Mike Smith trying to instill playoff toughness in Falcons

Falcons coach Mike Smith realizes the Falcons will be "scrutinized" for their playoff performances. (AP photo)

Falcons coach Mike Smith realizes the Falcons will be "scrutinized" for their playoff performances after two postseason losses.

First, let’s get past the flaws.

The Falcons are thin on the offensive line, sporadic in the secondary. Passes have been dropped. Tackles have been missed. Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards – sorry, no rebates.

But every NFL playoff team has flaws, even the best one. Ask the Green Bay Packers about their 32nd-ranked defense.

The playoffs open this week. This is a good time for the Falcons to remind themselves of the one absolute truth in football that’s never changed, regardless of any second-guessing of the offensive coordinator or the quarterback’s Tramon Williams’ blind –spot: A punch in the mouth is the great equalizer.

The Falcons have talent. But they are 0-2 in the playoffs under this regime and they’ve struggled against good teams this season. To succeed in this postseason, they’ll need to win on the road, in the cold and/or difficult surroundings — New York this week, potentially Green Bay and New Orleans thereafter. That will require a mental and physical toughness they’ve consistently lacked this season and certainly in playoff losses to Arizona in 2008 and Green Bay last season.

Coach Mike Smith acknowledged, “I understand we’ll be scrutinized in the playoffs. That’s a natural. But it shouldn’t take away from what we’ve accomplished so far.”

It doesn’t take away. But it does leave some with thoughts of an imaginary ceiling.

Smith realizes bragging rights associated with his 43-21 regular-season record, as great as it is, carries a limited freshness date. At some point, the Falcons need to win a playoff game, and that point might very well be now.

One common theme in the two playoff losses: turnovers. The Falcons committed seven. But it’s not that simple.

The former linebacker and noted philosopher, Dick Butkus, once said, “When I played pro football, I never set out to hurt anyone deliberately — unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something.”

Now, this shouldn’t be viewed as a rallying cry for the Falcons to take the New York Giants out at the knees Sunday (notwithstanding the comical ramblings of Justin Tuck, who already views the Falcons as cheaters and “dirtbags”). It’s more about what Atlanta hasn’t been for much of this season and in the postseason: a physically and mentally tough team.

That’s odd, given, as Smith said, “A team takes on the personality of its coach.”

He coached smart, tough, physical defenses in Jacksonville (as coordinator) and Baltimore (linemen and linebackers). His Jaguars beat Pittsburgh in the 2007 playoffs before losing to unbeaten New England. His Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. He knows what it takes to be successful in the postseason and has tried to instill that in the Falcons. To this point he’s 0-for-2.

“When you’re in the playoffs, you know it’s win or go home — there’s a finality to it,” Smith said. “Everything is heightened in terms of your preparation, mentally and physically. You can’t look past what’s going on on that play, at that moment. The teams I’ve been on that have won postseason games, they’ve had that focus. They were prepared for the ebbs and flows in a game.”

Smith wouldn’t divulge what he’ll tell his team the night before the game in New York. But I’m guessing he just touched on elements of it. The Falcons weren’t prepared last season before the Green Bay playoff game. Smith acknowledges now that he botched the bye week, giving players “too much down time.” He wanted them to be fresh, but by game day they had lost their edge.

The way Aaron Rodgers was playing, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. But neither would it have been 42-14 in the third quarter.

If the Falcons win Sunday in New York, it will be because they were the smarter, tougher team. That wasn’t the case earlier this season against Green Bay, and it also wasn’t the case in losses to Houston, New Orleans (twice) and Chicago.

The Falcons have flaws, but those flaws aren’t going to keep this team from going anywhere.

“We have talent,” Smith said. “We have to play at a higher level than we’ve played all season to win in the playoffs.”

It’s the next step this team needs to take.

By Jeff Schultz

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

273 comments Add your comment

Jeremy

January 3rd, 2012
2:48 pm

That Detroit game saved us.

Jeremy

January 3rd, 2012
2:49 pm

Which has little to do with this article, more so I was reflecting after read about these terrible losses. I believe both wild card teams out of the NFC win this week. Detroit rebounds and Atlanta wins narrowly.

