Atlanta Falcons: Birds Face Playoff Questions

Time for the Falcons to Get it Done

Time to Get it Done #2 (AJC)

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for: the playoffs. Falcons players, fans, and everyone associated with the organization have heard it all the way back to last January when they were embarrassed for the second year in a row in the playoffs, losing three out of four. The chorus from the media elite and talking heads has only grown louder every time the Birds won another game. There are literally almost no articles that have been written this season regarding the Falcons, in any capacity, that have not mentioned the “can’t win in the playoffs,” or “0-3 in the playoffs,” meme. Even articles that have been favorable or complimentary always have that backhand tucked in there somewhere. Yes, it’s true the Falcons have fallen short the past three tries in the playoffs under Coach Smith, but the incessant and ridiculous inclusion of that attack line has been preposterous. How could the Falcons change anything about past or the postseason in week 4?

The time has come for this head coach, this quarterback, and this organization to put this garbage to rest. For some, it will never be enough until the Falcons win the Super Bowl outright, and even then some will rationalize it away. However, getting over that hump will do wonders for all associated with the Falcons and blow up that assault once and for all. Fans likely can’t even go to what it will be like if they don’t win this one.

Have Lessons Been Learned? Part 2

This is a sequel to last weeks post regarding planning and preparation on the part of the coaching staff, specifically Head Coach Mike Smith. An article by the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter discussed how different this year’s preparation will be both during the bye week and after. It appears that Smith has learned his lessons, because the details of how truly soft their bye week preparation that was done, is shocking. The idea of a team earning a bye week is just like the bye week during the season, teams can get their team as healthy as possible, working on fundamentals that have been slipping, and fix problems that cropped up.

Time to Cut Julio Loose (AJC)

Smith evidently felt it was a time have cookies and punch. He gave them 3 days off during the bye week, had them report on Thursday, and then gave them the rest of the weekend off. Yes, that’s no joke. It’s actually a wonder the Falcons didn’t get beat worse than 48-21 in the Debacle in the Dome by the Packers. It’s understandable that you don’t want to do Oklahoma drills all day and treat it like training camp battles, but for goodness sake, you’ve got to find a way to keep somewhat of an edge. Smith has said all the right things and it seems he got the message loud and clear after his initial approach. Smith was quoted as saying something along the lines of “we’re going to do do everything completely different than the last time.” That’s surely music to fans ears.

Momentum is a Guarantee of Playoff Success, Right?

Most talking head media elites are ready to crown the Seahawks and the Redskins as NFC champions because they are on a winning streak going into the playoffs. Many writers and so-called experts are all about the recent trends, don’t really do research, and just go with what’s popular. It’s very true that the past two years, the wild card teams have squeaked into the playoffs and gone on to win the Super Bowl, the Packers in 2010 and the Giants in 2011. Both teams were 6th seeds and that has become a very popular theme because that’s what’s in vogue. The Giants were a wild card in 2007 and went on to beat the mighty undefeated Patriots. The Steelers were a wild card in 2005 and they beat a stacked AFC that year.

No More Arm Tackles DeCoud (AJC)

ESPN even went as far as to develop a stat that read “of the 36 most recent playoff teams, 11 that have been on a 5+ game winning streak have gone to the Super Bowl. 5 of those have won the Super Bowl. The Broncos, Redskins, and Seahawks are on a 5+ game winning streak.” What kind of stat is that? And furthermore, that comes to a whopping 30% of success on getting to the Super Bowl and 14% winning it. They might as well done a statistic on cleat colors and playoff success. Talk about curtailing statistics to fit your biased opinion.

Yes, the past two years and 3 out of 4 have favored the team that has momentum, a fairly mythical construction all on it’s own, but statistics are past numbers for a reason. If the same researchers go back a little further (most statisticians averse to determine a “trend” less than decade), they would see a fairly inconclusive analysis. A list of the past 10 seasons:

