

May 24th, 2012
1:29 pm

Coop, totally second the motion! And D3, I really do think it is gut check time.

Again, I want to be clear. I am NOT anti-Mike Smith. I really do believe he is a very fine coach and teacher. Again, I compare him to Norv Turner. But like Norv, is history showing us that some guys are better teachers, cooridnators, and mentors than they are leaders? Love Norv and love Smitty. But there is no killer instinct in neither of them.

Too much talent on both sides of the Mississippi with the two respective teams to be a continuing bridesmaid or worse, a damned Sunday joke.

Again, I will see how it flows. But rest assured, the TeePee will detail its case once more starting early Friday morning.

Wings

May 24th, 2012
1:30 pm

D3 this is one of your best.

Here is the link to the yardbarker article regarding Smitty Ball compared to Marty Ball. JB FALCON found this and I am sure there are some who have not read it.

http://network.yardbarker.com/all_sports/article_external/falcons_mike_smith_long_overdue_to_unleash_matt_ryan_passing_game/10843397

Coop

May 24th, 2012
1:32 pm

SW/D3 – I would add one clrification. The biggest GUT CHECK in the organization rest with one man… Smitty. This team was already good enough to win two superbowls. The probalem? The coach isn’t.

I hop these new coordinators and scheme will translate to less vanilla play, but Smitty needs a GUT CHECK. I’m calling oyu out Smitty. Can you blow teams out? Can you step on their throat when they’re down? Can you develop and implement that lacking killer instinct?

If you can, this team can win 13. Otherise, 9 might be tough to come by. We’re good enough to sweep the South, beat DEN, WAS, DAL, KC, SD, OAK, AZ, and DET. We won’t though. We’ll lose at least one to NO, probably drop one to CAR for no damn reason at all. We’ll also struggle against SD, DET, PHI, and DEN.

This team has all the talent. Can the coach put them in place to win???

Screen Pass

May 24th, 2012
1:32 pm

“I would add one clrification. The biggest GUT CHECK in the organization rest with one man… Smitty. This team was already good enough to win two superbowls. The probalem? The coach isn’t.” – Coop

Mostly agree. After the new post goes up later I might do some way too early analysis but for right now the most important things for this upcoming year are Smitty letting the dog hunt and praying our O-line can achieve even basic competency. There is still time for TD to get us a full feature back to use in 3wr1terb sets but I don’t think that will happen. This leaves relying on Snelling or Quiz to fill that role and neither are particularly dangerous or major home run threats. That leaves snowplowing Turner in 2back sets which means we better pray the O-line can make the massive holes neccessary for this to work. If Cooter is forced into 2back sets that keep our biggest talent advantage on the bench (Our WR core, sorry Turner homers) than this year basically hinges almost entirely on our O-lines ability to win big in the trenches.

ronhen24

May 24th, 2012
1:45 pm

Plain and simple, Smitty has to win in the playoffs. I don’t think Blanks or Dimitroff will keep playing the protection game with Smitty and make up more excuses. Smitty is a good coach, but he need to let the dawgs loose and beat some quality teams in the playoffs. Very good informative article D3.

Screen Pass

May 24th, 2012
1:51 pm

“Will give you a few hints as to where my debate will go.

1) Mad Mike, Paul Boudreau, and Alvin Reynolds were sacrifical lambs.

2) BVG was smart to leave for what he does best, the college game, it appears.

3) There is no REAL player development process at the Branch.

I will give the masses time to think and research before I chronicle my defense of my statements on Friday.” – SW

First off, great post D3. I always read your stuff and wish the guys getting paid at this rag could do as well. With that said, I think SW will have an uphill battle with points 1 and 2, and I look forward as always to his presentation. I can’t argue point 3 as I believe that to be one of this teams biggest weaknesses after 4 years. Too much talent has left here to go on and become contributors on other teams to make a great case against even if we do have some seeming “developmental” wins. D3 points out the major flaws in the case to defend Boudreau so I’ll leave that alone and let SW do his due dilligence. Point 2 won’t be argued about it being smart for BVG to leave to go back to college as that is pretty solid…it will be that BVG was pushed out while not being “fired” per se. This organization so far throws no one under the bus and is protective and professional to a “T”, not exactly a bad thing.

