Mike Smith acknowedges Falcons don’t seem focused

Falcons coach Mike Smith is trying to figure out reason for his team's inconsistencies. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Smith is trying to figure out the reason for Falcons' inconsistencies. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Over the past several weeks, the Falcons have dropped too many passed passes, committed too many penalties, missed too many blocks, allowed too many sacks, blown too many coverages, committed too many turnovers and, certainly in the case of quarterback Matt Ryan, overthrown too many receivers.

If they are not a mediocre team, they are at least playing like one.

Maybe few expected another 13-3 record this season, given a more difficult schedule. But to have largely the same core group of veterans in Year 4, possess this much talent and stand only 7-5 — which includes some relative hiccups for wins — should set off alarms.

The Falcons probably will play well at Carolina on Sunday. It’s what they do after bad losses, and last weekend’s loss to third-string quarterback T.J. Yates and the beat-up Houston Texans certainly qualifies as bad.

But any comfort level about the Falcons moving forward is long gone. So is any thought that they won’t be one-and-done in the postseason again.

There’s a focus problem. There’s a discipline problem. The aforementioned maladies – penalties, drops, turnovers – are physical mistakes that generally stem from mental lapses. Veteran teams should be past that by December. Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager, knows it. So does coach Mike Smith.

Early in the season, Smith reminded his players that they needed to play “with consistency, smart and with focus.”

Then a few weeks ago, he shuffled the order of those three things. “I said, ‘Guys, maybe I’m not coming across the right way. The first thing we have to do is have zoom focus.’”

Requiring that reminder is not a good sign.

Players love Smith. He and his coaching staff have had a lot of success in four seasons. But when players seem to drift into and out of consciousness, there are difficult questions that have to be asked. Like this one: Are they listening?

Smith doesn’t believe that’s a problem, but he agrees something is off.

“Physical and mental toughness, physical and mental preparation, they go hand in hand,” he said while sitting in office, which overlooks the Falcons’ practice fields at Flowery Branch. “The thing that we have going on right now is we have not played with focus. We have not played smart. When you don’t play with focus and you don’t play smart, you don’t play with consistency. It is a fine line between being 10-2 [the Falcons' record through 12 games last year] and being 7-5.”

Identifying the problems is the easy part. Smith can read from a sheet and go down a list of statistics that illustrate how his team has slipped in several areas this season. The most glaring: They have 74 penalties, which is tied for 13th best in the NFL. That’s already more than the 58 they had all of last season, when they were the NFL’s least-penalized team. Holding and personal fouls are way up.

Turnover differential has gone from a plus-14 in 2010 to minus-1 so far this season. There’s no official statistic on drops, but the Falcons had at least seven in Houston.

But this is kind of like going to a doctor and hearing him say, “You’re sneezing more this year.”

OK. But why?

“You can’t attribute it to the [lockout] and the offseason — everybody’s on the same playing field,” Smith said. “We’re not playing with focus and we’re not playing smart, but I can’t sit here and pinpoint why. We try to do that every week. … It’s very subjective. It’s not like you’re doing a mathematical formula where you can absolutely prove something.”

Veteran center Todd McClure said players are tuned in to Smith and his assistants. But he said the team’s mental lapses “definitely is a concern. The thing I keep thinking about though is the Green Bay Packers were in a similar situation last year, and then for some reason they started clicking. I know that’s saying a lot — Green Bay. But there’s that part that says we haven’t played our best football yet. If we do that, we can play with anybody.”

Maybe. But 7-5 doesn’t project greatness. And in the words of wide receiver Roddy White, “We better start clicking because it’s almost getting too late.”

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

267 comments Add your comment

BMC

December 9th, 2011
3:26 pm

dean

December 9th, 2011
3:32 pm

That was an awful performance last week. Sunday’s game has a feeling of oncoming doom. Lose Sunday and it’s see ya next year.

Hey Jeff.

December 9th, 2011
3:32 pm

<———————————– Look.

dean

December 9th, 2011
3:33 pm

that would be “impending doom” but y’all know what I mean. I think.

the guy that wrote 'Hey Jeff.'