Jeremy

January 3rd, 2012
2:50 pm

Also, define ‘dirtbag’

Falkor

January 3rd, 2012
2:59 pm

I think it is good that the Giants just had a big emotional win over their rival Cowboys b/c the Giants have been up and down all season.

Hopefully the “up” last Sunday follows with a “down” this Sunday

Runner-

January 3rd, 2012
2:59 pm

Our two playoff losses came to eventual Super Bowl bound teams. Hopefully we’ll have better luck this year, and make our way to the Super Bowl with a win!

Who Me?

January 3rd, 2012
3:02 pm

C’mon – really? This is not a team know for toughness of any kind, hell just look at our QB. This is the kind of game that we need to go out, smack them in the mouth on both sides of the ball – yes this means you’ll have to show up Ray Edwards – and our DB’s and WR’s (Roddy) will have to play a physical tough game. No drops on 3rd downs, no stupid penalties, just mean smash-mouth I’m gonna whip your a** football.

We do that, let the chips fall where they may. You can be NY will be sorry they ever drew us in the first round. 4 quarters for once…I for one and am sick and tired of one and done.

Double Zero Eight

January 3rd, 2012
3:06 pm

He needs to see what Dan Reeves did
before the NFC championship
game in 1998. Whatever it was, it
worked. That was the best game the
Falcons have played in their entire
history. An away game before a
deafening crowd. Per my recollection
the Falcons had no penalties.

Bill

January 3rd, 2012
3:06 pm

If the Falcons lose will they have reached,dare I say it,a plateau?

Falcons4Eva

January 3rd, 2012
3:09 pm

Isn’t it a little too late to install ANY type of “toughness” in a team at this point in the season? You are either tough or you are not. Toughness is not something you instill in a person’s DNA sort to speak. You either have it or you don’t.

Larry

January 3rd, 2012
3:14 pm

Have to give a slight edge to the Giants for playing at home, but I think this Falcon team will make it close and easily the best playoff performance in the Smith era.

27-23 Giants…and here’s hoping it’s the Falcons with the 27 points!

Falcons4Eva

January 3rd, 2012
3:16 pm

I would also add this……

I think the Falcons 6 losses are more indicative of where this team is than their 10 wins. Especially when you gauge the horrendous nature of their losses with the impressiveness of their wins.

With the exception of the two blow out wins (Jaguars and Bucs), the rest of their victories against bad and mediocre team speaks volumes about their ability to handle a team like the Giants team coming up.

Our best chance of winning this game is running the ball effective. Our line is NOT capable of giving Matt Ryan the time to throw anything but 5-yard passes. So this will be Check-Down Sunday and Michael Turner 2-yards and a cloud of mud.

woeismesince66

January 3rd, 2012
3:20 pm

I wish the Falcons the best, but I have no confidence in them. I’m looking at another lopsided loss. Sorry,
but after watching them for years I see nothing that has really changed. They are always going come up short
no matter who the players or coaches are.

Falcons4Eva

January 3rd, 2012
3:20 pm

@ Jeff –

” . . . Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards – sorry, no rebates.”

Excellent….

I would also like to add to that line of thought: Peria Jerry and Sam Baker

How about he instill some toughness...

January 3rd, 2012
3:25 pm

…in his DC to have the cohonees to be more aggressive and less passive in his play calling? And, how about having toughness during the year rather than just the playoffs…

Falcons4Eva

January 3rd, 2012
3:28 pm

Mike Smith: “Coach Mike Smith acknowledged, “I understand we’ll be scrutinized in the playoffs. That’s a natural. But it shouldn’t take away from what we’ve accomplished so far.”

Tell me if that does not sound like a man already conceding defeat? At the very least, he’s already patting himself (and the team) on the back and accepting that as a big accomplishment and no reason to “be disappointed” if we don’t win another game (1st playoffs).

Although is statement is true, I just believe that in his heart of heart, he don’t feel he and his staff can out coach/game plan against the other 3 coaches he will be facing on their way to the Superbowl –all of whom have ALREADY won a superbowl – Tom Coughlin-Giants, Sean Payton-Saints and Mike McCarthy-Packers.