SeminoleWarrior

May 24th, 2012
1:59 pm

SP, you are right. It will be challenging but the TeePee is ready to present its case. A good debate is always a good thing.

And you know, as well as anyone, the TeePee has not been shy at all about this particular subject.

JB FALCON

May 24th, 2012
2:13 pm

Wings, BTW, KS dug up that yardbarker post. That’s a pretty good Falcon site for info.

As for this post, I’m going to sway to the side of, even though there has been a disconnect, I am going to wishfully hope that it has been repaired. The only way we will know if the connection holds is to start the game and see. The FO has taken the proper steps called for to fix this problem but there is no guarantee that it will work.

Ken Strickland

May 24th, 2012
2:21 pm

D3-Excellent topic and excellent article. Here goes:
1-There was definitely a disconnect prior to this yr, but it’s just too early to determine whether one still exists. If Smitty insists on shutting down our passing OFF in the 2nd half to utilize our rushing OFF to sit on a lead in the 2nd half, you can definitely say there’s a disconnect. As I think about it, Smitty’s use of this rediculous conservative approach, and us still managing to average 25.2PPG, only magifies how potent our OFF could have been if allowed to remain open and aggressive.
2-I feel absolutely confident.
3-I don’t think the TD, Smitty and Co ever intended to resolve all of our issues in the 2012 off season, especially with a draft that had no 1st rd pick, a limited number of picks, and with each pick falling in the lower half of each round. I don’t think we’ve done enough to improve the team and provide potential solutions to some of our problems.
4-For me, it’s how long will it take for all of the new and improved additions to fall into place.
5-Each of our new coaching additions are upgrades. Just the newness of their approach alone will constitute upgrades, like going from
1-conservative and predictable to aggressive and far less predictable,
2-possession oriented passing routes to vertical passing routes,
3-an exclusively inside rushing OFF to a spread rushing OFF,
4-no screen or swing passes to incorporating and focusing on them,
5-a one dimensional blocking scheme to a more versatile ZBS
6-a soft, passive, conservative, and predictable zone DEF to an aggressive man to man press,
7-seldom blitzing to using it as a primary weapon, and
8-a run 1st and often old school OFF approach to a pass 1st OFF approach that utilizes versions of the spread passing OFF.
9-There’s no reason for him to be on the Hotseat. After all, he’s still the most successful HC in franchise history, and he achieved that destinction in just 4yrs. So far, he’s done all of the right things, such as getting rid of the weak links in his coaching staff and hiring replacements with reputations and/or abilities to get done what he wants done.

SINCE 66

May 24th, 2012
2:37 pm

One enormous has been the O-line. If the QB does’nt have the time, he can’t pass. A back can’t run if there is no hole. Nuff said.

DavidGilmour

May 24th, 2012
2:53 pm

Great article. Very fair. I specifically like your point that like him or not, Mike Smith has earned the right to try to fix this. I happen to like him.

Throw the ball this year!!!

Saints fans are turds.

Go Birds!

Trainwreck

May 24th, 2012
2:56 pm

Sure there is probably a little disconnect but now that Smith is starting fresh with new coordinators, it is up to him to learn from his mistakes to be able to take all ideas and turn them into the best gameplan possible for the team. I don’t think Smith is on the hot seat as far as Blank goes, but the fans probably see it differently. Then again if the Falcons somehow went 4-12 I’d have to think the seat gets a little warm. If he wins ONE playoff game it would probably buy him at least another 2-3 years.

I’m always confident because I’m a blind optimist/loyalist when it comes to my ATL teams.

You can never say we have done enough because you can always improve in some area, but with the lack of picks/cap room I like the moves.

Most worrisome would be the areas that constantly plague us: Pass D (obviously it SHOULD be better this year with Asante and Nolan, but it remains to be seen) O-Line performance is worrisome as well.

Nolan should be a clear upgrade… jury is still out on Koetter. For all his criticisms, Mularkey did lead us to some productive offensive years.