Season — Super Bowl Winner — Seed

2011 – Giants – #4 Division Champ

2010 – Packers – #6 Wild Card

2009 – Saints – #1 Bye

2008 – Steelers – #2 Bye

2007 – Giants – #5 Wild Card

2006 – Colts – #3 Division Champ

2005 – Steelers – #6 Wild Card

2004 – Patriots – #2 Bye

2003 – Patriots – #1 Bye

2002 – Bucs – #2 Bye

So there you have the list of the past 10 Super Bowl winners. Even though recent history says that getting hot at the right time, barely getting in the playoffs as a wildcard, or being on a winning streak guarantees you a Super Bowl or playoff success, the fact is that it’s a fairly insignificant probability over the last 10 years, despite what’s “popular” among the media elite. The last 10 years have seen 50% of teams with a bye win the Super Bowl, 30% Wild Cards, and 20% as Division Champs. The point is not to say that momentum can’t play a part in playing well in the playoffs and ultimately winning the Super Bowl, but it’s simply meant to bust all the media elite’s strict adherence to “playing well close to the playoffs guarantees playoff success” and thereby denigrating or outright ignoring the Falcons. After all, the Saints actually lost 3 games in a row before winning the whole thing.

Underdogs Again

The Falcons and everyone associated with their organization won’t lack for any motivation when they tee it up next Sunday at 1 pm. To be fair, the Falcons losing all 3 of their playoff games, with the last two being embarrassing blowouts, have given most “media elite experts” every reason to doubt the Falcons. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, that is the painful truth. However, the experts have taken that meme and ran away with it, all the way back since April and continuing on to mini-camp until now. It seems that it’s a “anyone but the Falcons” in the NFC mantra for most that know everything there is to know about football and the NFL (too bad we can’t use these experts to solve world hunger, eh?).

Spoon's Big Arena (AJC)

The Seahawks and the Redskins are everyone’s darlings because A) they’re not the Falcons and B) they’re the wild cards who are on a winning streak (see point above). The Packers and Niners are the traditional teams who have been their favorites all year, even if they’re not the flavor-of-the-week wild cards, but of course they’re always the backups. Maybe the only other team close to the Falcons are the Vikings, but they have MVP, All-World running back Adrian Peterson and that’s definitely a feel-good storyline better than those terrible Falcons.

Of course this will come across as whiny to any non-Falcon fans, and it might be a little bit, but Falcons fans are sick and tired of hearing it and it’s impossible to imagine how much the players are. Truth be told, the Falcons, particularly Mike Smith, haven’t helped themselves at all. Todd McClure said something to the effect of flying under the radar all the way to February. Looks like he’s going to get his wish. They say that bulletin board material can only go so far and doesn’t win games in the end, but it surely can’t help to add in a little extra fire when the game kicks off or when things get tough.

Which Offense Will Show Up?

The Falcons jekyll and hyde offense surely has some fans worried about next Sunday. To be fair, the Falcons have done a much better job overall with consistency than year’s past, including some really nice offensive explosions like the Chiefs, Eagles, and Giants game. However, they’ve also put up some big clunkers as well. It’s hard to imagine the Birds coming out as flat as they did the previous two years in the playoffs, but some bad offensive outputs may have fans a little nervous. While looking dominant at times, they’ve also looked downright anemic as well, such as they did vs. the Raiders, Cardinals, the Saints second game, and the Panthers second game, not to mention the most recent game vs. the Bucs. Something that may ease fans concerns a bit is the fact that their very best offensive game came against the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants and a darn good one came a week later vs. Detroit that saw them go up 21-3 before they started sitting on their lead. The players keep saying it’s a different attitude and feeling than year’s past and here’s hoping that the clunker offense is gone for good.

Will the Giants/Broncos or the Panthers/Bucs Defense Show Up?

Although being a touch more consistent than the offense, the defense has had it’s ups and downs as well. They came to be known as the elite QB killing defense that saw them intercept the Manning brothers and Drew Brees 10 times, not to mention shutting down Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo. But they’ve also had their own fair share of issues at times, especially in the run game. Cam Newton had his way both times with the Falcons defense, especially the second time in Charlotte which was arguably one of the best games of his career. Josh Freeman looked like Superman in the last game and Drew Brees put up plenty of points the first time in New Orleans.