Can you say...

January 3rd, 2012
3:28 pm

…Falcons equal UGA… neither team knows HOW to win when the other team smacks them in the face – they just turn the other cheek and say “shoulda, woulda, if only… bunch of cowards all the way around at both UGA and in Flowery Branch…

Gatorzone

January 3rd, 2012
3:30 pm

Hopefully, Smith has learned that when they have extended time off, you can’t let up… look at the New Orleans Beatdown. Smith gave them 3 days off before that practice week and they looked pathetic… This team has the talent to win, just need the coaching to facilitate!

abby normal

January 3rd, 2012
3:31 pm

Jeff, your comments are spot on. I hope the Falcons play with fire in their bellies…….but I’m afraid they won’t. Not that I want to go back to the Glanville era, but at least his teams played nasty if not all that well.

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

January 3rd, 2012
3:33 pm

Falcons need to get real. Running Turner 30 times is a surefire way to win against…the Lions, Bucs, Seahawks, and Cardinals. When you play an elite-level team, you must become creative and use the talent on the team. By my account, Smith and Mularkey have:

Ryan
White
Tony G.
Douglas
Jones
Turner
Snelling
Rodgers
Weems

Jeff, we must hold these guys accountable. If Andy Reid, Jon Gruden or Sean Payton had this kind of elite skilled talent, they would score more than 16-20 points in big games. Prediction…the Falcons will roll into Giants Stadium as score no more than 20 points.

Sadly, it will be up to the defenese to keep this team in the tournament.

FBD

Hopefully Mularkey gets the Jacksonville job. While his system works to a point, he 1) does not manage an abundance of talent well 2) makes minor in game adjustments and 3) cant coach the team to run a screen to save his life. Remember, the screen slows the pass rush down. If you can run it effectively, DEs peel back.

JSS

January 3rd, 2012
3:37 pm

“Fire in their bellies?”
Yeah, I’ll stay away from that one…

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

January 3rd, 2012
3:41 pm

P.S. Watch the Falcons on 2nd down of any game. The most conservative team in the league on 2nd down: Turner up the gut…whether its 2nd and 10 or 2nd and 3.

Mularkey is always “preparing” for a play instead of calling one.

FBD

SportsGirl

January 3rd, 2012
3:44 pm

Great article! @Can you say… – please do me a favor and never ever compare the Falcons to UGA ever again, thanks.

Sly Boarders

January 3rd, 2012
3:46 pm

The frustration for me is that for about 15 minutes, they WERE that team against Green Bay. It was when the chess match of adjustments started that the Falcons fell horribly behind. Their were poor individual performances, but it’s easy to shoot a moving target if you know exactly where it is moving to.

Sly Boarders

January 3rd, 2012
3:47 pm

There, not thier.

Kudzu

January 3rd, 2012
3:49 pm

“Falcons4Eva” good point about the toughnes, or lack thereof…

I look back at the game last week, crap, I started getting a little nervous wondering if the Faclons were going to flop and let the Bucs back into the game…I was thinking, the Falcons do not play with hardnose intensity where you get the other guy down and you don’t even give him an opportunity to say uncle…

We had it last year on the offensive line and I loved it… but (mean stomp the living life out of the other team), we don’t have it, and it is too late to find it. should have beat Tampa by 90 points….

…and I’m not talking about (low life cheap shots) by some girl playing corner that needs a haircut…just saying.

5150 UOAD

January 3rd, 2012
3:51 pm

maybe Smitty can get MARK RICHT to stop by and give an inspiring speech or go swimming with the players.

5150 UOAD

January 3rd, 2012
3:53 pm

Sly Boarders
January 3rd, 2012
3:47 pm

There, not thier.

How about There, not thEir.

ramblingbuzz

January 3rd, 2012
3:53 pm

Somewhere between the blow out loss to the Saints and the blow out win over the Bucs is where the real Falcon team stands. Unfortunately, something tells me the true Falcons are the team that was totally dominated by the Saints. I’m not drinking the Falcon Kool-Aid.