Screen Pass

May 24th, 2012
3:05 pm

“SP, you are right. It will be challenging but the TeePee is ready to present its case. A good debate is always a good thing.

And you know, as well as anyone, the TeePee has not been shy at all about this particular subject.” – SW

Yeppers, should be fun and interesting and possibly give some insights into what to expect this year. I will go ahead and say that MM is not as bad as some (including myself) have made him out to be but he is not what his one and possibly only homer from the “troll” board have tried to portray him as. MM has a history away from Smitty that is damning on its own and will be hard for the “defending attorney” to overcome…unless its this attorney with a hunting knife lol ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU-K5sVXi-U ). MM could not adjust or exploit at game time speed even if he did have some impressive play design. MM’s scheme was fundamentally sound on alot of levels but it wasn’t complete and he did not have the ability to overcome game time adjustments by competant DC’s. The move to HC at Jax and letting Brats control game time play calling may very well work out well for MM and Jax but keeping MM at OC here would simply have continued the disaster no matter what Smitty did. MM can control strategic level play design which he is not bad at while he better hope Brats can play call at game speed…a trait MM was not very talented at. I have no worries at all about prosecuting MM to the fullest if need be :) .

JB FALCON

May 24th, 2012
3:19 pm

I found this comment from Wallace Francis about the 12/24/78 1st Falcon playoff win.

“The winning touchdown was a play that was called from the sideline, and Coach [Leeman]Bennett had communicated to Steve to stay with the pattern and for me not to read the coverage, just to make sure that I got the first down. Bartkowski overruled the call and said, ‘Wallace, read it.’ The thing that I remember most about that was the leadership of Steve and him understanding what Philadelphia was doing and having the wisdom and confidence to overrule a call that had come in from the sideline.”

It’s about time for MR to step up and own his responsibility as the QB of a winning team.

Zoomie

May 24th, 2012
3:21 pm

1) No. I believe CMS will adapt as needed. It’s difficult to believe he would stubbornly adhere to a “Smitty Ball” concept after being essentially read the riot act at the end of last season.

2) Fairly confident. Think of it this way: what would you be doing to prepare to face the 2012 ATL Falcons if you were the opposition? The Falcons have one of the smartest, competitive, QBs in the NFL; they have a wide receiver corp to be feared; they’ve shown the ability to force a run game and beat opponents down with it. They’ve got a load of defensive talent that has been questionably used in the past, but will now be unleashed under one of the league’s most successful, proven DCs. Who knows what to expect with Koetter? He’s shown the propensity to get the most out of what he’s got to work with — and he’s got a talent gold-mine in ATL. All this under a well-respected HC, who I believe will get out of the way and let the experts work.

3) Within their financial constraints, yes..

4) The offensive line. They just looked awful last year.

5) DC Nolan: couldn’t possible have done better. ATL fans will be giddy when they see what he does with the talent at his disposal. Have you seen Weatherspoon’s closing speed? Nolan is going to turn Weatherspoon into a QB-seeking guided missile the likes of which we haven’t seen in ATL. OC Koetter: we’re gonna have to wait and see, here. If Koetter was chosen because he’s expected to more-effectively implement a ball-control, clock-killing offense, it’s a major mistake. If instead (as I believe), he’s the type of guy who’ll look for every crease, attack defenses, and make timely countering adjustments, given the talent he has to work with in ATL, look for the ATL offense to blow the lid off of ball games. I get the sense our two new coordinators are two peas-in-a-pod. They both believe in throwing the kitchen sink at the opposition.

6) If it turns out CMS is the one who’s been handcuffing the offense and running a reactive defense, and it continues, he should be thanked for his contributions and sent on his way. I choose to believe he’s going to get out of his own way and let Nolan and Koetter take him to the next level.

I read The Cage religiously. I absolutely appreciate the opinions expressed in this excellent venue and the opportunity to add mine to the mix.