December 9th, 2011
3:34 pm

Yeah. That was fun.

Bright Idea

December 9th, 2011
3:37 pm

The Falcons have some amount of talent but across the board their talent level is overrated. They need an explosive runner, a better OLine and could use improvement just about everywhere on defense.

Jesus, Roddy

December 9th, 2011
3:37 pm

Jesus, Roddy what were you thinking?

Her name is Stacey HOTT. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

David

December 9th, 2011
3:38 pm

Perhaps the boring, conservative approach that this coaching staff has as strategy is lulling these guys to sleep. And I am not saying that tongue in cheek. I am being serious. The whole approach this team takes really needs to get more interesting. For everybody. Snore.

boomboomjoe

December 9th, 2011
3:39 pm

I tend to agree with the looming melt down theory, Its up to the coaching staff to make the players focused. And the Roddy White,” we need to start clicking ” statement is kinda funny considering all the mistakes he’s made this season. Honestly, I dont see the Falcons , in the state they are in right now beating the Panthers.

Jimmy Crack

December 9th, 2011
3:44 pm

“Well, uh, Jeff, we, uh…have not, uh, played smart.”

SR

December 9th, 2011
3:50 pm

Frankly, I won’t be at all surprised if they lose Sunday. I would love for them to prove me wrong but they are finding ways to lose this year which one does not expect to see.

The Real Falcon

December 9th, 2011
3:54 pm

Saying thw Packers came out of a funk last year is a crutch. They have serious injuries.
We are NOT the Packers.
Not knowing why we are so much worse this year over last is why are are worse

Kudzu

December 9th, 2011
3:55 pm

“Jesus, Roddy” There’s no thinking anymore…

The Real Falcon

December 9th, 2011
3:56 pm

Of course it could be that teams realize that if you stack the box and stop the run Ryan cannot carry the game for us.

JSS

December 9th, 2011
4:00 pm

Todd McClure made this statement: ” The thing I keep thinking about though is the Green Bay Packers were in a similar situation last year and then for some reason they started clicking. I know that’s saying a lot — Green Bay. But there’s that part that says we haven’t played our best football yet.”

When a veteran professional football player cannot see the difference between the type of football that the Packers were playing consistently last year (only losing 6 games by 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, and 3 points) and a Falcons team that has been consistently scrambling when teams get ahead of them , there’s a bigger problem then they are willing to face in Flowery Branch. The Packers were only manhandled once last year, the Detroit game when the Lions got sick and tired of being a laughing stock. They knocked Rodgers out and hung for dear life, 7-3.

They lack the firepower (it looks great on paper, but line against line, better teams are pounding this Falcons Shoot, the undermanned Buccaneers did it to them as well… Mike Smith has no answer for what is happening.

NCBravesFan

December 9th, 2011
4:07 pm

Re: Todd McClure and Green Bay … longtime Braves fans may remember what former Braves closer Steve Bedrosian once said about last year. (I won’t mention it here but it’s a three word sentence, it’s profane, and the last two words are “last year.”.)

At any rate, last year means nothing – get busy living, or get busy dying, Falcons. The choice is yours.

Jo

December 9th, 2011
4:10 pm

The truth is I don’t see the falcons needing many parts. They have been in just about every game. If roddy catches the pass he dropped against NO and he and Julio catch just one dropped pass a piece, the falcons are 9-3. That demotes small but important focus issues over having to totally redoing the team. Think, a little bit of focus and this team is the 2nd best in the NFL……(after green bay as they are more talented)

teamguy

December 9th, 2011
4:11 pm

If a doctor needs doctoring, does the doctor doing the doctoring doctor by his own doctrine, or does he doctor by the doctor whose being doctored’s doctrine? Make sense? Well, neither does this season for the Falcons. I was at every game last year, but haven’t been to any this year. I don’t even worry if I can’t watch on TV. This is a very boring team to watch.

