Falcons, Smith going to amusing extremes to get an edge

Falcons coach Mike Smith is being tighter than ever with information. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons coach Mike Smith is being tighter than ever with information. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

FLOWERY BRANCH – If NFL coaches aren’t collectively the most paranoid group of individuals on Earth, it’s only because somebody is counting the building on the other side of the barbed-wire fence, where Cheswick, Martini and R.P. McMurphy are betting cigarettes in a poker game.

I’m not sure when this level of Patton-vs.-Rommel secrecy began. But I can confirm from my days in San Francisco that Bill Walsh’s eyes would morph into fireballs at practice any time a reporter took notes that might be referencing Joe Montana throwing to Jerry Rice (because, well, who knew)?

I bring this up because as the Falcons approach their season opener Sunday in Kansas City, coach Mike Smith is taking secrecy to amusing levels. He was asked the other day about his starting right guard and cornerback. His response: “I’m not going to discuss it because I’m not going to give a competitive advantage to our opponent.”

He was asked about his punt returner: “I can’t tell you who our punt returner is going to be, either.”

He was asked about the backup quarterback: “I would not answer that question based on giving someone a competitive advantage.”

OK, seriously? The Chiefs are panicking in defensive meeting rooms, not having finality over the Falcons’ backup situation? The state secret of Luke McCown or Dominique Davis gives the Falcons a distinct advantage?

“Yes,” Smith reaffirmed Wednesday.

He will play you in “Stratego” and make you beg for mercy.

I informed Smith on Wednesday that, for AJC competitive reasons, I couldn’t tell him if I would be covering Sunday’s game.

“Touche,” he said, smiling, and held out a hand for a fist bump.

The Falcons seem to have become an increasingly secretive organization. That’s fine. It doesn’t differentiate them much from most NFL teams. But Smith should understand that the reason the team has had a string of one-and-done appearances has nothing to do with the other team not knowing who’s going to return punts.

All of those minute, perceived strategy “edges” go out the window when a 300-pound left tackle is getting Winnebagoed by a pass rusher. Or a cornerback blows his transmission in pass coverage. Or the quarterback is turning the ball over. And that’s why the Falcons have failed to win playoff games.

If Smith is being less forthcoming with information — and certainly media access in this training camp was tighter than in previous years — it’s no wonder. The pressure on him has been ratcheted up. The Falcons being just a very good regular-season team doesn’t satisfy the masses any more, least of all Arthur Blank. So Smith is seeking any edge he can get. But what’s a real edge and what’s imagined?

Smith doesn’t believe he’s any tighter now than before. “There’s certain information at certain times of the year that may be more important to not talk about,” he said. “Later in the year, when there’s more film and people have time to evaluate you, it’s probably not that big of a deal.”

He also now claims the No. 2 quarterback situation hasn’t been settled, though he says his mindset would be the same even if it had been.

These are not to be confused with those areas that most believe determine winners of football games.

“Running, tackling and blocking,” Falcons running back Michael Turner said.

I felt compelled to ask Turner if he was starting. He laughed.

“I don’t know. They haven’t announced the starters yet. I guess we’ll know when they have the introductions.”

I asked center Todd McClure. “Talk to the gray-haired man,” he said.

I asked Ryan. “As far as I know,” he said. (Broke him.)

Projections for the Falcons are all over the board. Some see Julio Jones, new coordinators, new philosophies and think, “Super Bowl.” But there’s emotional scar tissue from the past two seasons. Locally, this team seems to be flying under the radar.

“I guess everyone’s sitting back and waiting,” Turner said, “and if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, they’ll see what happens then. That doesn’t bother us. We’ve got to make people believe. Hopefully we’ll get back there and make some noise when we get there.”

In a few days, there won’t be any secrets. We’ll know what really matters.

By Jeff Schultz

118 comments Add your comment

DaddyK

September 5th, 2012
5:52 pm

We should all keep mum about buyin Falcons tickets as well.

Reid Adair

September 5th, 2012
5:57 pm

Oh, here’s what we do know. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution WILL be covering the game on Sunday.

WELP

September 5th, 2012
6:04 pm

The reason for their previous postseason failures was a little word called “predictability.”

By season’s end, every fan could tell which play was coming based on down and distance. Will that change with new coordinators? Dunno. Whether Smith is forthcoming about the depth chart isn’t as relevant as whether they have the cojones to pass on first down.

ralph from ben hill

September 5th, 2012
6:13 pm

just win falcons!!! and hoping julio has epic performance!

Mouth of the NFC South

September 5th, 2012
6:15 pm

Shhhhhh…. the Chiefs can’t know if our buck up QB is the guy with the 1.8 qb rating in his last start or the guy who has only thrown against second, third and fourth stringers

Ree Roe

September 5th, 2012
6:16 pm

Well since we can’t get an answer from Smitty, I wonder if Dimitroff can tell us who our head coach will be if we have another flame out in the playoffs.

-REEcently Roe!!!

mountain_jim

September 5th, 2012
6:19 pm

I agree WELP – predictability on both sides of the ball and no screen game all contributed to the failures – all of which I hope is much improved with no OC and DC this season.