Screen Pass

May 24th, 2012
3:22 pm

“Early playoff contenders look like this. ATL, PHI, DAL, NYG, GB, CHI, NO, SF, and DET. That is a loaded gun. Sure, each team has its share of issues but each team is LOADED with talent that is primed to raise their game to new levels. New personnel, new coordinators, addressing needs, etc. All these teams are primed.” – SW

Been on vacation from heavy duty research but will agree that there will be no easy cakewalk to the playoffs. I hate that the Iggles got my horse M. Kendricks but he will help make that defense something to be feared if their DC is even halfway competent. If the DC is on his game then look that Philly D to be a force as their back 7 will be hard to exploit and can more than likely overcome the dog-molester7 ’s pathetic QB play. If Reid is smart and relegates the dog-molester7 to a part time “Wildcat” role and lets a real QB run that offense full time than the Iggles might make serious noise this year.

Chop Buster

May 24th, 2012
3:40 pm

Excellent article! I must say it still stirs anger in me when I think of all the dumb things Smitty did with this team last year. That said, I’ll try and look at things with an open mind.

I don’t want to sound like a Smitty basher, because I’m not, I’d just like for the man to stop being so stubborn and change with the NFL. He’s stuck in a time warp from the 70s of smash mouth football and being an honorable HC by not beating a team down for four full quarters. This get a lead and sit on it mentality must stop. Play not to lose…and you end up losing the majority of time.

I think we’ve all witnessed every item D3 mentioned in the article. Some of the things that I personally feel is:

- MS is a micro manager
- There was a disconnect between TD and MS. Why would your GM move up to pick a WR when the HC wants to run, run, run
- Offense was not designed for Ryan to get the ball out of his hands quickly–too long for plays to develop
- The team showed that our young guys were not improving their play–lack of true coaching/teaching

I remember when we were playing NOs and HD was running all through their defense and could not be stopped. All of a sudden we go from throwing the ball all over the field to running Turner when we got on the other side of the 50. WTH? I almost lost my mind. I believe Smitty kills momentum.

I really hope Smitty lets his new coordinators plan and call the plays. He needs to strictly remain team manager and make sure the team is ready to carry out the plan and have an alternate plan in place. Like Coop said, you have to keep your foot on the opponent’s neck throughout the entire game and never let up.

I’m cautiously optimistic until I see how this team performs in 2012.

Paddy O

May 24th, 2012
3:47 pm

D3 – this was a an excellent post. Cementing your reputation as the best Sports Journalist on the AJC staff.

Paddy O

May 24th, 2012
3:49 pm

SW: I’d actually compare HC Smith to Wade Phillips. He got good play out of his teams in the regular season, bombed in the playoffs. Our key goal this year should be to defeat our opponents who are in the top 25% of the league handily.

Paddy O

May 24th, 2012
3:54 pm

SMITTY BALL kills momentum. Remember the Gartrell Johnson run off of tackle – surprised everybody, picked up 20 yards and a first down? That play was never run again. Guys who gut it out and excel unexpectedly are actually punished for their moments of glory – Quizz & Snelling were both put in the dog house after success in 2011. Could that be the/a hurdle to player development?

Durrtydogg

May 24th, 2012
3:56 pm

The season needs to start. You guys are looking too deep into a bunch of nothing. I got through the third paragraph and was bored to death. Listen, we lost and we havent wont a playoff game. Mike Smith needs to be happy he has a job or the disconnect he will hear will be him from his head coaching position. Win or go home!

LRD

May 24th, 2012
3:58 pm

Gut Check.. yes. As much as we hear of the confidence in Smitty by front office, if he doesnt make the playoffs, he is gone. If he loses in the first round of the playoffs he is gone. Love Smitty, and like the leadership, but we need that playoff win.