Gwinnett Fred

January 3rd, 2012
3:53 pm

Simply put – if the Falcons don’t win this game, they need MAJOR changes.

This is due to the simple fact that the Giants are a mediocre football team.

They beat ONE team with a winning record this year (sound familiar?)

I see the difference in this game being in yards after the catch. If the Falcon backs & corners allow Cruz to bust 10 yards passes into 40 yard gains like he’s done recently, we lose. If they wrap up and make the Giants drive the ball, then NY’s 1.5 turnovers a game come in to play much more.

Wink

January 3rd, 2012
4:07 pm

The Falcons have flaws, but those flaws aren’t going to keep this team from going anywhere.

“We have talent,” Smith said. “We have to play at a higher level than we’ve played all season to win in the playoffs.”

You Sir, have flaws & need to coach at a higher level!!!

Great record in the regular season since you have been here, same OC & DC, core personnel been together for three years, but your team has two major flaws that have never been remedied and will cost you games..

1. You can’t beat elite teams with FG’s…self destruct in the Red Zone.

2. Your team can’t get off the field on 3rd down, regardless of distance.

These two things have been present for 3 years, where is the coaching at a higher level, especially in the playoffs…what have you done to prepare your team for these two areas??????

Sausage King of Chicago

January 3rd, 2012
4:09 pm

I think the Falcons’ retooled O-line is starting to get its crap together…takes time to forge that chemistry. Turner’s going to run for 160 yds and Falcons will dominate the time of posession in NYC.

CGD..

January 3rd, 2012
4:17 pm

With Melt @ the helm you wanna get tough! He’s already tough…

Hey coach, your 2-4 against the winners which down right stinks. Your team is losing in the trenches..And your QB play is adding fuel to the fire…

Look for the Giants O-line to own the Falcons D-Line.. Game,Set, and Match!

Giants 45 Falcons 17 in another disaster meltdown…

Arthur Blank get your short list out, cause your going to need it….

Steve-O

January 3rd, 2012
4:17 pm

Who Me?

January 3rd, 2012
3:02 pm

C’mon – really? This is not a team know for toughness of any kind, hell just look at our QB. This is the kind of game that we need to go out, smack them in the mouth on both sides of the ball – yes this means you’ll have to show up Ray Edwards – and our DB’s and WR’s (Roddy) will have to play a physical tough game. No drops on 3rd downs, no stupid penalties, just mean smash-mouth I’m gonna whip your a** football.

We do that, let the chips fall where they may. You can be NY will be sorry they ever drew us in the first round. 4 quarters for once…I for one and am sick and tired of one and done.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Jacka** alert. You obviously didn’t watch every game this year where Ryan did a split on the field and had his ankle bent into a right angle when Svitex stepped on it. Ryan’s toughness is clear and obvious. Find something else to pi** and moan about.

realitycheck

January 3rd, 2012
4:20 pm

This is a MUST win game for this regime! The Falcons caught a break in catching the Giants instead of the Saints again, and they have to break through with a win in this game. No excuses, no next time,no next year……….this is a MUST win for Dimitroff/Smith!

rollo lawson

January 3rd, 2012
4:21 pm

Go in and punch the Giants in the mouth plain and simple. Don’t sit back in that soft-zone BVG. Shut down the run and make NY one dimensional. Bump/re-route those receivers. Don’t give them a free run off the line, especially Cruz. Put your defensive playmakers (Moore and Spoon)in positions to make plays. Move John Abraham around to keep the oline and Manning guessing. Utilize the delayed blitz up the middle (See Moore, Decoud, and Spoon). Be creative with the offensive playcalling. Run out of passing formations and pass out of obvious running formations. Keep the defense off balance. Don’t run Turner into the ground. Use Snelling and Rodgers. Get Roddy involved early. Throw in a Julio Jones reverse if and when the Giants start over pursuing. Football is not rocket science!

rollo lawson

January 3rd, 2012
4:22 pm

And do not drop any of our defensive lineman into coverage on third and longs. It does not work.