We shall see soon.

Stepchild

September 5th, 2012
6:21 pm

Here’s a secret….9-7 should get Smitty outta the city!

Mitch Kumstein

September 5th, 2012
6:24 pm

If we can’t run the ball between the tackles, this season will be over before it begins. Run tell that!

The “secret” is that we have no idea if 33 has anything left in the tank, or if Quizz can hit holes and corners without getting his head torn off.

Shhhhhh!

Mitch Kumstein

September 5th, 2012
6:26 pm

Maybe Snelling is our “secret weapon”

Stepchild

September 5th, 2012
6:28 pm

I hope we unleash more than a screen game and a deep ball….We fired the OC that had us top ten in offense & acquired an OC that had his team at 32nd in the league…..uh oh!!!

Stinger2

September 5th, 2012
6:33 pm

Chip Towers wrote essentially the same story about CMR who is using the same reasons for not discussing if his suspended players will pay against Missouri Saturday. Did CMR get his no talk from Smitty or vise versa?

Stepchild

September 5th, 2012
6:34 pm

Mitch you are more right than you know….we can’t live on passing …Ryan will see too much pressure. And those screens would’ve killed the Saints last year with all of the blitzing they did….this year it won’t be as effective against our arch rival….they play more balanced defense under Spagnuolo. We better win the division or it’s curtains for Smith…..shhhhh…lol.

JD

September 5th, 2012
6:34 pm

Game? What game? I’m not sure the Falcons have officially confirmed they have a game Sunday. Geez, Schultzie, how can you be so irresponsible?

I guess if you had it your way you’d report on the color of their helmets, the length of the field and how the game is scored. You dang newspaper guys just stick your nose in where it’s not wanted and ruin everything.

But don’t quote me on that…..

Larry

September 5th, 2012
6:48 pm

Jeff,

1. Davis will be the #2 QB at least for game one due to his time with the team.
2. Douglas will return punts.
3. Grimes and Samuel will be the starting CB’s with Robinson as the #1 Nickle Back.
4. Reynolds will start at RG.
5. Baker, sadly, will start at LT.

Now, was this really that hard?

Bill Payer

September 5th, 2012
7:00 pm

Paranoia strikes deep, into your heart it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid, step out if line, and they’ll take you away.

CS & N

Jay

September 5th, 2012
7:15 pm

A good screen game will work against just about any defense.

Big Crimson 75

September 5th, 2012
7:42 pm

Tommy D is responsible for all the secrecy shenanigans.

The Falcons better win this game!!
We simply out talent the Chiefs.
Plus, KCs best defensive player isn’t playing.
Absolutely no excuse to leave KC without a victory.
Special Teams need to ready — Javy Arenas & D McCluster are a formidable duo returning punts & kicks.

FootballTopFan

September 5th, 2012
7:43 pm

Football Top Fan would like to wish the Atlanta Falcons the best of luck and success in the National Football League (NFL) 2012-2013 season.

We believe that the ATLANTA FALCONS will represent the National Football Conference (NFC) in Super Bowl XLVII.

The big game will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 3, 2013.

Go Falcons !!!!!

FootballTopFan@Yahoo.com

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 5th, 2012
8:06 pm

0-3 & Shutout……anymore questions? :)

1eyedJack

September 5th, 2012
8:06 pm

“Bet a dime.” :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 5th, 2012
8:08 pm

Romeo Crennel is a helluva defensive coordinator.

Get ready to get shutout again :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 5th, 2012
8:10 pm

The Official Old Regime Swann Song………….

Let’s get this party start dawg :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 5th, 2012
8:12 pm

Two quarterbacks walk into a bar……………

One quarterback said to the other “dude you only passed for 200 yards”.

The other quarterback said “yeah at least I didn’t pull a CHOKE Ryan” :)

LDawg

September 5th, 2012
8:41 pm

Choke- do you even like the Falcons? I mean, you are a one-note song. We get that you hate Matty Ice. Trust me, we get it – you’ve run that into the dirt. It’s boring and has been for at least 2 seasons. Either get over it or stop watching. And if you don’t like us, then why are you here?

Ted Striker

September 5th, 2012
8:47 pm

Your interrogation of Ryan just got him placed on double secret probation

dumb

September 5th, 2012
9:05 pm

“Paranoia strikes deep….”;
dude, that’s Buffalo Springfield

REAL FALCONS FAN

September 5th, 2012
9:05 pm

jeffr take a xanax ,calm down,secrecy is the new nfl. THE ONE GOOD THING I CAN GLEAN FROM THIS ,SMITTY IS HAVING FUN ! I HOPE THAAT ALL FALCON’S FAN’S ENJOY AND HAVE FUN THIS YEAR.PRAISE THE LORD FOR THE FALCON’S AND THE DISTRACTION THEY GIVE US ,GOOD OR BAD EACH WEEK.RISE UP GO FALCON’S.

Just Win Baby!