What I want to see fixed this year with the new coordinators (and Smitty is)
Offensively, we cannot stall in the Red Zone like we did last year.
- We need to come out and score on opening drives like we USED to do.
- We need to go with open backfield sets
- More no huddle letting Matt have the reigns
- Let Ryan RUN the offense
- Less reliability on the old workhorse(Turner)

Defensively,
if we cannot get off the field in 3 downs we are doomed.
End the conservative crap of the bend dont break
More blitzes.
Healthier and more aggressive play by Ray Edwards… show me the money Ray…
More man on man coverage, and less zone crap.
DeCoud’s head in the game, and less of his showboating after doing his job.

steeleye

May 24th, 2012
4:00 pm

If the Falcons miss the playoffs this year (as predicted by one sportsbook) Arthur Blank surely must start to think about replacing Mike Smith and perhaps even TD. You cannot keep doing the same things over and over again and expect a different result.

zorro

May 24th, 2012
4:01 pm

What’s a guarantee or a Big ole Gut Check to a rookie, first or sec year starter that just got his mouth piece knock out on the ground. The fact of the matter is the players have to believe in their coach.Then the system and the man playing along side of him,so these players that are learning a new scheme must also learn what to eat, core training, weight lifting, film study and any other things that come with being NFL ready. answer to your 2nd question I do feel confident,3rd they have done just as well as can be excepted, 4th worrisome but not the most. it’s jelling before the season start.5th I’ll say some what of an upgrade, lastly coach M Smith should not be on a hot set ( just keep it warm) and wait and see at the end of the campaign
.

D3

May 24th, 2012
4:10 pm

First of all, special thanks to all of you for the great inspiration on this new post. So I’ll take my turn here……….

(+) –Those of you who know me, know that I certainly can be a negative nellie and even an eternal pessimist at times regarding our Falcons. I still of am the belief of: Stop talking about it and SHOW ME!. Replace the Rise Up theme with “Show Me” as far as I’m concerned. I was very negative at the beginning of the off-season and still have my reservations, but I finally had to concede that Dimitroff and Co. are committed to improving this team. I look at my college team and see a team completely stuck in mediocrity and a fan base (for the most part) completely content with it, as long as they “like” the head coach and he’s a nice guy. My point is that my Falcons get the benefit of the doubt for at least trying. Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s just that my Falcons give me joy in a world filled with so much negativity all around. So to sum it up, I am still of the ilk that it’s put or shut up time, gut check time, or show me time (whatever phrase you want to use), but I’m also cautiously optimistic about this year and the reasons are as follows:

1) — Kept a core together that has produced the most wins in a 4 year period in Falcons franchise history, including 3 trips to playoffs, back-to-back(to-back-to-back) winning seasons which included: John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud, and Brent Grimes (at least temporarily). Stephen Nicholas, Tyson Clabo, and Justin Blalock a year before that.

2) — They hired a new defensive coordinator, in fact one of the best in the business

3) — They hired a new offensive coordinator. Yes, Koetter’s a big question mark, but remember that he only has to be better than Mularkey. Even as dreadful as Mularkey was at times, we still won a lot of games with him as OC.

4) — They hired a new offensive line coach. Despite all of Boudreau’s early success, his line was a trainwreck in 2011. If nothing else, he failed to develop any young talent and to say he was entirely innocent in the line’s play simply isn’t accurate.

5) — New defensive backs coach. Reynolds may not have been solely at fault, but he certainly has presided over a secondary that has ranked as one of the worst in the NFL, fairly or not.

6) — New quarterbacks coach. Sure, it may not be a big upgrade, but Bratkowski didn’t do that darn great in his only year here.

7) — Traded a 7th round draft pick for one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL, Asante Samuel. Also figured out a way to keep Grimes, DRob, and Samuel…….with money to spare.

8.) — Signed a guard who used to be really good in his heyday, Vince Manuwai, and a former 3 time Pro Bowl linebacker, Lofa Tatupu. For depth and competition if nothing else. Very low risk / potentially very high reward.

9) — Received cap space from the Vick BS as well as clearing out more space by cutting ties with Ovie Mughelli, a great Falcon, but a highly overpaid one. Plenty of cap space if needed, a luxury that many teams don’t have.

10) — Drafted the best center and fullback in the draft, Peter Konz and Bradie Ewing.

11) — Drafted a very potential-laden left tackle prospect in Lamar Holmes. As much as unpopular pick he is / was, the kid’s got a great attitude and huge upside.