Asante's Leadership Will Be Key (AJC)

They’ve generally done pretty good against the pass, but they’ve had major issues at stopping the run at times. They stopped Doug Martin the first time, only to get shredded the second. Alfred Morris ran for over 100 yards, even though he was held to to no TDs. Cam Newton and the Panthers running backs racked up yards like it was going out of style and they even had major problems with Saints running backs, namely Chris Ivory. Although they’ve done light years better in the takeaway department, they’ve only marginally better in the pass rush. The Falcons defense will have their hands full which ever team they play first, be it Russell Wilson / Marshawn Lynch, Robert Griffin III / Alfred Morris, or Christian Ponder / Adrian Peterson. Birds fans are hoping that the Magician Mike Nolan has saved his best for last.

Bird Cager’s Playoff Turn

1) Playoff Push — Has the time finally come to bust the playoff hump once and for all?

2) What things are you looking for as the Falcons come out next Sunday?

3) Do you genuinely feel that lessons have been learned by Mike Smith?

4) What to make of momentum: reality or myth?

5) Nervous, anxious, or confident for playoff game?

6) Are Falcons biggest underdogs in all of playoffs?

7) Which offense do you think will show up: stellar or clunker?

8.) Will the defense be ready to stop the run?

9) Preference of who to play on Sunday?

670 comments Add your comment

Unca' Bob

January 5th, 2013
3:26 pm

Enter your comments here

JB Falcon

January 5th, 2013
4:00 pm

D3, that’s an awful lot of questions and a very good article. We’re only going to have ONE shot at breaking the yolk around our neck. ONE game and we’re going to have to come out smokin’ with everything we have. We need to set the bar for the next game by winning the first one with authority. I know we have to win the first one to get to the second one, I think we all learned that in the first grade. I truly expect us to show up in the swamp and will only think otherwise until our Falcons prove me wrong, and not until then. Instead of “lose and go home” I prefer “win and you’re in.”

JB Falcon

January 5th, 2013
4:02 pm

Oh Yeah, forgot to mention, word is we have inside info about the right color of cleats! :)

Mike Franklin

January 5th, 2013
4:16 pm

A few (haha) notes…

The Falcons play really well, especially at home, after a loss.
The Falcons play better as underdogs as opposed to a favored team.
The Falcons play better when the media trash them prior to the game. (Peyton Manning was mentioned 118 times on ESPN MNF pregame.)
Matt Ryan has a chance here to approach this playoff with some experience from past mistakes. He does, however, seem to get rattled easy early in any game but settles down latter to make up for that.
Pass D becomes frazzled when the run D is runover, as was the case in two of our three losses.
The first and fourth quarters are critical control points. If our ops get way ahead in the first, or are not shut down in the fourth, we tend to collapse.

Points of focus: Run D and pass rush.

End product: Falcons win Super Bowl in the unholy arena of New Orleans – Fans celebrate all year!

Mike

January 5th, 2013
4:21 pm

I think any Falcons fan who knows this team realizes that they are more than capable of beating anyone. However we also know that we can lose to anyone. I am nervous and anxious. My main concerns are 1) inability to stop the run knowing we are going to get a good dose of it in round 1, given the fact that 1 of the top 3 backs in the NFC will be paying us a visit. 2) our inability to convert 3rd and shorts. I have been pleased that our o- tackles have played better this year, however the interior has been a major concern for me.

Next Sunday I am hoping to see some creativity and see every player elevate his level of play over the regular season. I am hoping with the coordinator changes from last year we will see this team come out like they did against the Broncos and Giants. It seems to me the last couple of years we have played not to lose rather than to win. Though I would like to see our run game improve I am hoping the goal isn’t to all the sudden get the running game going at all cost. If we are able to establish the run great, but don’t try to force it.

Momentum I think is more a myth based on the past two seasons. Two teams that were very talented were forced to win their last two games to get into the playoffs because they had under-achieved leading up to that point. 3 years ago the Saints lost their last 3 and Colts their last two entering the playoffs. Both rested their starters the last two weeks of season. I think the talking heads are just going with what the current flavor seems to be.

I really do not have a preference. I think Washingtons offense presents more challenges due to RG3 being a more polished passer than Wilson or Ponder. I also see them having more perimeter weapons. Defensively the Seahawks scare me with Bryant getting a push inside against Konz. Carolina, Tampa, and Detroit at times were tough with the interior getting a push into the pocket. Minnesota is pretty stout defensively, however I do not think they natch up as well with our offense. I am one of the few that I know who is expecting a visit from the Redskins I am also one of the few who wants Green Bay should we make it to the NFC Championship, I personally want our Falcons to have to beat them to go to New Orleans.

falcon21

January 5th, 2013
4:32 pm

Any weekend predictions? I’ll take Houston, Green Bay, Ravens and Seahawks.