CGD..

January 3rd, 2012
4:24 pm

Eli= TD maker………..7>3

Melt= FG producer…..3<7

Hey Rosenberg, "the legend" those numbers look right to you Genius?

"Deception is the operative word today" Author unknown

Hey IJ, stick that in your pipe and smoke it!!! LOL

Carl from Slingblade

January 3rd, 2012
4:24 pm

Please run the No-Huddle all game…that way you take the play calling out of the hands of the incompetant OC, and…you combat the Giants strength, the front four. IS there even 1 single stinkin’ screen pass in the friggin playbook??? There should be at least 5 different ones for Jacquizz…for God’s sake!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 3rd, 2012
4:27 pm

How can you be tough if your qb is todays special at Wongs House of Wuss.

HA HA HA :)

CGD..

January 3rd, 2012
4:28 pm

Memo to Rich Mckay: Greyhound is ready when you are…..You have orchestrated 8 years of futility when it comes to the playoff matrix…….Keep up the good work…(joke) lol

Smashmouth

January 3rd, 2012
4:28 pm

I love the Falcons and am going to be pumped up for the game, but reality tells me V Cruz v. D Robinson will be the difference and that is not good news for the Falcons.

CGD..

January 3rd, 2012
4:31 pm

Eli will show us real QB play in the money Game!

Melt not so much……..Yawn…..

Victor Cruz= The Blur

Julio needs a hair cut! lol

Whopper Dawg

January 3rd, 2012
4:38 pm

Jeff, you and Smith are right. Unfortunately, getting this team to play better than they have all season isn’t like switching on a switch.

It is much more likely that we will get what we have been getting, and be at home after the first round.

rollo lawson

January 3rd, 2012
4:41 pm

Like I said, put your hands on Cruz and rough him up.

coachx

January 3rd, 2012
4:48 pm

We need Grimes healthy to cover Cruz…………no one else has a chance. I’m hoping Moore lays the wood to him.

The weather prediction for Sundays game is 40 degrees with a 20% chance of cold rain. I hope our boys are practicing in the cold to get some what acclimated.

Ron Roberts

January 3rd, 2012
4:51 pm

It begins and ends with Michael Turner and his effectiveness.

If we get the “tip-toe-in-place before deciding which hole to hit and be knocked back from” Turner, we’re in trouble.

If it’s the more decisive “I’m going here I don’t care WHO is there” Turner, we can inflict our will. That’s the long and short of it. Always has been.

We don’t have the type of defense that’s going to STOP a good offense; we have a defense that, at best, can slow them down. That, coupled with a strong running game, is what wins games for us.

I believe we have the better run game and as good if not slightly better pass game; we just have to avoid 3rd and long scenarios (honestly, on both ends, the way Brees lit us up on 3rd and forevers a few weeks back).

spotlessmcpartlandattacks

January 3rd, 2012
4:51 pm

If a Falcons’ loss in NY would mean that BYG is sent packing then I’d root for the Giants.

mcp

spotlessmcpartlandattacks

January 3rd, 2012
4:52 pm

BVG, not BYG.

mcp

drew

January 3rd, 2012
4:57 pm

If we play that soft zone Manning is gonna pick us apart. I’d rather man up, blitz, and go man coverage. Yeah, we might get burned, but I’d prefer that to the wide-open receivers grabbing 10-20 yard passes all the way down the field (like at N.O.). I’d rather die quick than be tortured with BVG’s soft zone.

To win, Ryan needs to go with quick, short passes, 3-step drops, and screens (HAHA) and draws. NYG has a great d-line, but their LB’s and DB’s are average at best.

Why in the hell can’t we execute a simple screen pass?
Oh, and why in the hell can’t we STOP anybody elses screen pass?
And lastly, just give Julio the damn ball!

MattyB

January 3rd, 2012
5:18 pm

SOFT is exactly how I’d describe the 2011 Falcons, ’specially the defense and O-Line. Very, very soft indeed. And I’m afraid that it is a result of the team taking on the personality of it’s coach. Love the birds, but just don’t see them going far in their present incarnation.