12) — Drafted excellent depth at safety, Charles Mitchell, and defensive tackle, Travian Robertson. Robertson has enormous upside and could play either a 5 technique in a 3-4 or gain 10-15 lbs and play a DT in a 4-3 or NT in a 3-4.

13) — Drafted another pass rushing specialist in Jonathan Massaquoi who has proven he can get after the passer. You can never have too many guys who can get after the QB. Could see significant looks as a rookie.

14) — Signed a very good UDFA class that could really hold some gems including DE Louis Nzegwu, WR’s Michael Calvin, Cody Pearcy, and James Rodgers, TE Aron White, LB’s Pat Schiller & Jerrell Harris, LT Bryce Harris, and DT Micanor Regis among many others.

Now look, I’m not saying that everything is peaches and roses, but I see a front office that is committed to improving a team that underachieved last year. The Hawks, Braves (to a lesser extent), and Dawgs are some of my other teams that I don’t get that feeling from. I’m cautiously optimistic, not a complete homer with dark-tinted blinders on.

Jake

May 24th, 2012
5:08 pm

A small hole in the hull of a good boat can take the craft down in a hurry. As a fan since before 1973 I believe the core problem is the O Line. Ryan cannot throw deep because he has no time for the patterns to develop. Defenses know this and focus on the short and intermedite routes for coverage.

Our run game looks good statistically, but only because we run up big yardage against the weak teams. We rarely succeed in establishing the run game aginst the top teams allowing the defense to tee off against our O line when we are forced to pass.— Look only at our short yardage run record on third and forth down. Our O line does not get the job done in run or pass blocking. —Yes there are other problems, but fix this one and the others rapidly disipate.

falcon21

May 24th, 2012
6:10 pm

D3 @ 4:10, you covered all the bases buddy, damn good comment.

John Waynesworld

May 24th, 2012
7:46 pm

Thanks D3. Good stuff…

1) Straight up: Do you believe that a “disconnect” still remains at Flowery Branch? No. Head Coaches have growing pains and every great coach has made mistakes when they began their careers. I’m sure there are some that have had to change OCs and DCs in order to get better (although I don’t recall a HC replacing both). Smitty will be fine now that he has surrounded himself with assistants who not only have solid coordinating resumes but also have head coaching experience.

2) Do you feel confident or skeptical heading into the 2012 season? I am confident if Sam Baker starts I will be skeptical of any pass protection progress. Other than that, I am highly confident the new scheme Falcons will be fun to watch and win a lot of games.

3) Have the Falcons done enough to address their issues going into 2012? They actually did better than I thought in the draft and got my kudos by adding veteran players Samuel, Tatupu and Manuwai in positions that needed strengthening. We didn’t get a pass rusher in free agency, but we did get a potential speed rusher in Massaquoi who may be a diamond in the rough.

4) What is the most worrisome aspect of the Falcons moving forward? Left Tackle. Period.

5) Your thoughts on the new coordinators: upgrade, downgrade, or the same? Upgrade all the way. There will be some miscues and mix ups, but it should be interesting to watch. I look forward to screen passes and nine routes on offense and sacks and pick sixes on defense all season long.

6) Should Mike Smith be on the hot seat soon? Not this year with a new OC and DC. There is too much talent to have a bad year, so in the worse case scenario we miss the playoffs and next year will be the deciding run for Smitty. A playoff victory resets everything.

JJ

May 24th, 2012
7:48 pm

Great job D3, your the best math teacher, sorry, best fish wrapper journalist ever!!!
Know I got your back buddy!

Tmar09

May 24th, 2012
7:55 pm

@D3 very well done but i feel a reminder is in order. The Falcons have had a bit of bad luck in the playoffs as well; by that i mean they faced the eventual NFC SB rep in their first playoff games, peaking HIGH QUALITY teams that knew how to attack the Falcon’s weaknesses. Those teams were a combined 11-1 with 2 SB wins. While a generic and predictable O and D was good enuf (because of talent) in the REGULAR season to win alot of games, it will never do in the playoffs where every team is high quality with coaches that can game plan to your weaknesses. The Giants, for example, simply went after our left side and we had no answer. Without improvement on the O line, we will not go far in the playoffs ever.
That being said, i am cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. I feel they made efforts to improve the line and the wholesale coaching changes SHOULD stop the predictability and make the D more aggressive. IMO it comes down to the Falcons line play on offense and successful pressuring of the QB on defense as to the continued success of Atlanta and the hopeful improvement in the post season.