Mike

January 5th, 2013
4:38 pm

D-3 I would also like to critique one of your points. The Giants were actually a 4 seed last year.

D3

January 5th, 2013
4:50 pm

Mike — Good points. Thanks on critique. I guess I just assumed they were wild cards since they had to win their last two just to get in.

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Mike

January 5th, 2013
5:04 pm

Just some food for thought also. With all the talk of Seattle they are11-2 outdoors this year with losses at SF and Miami. They are 0-3 indoors.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
5:08 pm

Mike, they will also have to spend the week on the east coast. I’ll say this, if these guys, with a rookin QB, can travel 3000 miles and beat the Skins, then hang out for a week, and come to the Dome and beat us….I might just give up.

But the only time they did travel to the EC, Miami beat them.

Mike

January 5th, 2013
5:17 pm

As long as they do not do what the 08 Cardinals did, even though they only had to do it once and not two weeks in a row. The 08 Cardinals were dominated on the east coast then came into Carolina and beat them pretty handily. I am one of the few though that is not convinced that they will make it past Washington.

JJ

January 5th, 2013
5:21 pm

UB, tks for blocking as always, maybe we should put SarahB in instead of comments, just a thought.

D3, Another great post for us to chew on this week. How you have the time in between career, family, kids and “other family matters this holiday season” is beyond me. As several have said before me, THANK YOU for ALL you do buddy. This is THE CAGE BY D3, and bar none the best site for true falcon fanatics!!!

JB Falcon

January 5th, 2013
5:33 pm

21, the houston game is really looking like a shoot out without bullets. Foster is for real but the Beagals ain’t doing so bad either. You watching the game?

falcon21

January 5th, 2013
5:53 pm

Yeah I’m watching JB. Houston is running up and down the field and kicking field goals. Their guns are filled with blanks at this point.

JB Falcon

January 5th, 2013
6:14 pm

21, I’m gonna go cook sumptin’ to eat and give this one to the Texans since they can actually move the ball. The Beagals have crossed the 50 once. I figure the Falcons would have either one of them by 21 points by now.
I’m with you on GB next.

birds

January 5th, 2013
7:21 pm

1) Playoff Push — Has the time finally come to bust the playoff hump once and for all? Yes. Great chance to win at least one.

2) What things are you looking for as the Falcons come out next Sunday? Good rowdy home crowd. Come out strong early. All 3 losses they were behind early

3) Do you genuinely feel that lessons have been learned by Mike Smith? Hopefully.

4) What to make of momentum: reality or myth? Myth

5) Nervous, anxious, or confident for playoff game? All of them

6) Are Falcons biggest underdogs in all of playoffs? No but they get little respect. Going to have to earn respect.

7) Which offense do you think will show up: stellar or clunker? Stellar although many games we have seen both

8.) Will the defense be ready to stop the run? Yes but bigger question is can Turner run and if answer is no it will be difficult to get to SB. They may win one but three unlikely without a run game.

9) Preference of who to play on Sunday? Minn or wash.

Mike

January 5th, 2013
7:47 pm

Frazier seems to feel Ponder may be ready for Atlanta next week.

The Time is NOW

January 5th, 2013
7:52 pm

D3 – Thanks for the good read. You rock!

I really don’t care who we play. Every team in the tournament can be beat. The Birds are capable of beating any of them if they play well. That said, I’ll be nervous, but hopeful, about whoever our opponent is. If we beat them, I project we play in the Super Bowl.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
7:56 pm

Ah, it’s official. William Moore is back!

That’s going to be huge in the playoffs. Now just need Abe and Owens back and they’ll be full health.

I do feel the Vikings might have a chance tonight against the Packers because of Webb starting. It throws off their whole game planning on defense.

The Time is NOW

January 5th, 2013
7:56 pm

JJ @ 5:21 – Well said.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:11 pm

Webb scares me more than Ponder…..See

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
8:15 pm

Webb is nothing to be scared about. He’s not an accurate arm threat like RG3 and Wilson. He’s also not built like Cam Newton.