Shultz sez

December 9th, 2011
4:13 pm

Just call a play and run it.

duronimo

December 9th, 2011
4:15 pm

What difference does it make if they catch it or drop it? I won’t affect their pay. Multi-year guaranteed, contracts often lead to a loss of focus. It happens in baseball all the time. And in the NBA? Everyone knows that they just go through the motions until playoff time. Athletes in all sports find a way to produce good numbers just in time for new contract talks.

mothers concerned

December 9th, 2011
4:17 pm

Cut the money they will get their act together

Gman 84

December 9th, 2011
4:17 pm

Players may have tuned out coaches but fans have tuned out the Falcons. Seen this too many times to count. This team isn’t going anywhere.

Mortgaged 2 drafts for a wide receiver who has missed several games and been a minor contributer in others. Not at all sure why you would squander your future on a supposed deep threat when you have a QB of only medium range.

Beyond the pedestrian offense, the defense has no prayer against the better teams in the league.

It’s not that the Falcons are a bad team (they aren’t), they just don’t inspire the fan base to dream of greater things. Ever since the Packers took them apart, they have been exposed for what they are; good-medocre…no better and with no realistic chance of getting better.

mothers concerned

December 9th, 2011
4:18 pm

No excitement anymore!!! Boring, Boring, Boring, Boring, Boring, Boring!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:22 pm

Charlie Sez….I respect any man, even those who bus tables at Chuckie Cheeze. In todays day and age, with all the foreclosures and hardships, what kind of man would disparage another man for doing legitimate honest legal work to put food on his table to feed his family?

Joey

December 9th, 2011
4:24 pm

Umm, don’t teams usually win the Super Bowl, THEN lose focus the season after?

This bunch can’t win one playoff game, and still rest on their laurels.

To hell with them.

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:24 pm

duron…the thing about football is, they do not have guaranteed contracts, they are singing for their supper. Most on the roster are year to year.

truthbtold

December 9th, 2011
4:25 pm

You have to score touchdowns to win. Running the ball to run down the clock does not win championships. The Falcons are experts at running out the clock and everyone in the league knows that’s what they want to do. The Packers have the worst defense in the league and they’re undefeated because they score touchdowns! The mainly throw the ball in the end zone too. They don’t give a flip about running out the clock. The more time on the clock – the more touchdowns they’re going to score. The same thing with the Patriots. This type of mentality begins and ends with the coaching staff and the game plan.

Stevcue

December 9th, 2011
4:27 pm

Coach Smith are you saying we need a new coach? It starts at the top you know when it comes to focusing!!!

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:27 pm

We lost 5, in two of the games, the winning TD was on the receivers hands, the 3rd, the game tying TD was. No team who led the league in dropped passes ever won anything….I guess we know what had Roddy so distracted…

Reality

December 9th, 2011
4:27 pm

There was no buzz about the Falcons before the season and even less now. Watching a 1 dimensional Houston team run it down their throats to seal the victory was hard to watch. Couldn’t stop TB either. Like most NFL teams, they play well at home (unless they play NO) and struggle on the road.

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:28 pm

Dan Reeves said it best, you are never as good, or as bad, as you think you are.

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:30 pm

Atlanta, Giants, Chicago, Detroit. Whomever wins will be crawling across the finish line.

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:32 pm

What if we get in the playoffs and play the Cowboys….Romo-Ryan….Can a playoff game be a tie?

skip

December 9th, 2011
4:42 pm

This team is toast!! A few of the guys are still playing hard, giving it a 100 percent effort. The rest are just mailing it in. A blind man could see it.

D-Man

December 9th, 2011
4:45 pm

It seems to be the same thing with ALL Atlanta teams – underachieving shoulda beens. When the stakes are not high we fly, when the stakes ARE high we fold like a lawn chair. Same thing year in, year out. I’m all for being positive but day-um when will the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves play well when they are either supposed to (see last week’s loss to the Texans) or when it matters (pick ANY playoff run with any one of these teams)? It’s either fall on your face on the last day of the season (Braves), be on the wrong side of the most lopsided playoff loss in NBA history (Hawks), or have the #1 seed, a bye, and home field advantage only to get prison violated by a team that barely made the playoffs (Falcons). This list is so long over the last THIRTY years and people wonder why the fans here are apathetic? C’mon get it together! I only got about 50 years left in me b4 I die mannnn!