JJ

May 24th, 2012
7:55 pm

For those thay may enjoy:

http://fantasyfootballcalculator.com/draft/1325068

Better start soon or I’ll roll over the lot of you, lol!!!!!!!!!

JJ

May 24th, 2012
7:58 pm

Just havin some fun with my ffl brothers, a little early cannon over the bow.

JJ

May 24th, 2012
8:00 pm

starburst, not shells yet!

Ken Strickland

May 24th, 2012
9:14 pm

JB FALCON

May 24th, 2012
9:49 pm

RE KS @ 9:14. Man, you need to change your handle to Blood Hound! There is optimism for the 2012 Falcons all over the net and you seem to sniff them all out.
The optimistic train is getting crowded, as it should be, and I have paid for the full ride!

Ken Strickland

May 25th, 2012
12:47 am

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1195741-atlanta-falcon-how-hawley-and-holmes-could-surprise-fans-and-start-in-2012

JB FALCON-The hits just keep on coming. If you liked the last link, you’ll just love this one.

Ken Strickland

May 25th, 2012
12:54 am

http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2012/5/24/3039287/what-do-more-nickel-packages-mean-for-the-falcons-defense

I want all of you GLASS HALF EMPTY CAGERS to tell me this doesn’t make you feel better.

Big Ray

May 25th, 2012
1:08 am

I agree that Mike Smith has earned the right to get a shot at fixing this thing. I don’t know that he’s capable of fixing it, because it involves fixing HIMSELF.

Hate to do it, but I’m going to flat out disagree with SW on the sacrificial lamb theory on one name – Mike Mularkey. I think he was the wrong OC for Matt Ryan to be working with, just as Musgrave and the other guy weren’t the right guys for him as QB coaches. Alvin Reynolds – I could care less what the deal was there. BVG belonged in the college ranks, and I don’t care how good or bad your DB coach is….if your DC is not up to snuff where his job is concerned, the rest of that part of the staff isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.

Boudreau is a confusing situation. I think he was a good coach. I think the evaluation of OL personnel was the biggest issue, and TD, Smitty, and anybody else’s opinion (Boudreau’s, I assume) that carried any weight on this issue is who deserves the blame.

The success of this line in the past 4 years was clearly linked to two guys – McClure and Dahl. They were and have been the true leaders of that unit. The rest and yes I mean this most literally WERE AND ARE LAMBS. Blalock is young and talented. Clabo somehow made a Pro Bowl. Baker….I don’t even want to talk about it.

Nobody outside of McClure and Dahl have showed the gritty, tough, outright mean-ness that the O-line needs. No wonder we drafted Konz and Holmes. No wonder pundits are saying these two guys will bring some of the right attitude to this unit. McClure still does, as the spirit is willing…but the 35+ year old body is weak. Enough already. Let Hawley earn his spurs (or not), give the other youngsters a REAL shot at taking a starting job. I would like to believe there are no incumbent starters, but I just don’t believe it. Somebody prove me wrong….

Big Ray

May 25th, 2012
1:09 am

Ken ,

Ummm….really? That’s like asking an eternal pessimist if they think tomorrow will be a better day or a worse one.

BTW, thanks for all the links.

I think you should re-name yourself “Sir Links-a-lot”…..

SeminoleWarrior

May 25th, 2012
6:38 am

Disconnect. Does It Still Exist with the Atlanta Falcons?

A very good question. One that I have been asking myself for well over a year and a quarter now. A point that I raise to my friends in this blog last season (2010) after the debacle that was the Green Bay playoff lost; one that was re-affirmed again with an equally horrid loss to the Giants in 2011.

Simply put, the answer, IMHO, is yes. Let me make my case at this time.

SeminoleWarrior

May 25th, 2012
6:57 am

Explosion versus Conservatism.

