Mike Smith is the greatest coach in Atlanta Falcons franchise history in terms of winning, consistency, and overall performance. In his five short years as head coach, he’s the all-time winningest coach in the history of the franchise (a testament to Smith, but also a reflection of the Falcons poor historical record). Smith’s not going anywhere, but many wonder if he’ll ever get another shot as good as the one the Falcons just had: #1 seed in playoffs, home-field advantage, up 17-0 at home in the 1st quarter. Obviously, no one can predict the future, but next season will be infinitely harder with a much more challenging schedule, a roster in flux, and a team in major need of infusions of talent, albeit with limited cap space. A look at the pros and cons of Head Coach Mike Smith………
As mentioned above, Mike Smith has had imminent success the past five seasons as Falcons head coach. The Falcons are only second to the New England Patriots in regular season wins the past 5 years. He took a broken franchise and pulled it from the ashes to one of the biggest contenders in the National Football League year in and year out. It’s true they haven’t won it all yet or even made the Super Bowl under Smith, but they’ve have winning seasons of 11, 9, 13, 10, and 13. No one can argue with perennial regular season success. How many franchises would gladly take those seasons the past five years?
One of Smith’s biggest weaknesses has been the failure to develop players during his tenure. It’s unfair to say that it’s all Smith’s fault because Dimitroff is the one who makes the final call on bringing in and drafting players, but as longtime Cage Member Seminole Warrior said, “this defense is no better than when Smith and Dimitroff first took over.” Dimitroff has made some questionable and even downright bad picks throughout his tenure, but this speaks more to seeing potential at times in preseason and training camp, only to never see them again. The “Witness Protection Program,” as Big Ray called it, had produced some areas that are either exactly the same or even worse than 5 years ago. Namely, the defensive pass rush may actually be worse considering that after 5 years, they have not produced one single pass rusher to help out John Abraham.
They have drafted Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews, Vance Walker, Corey Peters, Travian Robertson, and signed Ray Edwards. All of these players, save for Edwards, are on the roster and most are either starting or getting meaningful snaps. However, at the end of year 5, how are we still talking about the same issues? Biermann is a player, but seems more suited for a permanent move to outside linebacker. Sidbury showed great flashes many times with excellent pass-rushing skill and, for whatever reason, can’t get on the field. Vance Walker is a great rotational player and Corey Peters is a frontline starter. Peria Jerry has proven time and again that he’s Dimitroff’s worst draft pick, without a shadow of a doubt. Ray Edwards was an enormous and costly whiff. But perhaps no players better represent the Witness Protection Program more than Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi, and Travian Robertson. All players showed some flashes during preseason and, like most times, they were never heard from again. It’s understandable if younger guys aren’t heard from when you have starters like Roddy White and Julio Jones in front of you, but when you’re getting shredded in the run game and have zero pass rush throughout the season, can the guys at least get a look with real snaps?
The same goes with the offensive line. Again, maybe it’s completely unfair to blame Mike Smith just as equally as Thomas Dimitroff because TD is the one who pulls the final trigger on draft picks. However, the same applies to the offensive line as does the defensive line. The Falcons have drafted Sam Baker, Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Andrew Jackson, Lamar Holmes, and Peter Konz. Baker finally turned out pretty well this year and all the others have evidently become perennial backups. Peter Konz was the easily the best center in the entire draft and what happens? He’s riding backup and doesn’t even start until Garrett Reynolds gets hurt.
For all the talk of “open competition” on one of the worst offensive lines in 2011, the Falcons literally trotted out the exact same starting OL. Dimitroff should get some blame as well for drafting poorly along the lines. Mike Johnson is an interesting case. He’s generally been a bust in the NFL, but he set the record for most starts by any player in Alabama’s storied history. Doesn’t the guy have to possess some talent to play for Nick Saban for 4 years? Basically, unless you’re a 1st round draft pick, you won’t see the field for at least a year and if you’re a later round pick with some talent, you may never be heard from again and just disappear.
Mike Smith is one of the best in the business at being consistent. It may not always be pretty, but Smith gets it done with W’s when it counts during the regular season. One of the biggest reasons that Smith has mounted so much success in such a short time is his consistency.
The Falcons rarely have ever lost more than one game in a row under Smith. He is at his best after a loss. The team finds a way to rebound and get the W the next week. At a time when teams go on unbelievable slides of losing 2, 3, or 4+ games in a row, Smith has the Falcons find their way back to the winning column after a loss or a bad performance. That is why the Falcons have had one of the best records in the NFL under his guidance. Some of his best games have come after a loss. Blowing out the Giants a week after getting embarrassed by the Panthers this year, for instance. Having the ability to come back from a loss and re-focus his team is one of Smith’s best attributes.
This will tie in somewhat with a point made later, but Mike Smith’s Falcons have always had issues coming out after halftime. The two playoff games are just the most recent and highly publicized examples of something that has plagued this team since Smith’s arrival. The Falcons led the Seahawks 20-0 at halftime and had to escape with a last gasp win. The Falcons were ahead 17-0 on the Niners and 24-14 at the half. Some think it’s Smith becoming overly conservative. Some think it’s Smith being too lackadaisical. Still others believe it to be just plain stubbornness or an inability to make needed adjustments. The fact is that fans will never know the exact reason, but the truth is that the results are all that matters.
Fans used to talk about a 3rd quarter lull several years ago and that has only continued ever since. There are only a handful of examples where the Falcons have played four quarters of football and finished off an opponent the past five seasons. However, there are a ton of instances that have seen the Falcons get out to an early lead only to let their opponent right back in the game, regardless how inferior of an opponent they are.