LRD

January 5th, 2013
8:23 pm

let’s go Vikings

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:26 pm

Well, maybe it is more an about how I feel about Ponder than anything, although he has played a little better of late.

I’m hardly worried about Webb taking over the game, but I would be concerned that being in the same backfield with AP that he might just do enough to create problems. Plus there is not tape, the guy has taken 3 snaps, so you really don’t have any idea what might be cooked up…but Ponder just does not scare me at all.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
8:27 pm

At least the Falcons will have tape on Webb. Lol

Greenbay looks lost on him–they didn’t prepare.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:29 pm

Well yea, then you got that.

LRD

January 5th, 2013
8:31 pm

Webb does stupid plays like that it won’t matter about tapes on t he guy

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:31 pm

That being a very ill advised attempt to get rid of the football to avoid a sack.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:34 pm

I might have to just go direct snap to AP.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:39 pm

I really really want to see the vikings win this.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
8:40 pm

Screen passes

Who would have thought it?

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
8:51 pm

Ok, bring on Webb.

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
8:53 pm

D3 ,

Excellent work.

JB Falcon

January 5th, 2013
8:53 pm

So far I don’t see the Vike’s win this. Run, run, scramble, throw one incomplete pass? Peterson is good but he’s not Superman.

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
8:55 pm

Our guys are feeling it, I think.

You can tell. They’re gearing up. Getting back to practice. All business. No holdouts due to injury (ahem…Grimes from last year). Nobody worried about the future other than the next game. Everybody buying in and getting ready, getting down to it.

I love it. Playoff time.

Mike

January 5th, 2013
8:56 pm

I have a feeling if this becomes a 2 possession game it is over.

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
8:57 pm

Vikings suffering from QB play. Their defense isn’t dominant enough to overcome QB play that is looking very average…at best.

Packers can win by being “good enough” on defense and by simply having Aaron Rodgers. If they can protect him. If they do this, he can win the game for them.

Same could be said of us, of course…

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
9:00 pm

Mike, yea, if the Vikes get down, they cannot come back.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
9:03 pm

Big Ray

I agree. Not to mention, they will be near to fully healthy. (Moore and Dunta back so far) They will feed off that dome energy. I feel a blowout coming.

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
9:06 pm

They say defense wins championships and there is a lot of truth to that. But you can’t win if you don’t score. And you must score if you are to compete.

We know this, and we found it out last season.

Speaking of that – we found out then that our defense was actually good enough. Giants scored 24, but only got that because we kept leaving our defense on the field. Even then, it was hardly a route.

We learned that a good offense is very much a defense in and of itself.

This is what I hope Smith has learned. He’s the guy who needs to have learned from the past. Koetter…well, lets hope he learns well on the fly, because he’s not been here before that I know of. Nolan….he knows what he’s doing.

What Koetter needs to do is depart from the norm (if allowed) and the predictable. Throw some wrinkles in, be aggressive.

We will need to strike quickly and often. We can play Smittyball later, though that’s not advisable in the playoffs. Smittyball works when you employ it at the right time. A one touchdown lead in the 2nd quarter is NOT the right time. It also requires that you change up your RBs when “pounding the ball.” Remember, we still need yards, and only first downs cause the clock to continually get eaten up.

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
9:07 pm

Big Lou,

I hear you. That would be freakin’ awesome…

Big Ray

January 5th, 2013
9:10 pm

Watching the Packers fail to punch it in from short yardage and goal.

Hah.

Matty Bicep

January 5th, 2013
9:12 pm

I swear I have a strange feeling that Tubby is going to roll….in a good way. I think he has SOME pride…maybe wishful thinking.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
9:15 pm

Lol

Webb suck at throwing.

Mike

January 5th, 2013
9:19 pm

So far the Vikes have done an amazing job of making the Pack D look like the 85 Bears.

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
9:20 pm

If Turner does something in the playoffs, all is forgiven. He said he’s the best he’s ever felt at the end of the reg. season. No excuses.

Dee

January 5th, 2013
9:21 pm

Vikings need to get some better pass protection for the Webb…..

Big Lou

January 5th, 2013
9:22 pm

Dee

January 5th, 2013
9:22 pm

It is over now for theVikings! :-(