Conservatism was in the cards from the word go. As soon as Smitty was hired to be the head coach, one of his first statements to the fanbase and the ATL media was that we would be a power running team. We would control the tempo of the game with the run. To prove his intent, Smitty and TD acquired the top FA running back available, Michael Turner.

The next move was to find the quarterback of the future. But before they could do that, Smitty had to have an offensive coordinator that would be able to play power football while at the same time be capable of developing a rookie quarterback. He found his man in Mike Murlarkey.

His next move was to find an OL coach that had skill in coaching a OL that would be capable of sustaining a power rushing attack. Again, he found his man in Paul Boudreau, a highly respected OL coaching veteran.

For three years, this approach appeared to be very successful. The Falcons won 43 games, went to the playoffs three times, won a division title and secured a #1 seed in the playoffs. Turner emerged as one of the league’s best backs, putting up impressive numbers as the Falcons sustained one of the premier rushing attacks in the league. An offensive line that NO ONE knew anything about was not the focal point of one of the league’s best power rushing attacks…just as Smith had wanted.

The young rookie QB was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and showed steady progress through each season under Murlarkey’s guidance. Again, as was the ORIGINAL plan from Coach Smith, we ran the ball well, controlled the clock, and developed our young quarterback.

Per the ORIGINAL mandate, Murlarkey and Boudreau had done their jobs.

SeminoleWarrior

May 25th, 2012
7:13 am

In 2010, cracks began to surface in the foundation. The defense, after investing through the draft and free agency, continued to struggle. This was very damaging, given Smith’s reputation as a very solid and effective DC in Jacksonville. It appeared that he let the now-clearly overmatched BVG run the show with marginal success. Passing attacks were shredding the secondary on a consistent basis and the rushing defense was living on inflated statistics of dominating offensive challenged rushing attacks. The ability to pressure the quarterback was clearly an issue.

The cracks were overcome by the continuing effectiveness of the offense. Ryan, White, Turner, and the addition of Tony Gonzalez, were spearheading an offensive renaissance in ATL. The rushing attack was still powerful, despite occasional injuries to Michael Turner. White, Ryan, and Gonzo enjoyed Pro Bowl success.

In this offensive run, a disturbing trend emerged. Mike Smith let it be known that he was calling for the greater use of the no-huddle offensive scheme. This was clearly an undercut of the duties that had been given to Mad Mike. This was the FIRST time that the TeePee used the word, disconnect.
Why would a DC turned head coach, with NO offensive experience, call OFFENSIVE plays when, WHEN, his defense, especially his PASS defense, was being torched like Kingsford charcoal at a Fourth of July/Labor Day BBQ?

SeminoleWarrior

May 25th, 2012
7:21 am

From 2008 through 2010, the plan worked fairly well. Injuries derailed a playoff appearance in 2009 but the team posted a winning record still, a historic facet given that we had NEVER had back to back winning season.

2010 brought even greater success as the Falcons “opened” up the offensive. Murlarkey’s power rushing attack still sustained a solid offensive scheme. But team had begun to figure out the Falcons approach. Ryan would begin to see increasing pressure from opposing defenses and it would show in an increase in INTs as well as QB pressures.

All continued to look great…then came the storm that was January 15, 2011.

The foundation would be rocked in such as way that the storm clouds would linger over the team for the entire 2011 season and persist until this very day.

SeminoleWarrior

May 25th, 2012
7:26 am

January 15, 2011. With a week off to prepare, with the number one seed and a 13-3 record, the Atlanta Falcons were sitting on top of the football world. Mike Smith and his team were TWO wins away from making a Super Bowl appearance.

Enter the Green Bay Packers. Cold blooded assassins. Lead by Aaron Rodgers on offense and Dom Capers calling the defense, the Packers came into the Georgia Dome and made the Falcons look as sickening as any time I have ever seen.

Mike Smith seemed lost. His team seemed lost. His coordinators had no plan, offensively or defensively to deal with the Packers. Scheme adjustments, or the lack thereof, revealed a team that was exposed as a possible fraud. And the quiet in the Georgia Dome was noticeable to all.