Mr Charlie

December 9th, 2011
4:48 pm

D, who sez Atlanta does not have a great tradition?

Sober reality

December 9th, 2011
4:54 pm

First, the team likes Smith because he does not demand maximum productivity!
Second, many of these players are “energy Vampires” sucking out the life of the TEAM
Third, We have too many old players with big contracts, not hungry and driven
Fourth, Turner is not a game breaker and is only as good as his line, which is mediocre at best
Fifth, Falcons will never win a Super Bowl with Matt Ryan. Nice guy, but slow afoot, weak arm and slow to react mentally.
Sixth, Owner does not know enough about the game to see the issues above and demand better

Highlight this email and check back in seasons ahead. Sorry to say the truth hurts and will take our Falcons nowhere unless changes are acknowledged and made.

Ps. Falcons are likely to lose Sunday and will finish with 9 wins, out of the playoffs. Sober reality!

Arno

December 9th, 2011
4:54 pm

I look for sparks in games, like when Abe flattened Yates. Sparks, sparks… but still no flame.

C3

December 9th, 2011
5:00 pm

It’s tough being a Falcon fan.

Roach

December 9th, 2011
5:04 pm

We saw this in the opener at Chicago . . .they weren’t ready to play. Like a whole team of Michael Vicks. Been hard to root for them ever since.

5150 UOAD

December 9th, 2011
5:08 pm

jeff see football will get you hits. 36 hits on your non-picks and you are at 40 on this post.

Carl Harris

December 9th, 2011
5:13 pm

I have watched the Falcons since 1966. Their 1st 2 draft choices [Tommy Nobis and Randy Johnson] didn’t help. The previous ownders, the Smiths were stupid. The Falcons have sucked from the beginning and will suck forever. Get a grip….the dirty birds are losers forever

Mike

December 9th, 2011
5:16 pm

Hopefully the Falcons are the St. Louis Cardinals of the football world this year.

Old Timer

December 9th, 2011
5:17 pm

There’s no fire in this year’s team. A weak offensive line. A starting RB who collapses the moment he meets resistance. A QB with a mediocre arm, prone to overthrow. WRs who won’t look a ball into their hands before they start running, appear surprised when a ball is thrown to them, and allow defenses to strip the ball by not knowing to go down when surrounded by three or four pursuing defenders. The absence of a decent pass rush. Mediocre pass defense. A few are still playing hard, but most appear to be coasting. Carolina will win, and more easily than anybody thinks. This is a long way from a playoff team.

Jfreak13713

December 9th, 2011
5:31 pm

The schedule is in the Falcons favor and the teams they are contending with are in serious trouble as well. Bears, Lions, and Giants are likely to lose their next game and “if” the Falcons win they will b in pretty good shape even if they lose to the Saints. However, I don’t see them doing much in playoffs because of their defense. Can’t rush the passer and can’t defend the pass means you CAN’T beat Brees or Rogers. It takes a few years for a team to put all the pieces together and I think they Falcons are in good hands for years to come.

Falcons finish 10 – 6 and capture wild card spot only to get beat by the Saints or San Fransico in first round. Winning season but imporvement is needed on defense and offensive corr.

Don

December 9th, 2011
5:34 pm

We’re about 22 players away.

Greg

December 9th, 2011
5:35 pm

Focused is a small part. Their qb has no arm and their receivers drop half the catchable passes. We have no deep threat. Ryans arm looks like a girls who works out

SteveinChatt

December 9th, 2011
5:36 pm

Calling our pass defense mediocre is giving them too much credit. How often have we stopped any team from driving down the field when we really need a stop. This team would frustrate any fan. Sunday could be a real downer for the Falcons.

SteveinChatt

December 9th, 2011
5:40 pm

Ryan get ready. Baker will be protecting your backside.

The Prez, and a member

December 9th, 2011
5:41 pm

Looking at these blogs are why Atlanta is considered the worst sports town. Last year they were 10-2 and all I heard was what was “wrong” with them. Geez, be a friggin fan and ride or die!!