One of the reasons the Falcons usually found a way to win the games is due to Matt Ryan’s ability to make comebacks. One explanation that Matt Ryan has so many comebacks to his name is perhaps related to the Falcons “having to come back” when they probably shouldn’t have even been in that position. It’s understandable that sometimes comebacks just happen and the ball doesn’t bounce your way, but this is an unmistakable trend that has developed under Smith and it finally came back to bite them at the very worst time.
With some of his faults and all, what Mike Smith has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time is pretty unbelievable. In a franchise that has existed for 40+ years, Mike Smith became the all-time winningest coach in it’s history in only 5 years. That’s not to even mention the trainwreck that he inherited in the Petrino / Vick debacle. Many thought it would take years and years to become legitimate again and Smith had them in the playoffs that very year, including having a rookie quarterback.
He’s led a team that’s only second to the Patriots in regular season success the past five years, won their division the last two out of three years, won the NFC’s #1 seed the last two out of three years, and led them to the playoffs in all but one of his seasons as head coach. He also helped to break that nagging “never winning back-to-back seasons” curse forever. He won his first playoff game and came up 10 yards short of his first Super Bowl appearance. Of course the road to the Super Bowl will be harder, but anything worth accomplishing always is and Smith should and will get plenty of time to get any issues fixed.
This pretty much goes hand in hand with the point about 2nd half collapses, but this has been one of fan’s biggest complaints since Mike Smith took over. There’s only a few times in five years that fans can point to and say the Falcons completely dominated all 4 quarters. How many times have the Falcons jumped out to a big lead only to let their opponent come roaring back in the game? This season alone had plenty. The Falcons were up on the Broncos 27-7 and held on to win 27-21. The Falcons were up on the Raiders at home 20-13 with only a few minutes left thanks to an Asante Samuel interception. They let the Raiders come storming right back down and needed a last second field goal to win. They were up on the Cowboys by 10, 16-6, in the fourth quarter and let the Dallas blaze down to draw within a field goal. Another Matt Bryant field goal at the very end was needed to put it away. Even then, Tony Romo had a chance to win with a last second TD. A huge Thursday Night game vs. the Saints saw the Falcons blast to a 17-0 lead, only to let them score 13 unanswered points. In the next to last game of the season vs. the Lions, the Falcons were up 21-3 and found themselves in a battle at 21-16. And of course the two playoff games were the worst. a 20-0 and then a 27-7 lead evaporated and nearly lost to the Seahawks.
Of course the NFC Championship had the Falcons up 17-0 early on and then 24-14 at halftime. The rest is history. Some of the games were just close games vs. quality opponents that will find a way back in, but it wouldn’t be a major trend if it were only a few games. As Fellow Cage Member Mike said, “Mike Smith’s very first game as Falcons coach led the Falcons to a 21-0 lead only to see them draw within 10 points late in the game.” They of course ended up winning fairly comfortably, but those Lions would fail to win one single game, going 0-16. 2011 saw the Falcons up by double-digits 6 times and either needed a late surge (Eagles, Vikings), a late defensive stand (Lions, Titans), or a missed field goal (Seahawks) to win, or just lost (Packers).
The parity of the NFL dictates that teams will come back and make games close, but out of those 6 regular season games in 2011 and 5 this year, only three were playoff teams. The two games in the playoffs? One they needed 31 seconds and a 49 yard field goal. The other they lost. The frustrating thing is that it’s never just one area or one side of the ball. Sometimes it might be the defense (see playoff games), other times it might be the offense going into gridlock (Saints), and still others it might be just an overall tension that emanates from Smith to his players. We often get caught up blaming the coordinators or the players for the lockups, but ultimately, the buck stops with the head coach. If Smith can find a way to get that killer instinct this off-season, the sky’s truly the limit.
Every coach and team has their strengths and weaknesses and Mike Smith has not only been an outstanding coach, but he’s also been an amazing face of our franchise. He’s always pleasant with everyone he interacts with, very humble, and a tireless worker. His players love playing for him, but he wouldn’t be considered a “player’s coach.” He treats his players like men with respect and appears to be an excellent boss to his assistants. Smith never throws anyone under the bus unless it’s himself and always takes the blame for when things go wrong and promises to get it fixed. The things he’s accomplished in this very short amount of time is simply remarkable. There’s a fear that the Falcons missed their very best chance at a Super Bowl, but if Smith has shown anything during his tenure as head coach, is that he won’t get outworked in trying to fix the things that are issues and he just finds ways to win. He’s an extremely positive coach and a great man.
Considering what he inherited, he has brought this mostly broken franchise to not only hope for, but expect championships. Winning seasons and winning a few playoff games are no longer acceptable and he deserves most of the credit for that. It’s true that the Falcons came up a few yards short of the Super Bowl, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and he’s already shown amazing progress from year to year. Very few coaches in NFL history always had it easy their entire career (Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy come to mind along with many others) and Smith won’t rest until he gets the ultimate prize. And by the way, he was just voted Coach of the Year by Sporting News, an award he’s won more than once in his 5 years in Atlanta.
1) Straight Shot – Will the Falcons win a Super Bowl under Mike Smith in your opinion?
2) Does Smith get enough credit for the success he’s had since he’s been here?
3) Who is mainly to blame for poor development: Smith, Dimtiroff, or both equally?
4) Is there a major problem with player development in your opinion?
5) Will Smith get rid of his “Witness Protection Program?”
6) Are Falcons fans jaded to regular season success?
7) Why does Smith preside over so many 2nd half collapses (formerly 3rd quarter lulls)?
8.) How can he fix the second half issues?
9) How long with Smith get to win a Super Bowl in your opinion?
10) Is Smith able or willing to develop a killer instinct?
11) What’s your overall opinion on Mike Smith as it currently stands?