September 5th, 2012
9:06 pm

Hey Jeff,

How come Alabama didn’t have ANY players suspended for their opener against Michigan?

dumb

September 5th, 2012
9:10 pm

whoa, wait a minute…. Buffalo Springfield = N & Y, and …
they call me,
dumb

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Yellow Fuzz

September 5th, 2012
9:38 pm

Gee, so much for the 1st, 5th and 14th amendments

Hobbler

September 5th, 2012
9:41 pm

OK. I’ve vented all off season due to not happy with our #2 and #3 back-ups and lack of TD obtaining quality depth which was obvious weakness as was displayed during the pre-season games. However, we’ve got the best #1’s in the NFL. So, it is now time to team-up and Rise Up! Have a Blessed year!

JSS

September 5th, 2012
10:02 pm

Wake us all up when Nixon (Mike Smith) gives us his double secret plan to win the Vietnam War… Foxborough South, giving us deception masquerading for competence since 2008!

@ Ted Striker…
Ha ha, “Double secret!”

Paul in NH

September 5th, 2012
10:11 pm

Wow – the only way to win in the NFL is to not let the opposition know what you are going to do? I have some secret information that will help the Falcons in some of their key games. Here is a sampling
Week 2 – Peyton Manning is really good. The Broncos are probably going to let him throw the ball all over the place.
Week 16 – Matthew Stafford is going to look to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson.

JSS

September 5th, 2012
10:26 pm

@ Paul in NH…
You forgot
“Week 15 – Eli Manning is going throw the slant to Hakeem Nicks and Thomas DeCoud will run by him as he flies by going in the other direction…”

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 5th, 2012
10:32 pm

Wide 9 is a helluva drug :)

Paul in NH

September 5th, 2012
10:34 pm

@JSS
I also forgot
Weeks 10 & 13 – Drew Brees is going to go to Jimmy Graham down the middle.

BTW – What did you think of Dempsey going to Spurs? I guess Fayed took it personnaly when Liverpool tapped up Clint and said no way on a transfer to Merseyside.

Paul in NH

September 5th, 2012
10:35 pm

personally – dang keyboard

BigBobbles

September 5th, 2012
10:41 pm

you all are a buch of fkwds before the season…..call me after the game dkhds

JSS

September 5th, 2012
10:42 pm

@ Paul in NH…
That you should take personally…
I was wondering what you thought about Clint… Man, the Tampa money just doesn’t impress like it use to do?

JSS

September 5th, 2012
10:49 pm

I see that the foul language two-year olds are out tonight… Ha ha, bless you little buddy…

Paul in NH

September 5th, 2012
10:57 pm

JSS
The Tampa money is in Manchester – Liverpool FC is owned by Fenway Sports Group (which means it is owned by John Henry)

JSS

September 5th, 2012
11:04 pm

Thanks Paul, I knew you’d correct me… :-) Bobby Valentine is in my brain after a week of Florida sun and food :-)

Paul in NH

September 5th, 2012
11:10 pm

Bobby Valentine will be fired in the off-season. If John Henry can fire Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool after a little over 1 year (the closest comparison would be firing Larry Bird as coach of the Celtics) he can fire Bobby V after 1.

htwo0rider

September 5th, 2012
11:17 pm

Does anyone really believe the line play on both sides of the ball is better? Ryan will be running for his life, and whoever the Falcons are playing will have all day to throw. We have one legit pass rusher and hes over 30. If you can’t rush the passer or protect the qb, you’re done.

JSS

September 5th, 2012
11:49 pm

@ 11:17…
That’s it in a nutshell, of course some will tell you (and they will come out between now and Sunday) that Nolan has a secret scheme that no one can account or plan for to do just that…

Buckhed Benny

September 6th, 2012
12:14 am

Thanks Jeff- I have been mentioning in some of these posts how turned off I have been by the lack of transparency by Dimitroff and Smitty- I was a big fan of both particularly Smith until now-

First, I think your team as players rallies behind a coach that shows confidence in his starters rather than confidenc in being coy and trying to get points for secrecy like the game of football is a chess match with opposing coordinators not know who your punt returner is or who your right guard is?

I think personally #66 is starting the rookie Konz and there is a new punt returner otherwise he would have answered thw question and is nervous about new starters being in the lineup- so if I am a player I pick up on that in the news and it probably gets in my head a little on why the coach doesn’t want to say I am the starter cause he is nervous that the opposing team will find out?

wow thats a confidend booster-

In addition, every top team in the nfl doesn’t need an edge like this- how about this smitty- desguis your play calling and keep teams guessing that your not going to run it on 4-1 or on ever first down- My gut is the opposing coordiantors play the law of averages more than they do if peter konz is stating or if toone is your punt returner-

where there is smoke there is usually a new starter hence the lack of transparency- you don’t think other nfl brass don’t pick up on this? I do- otherwise he would have answered it-

More importantly, show some balls and back your starters for once- if you want to be secretive don’t be so predicatble on your play calling, fyi-

Smitty turned into a douchebag in my opinion- showed his word means nothting – his word should be his bond in life

Brian

September 6th, 2012
12:21 am

When is the last time the Dawgs and Falcons were both in Missouri in the same weekend?

JSS

September 6th, 2012
12:31 am

Never, the Bulldogs were notorious for staying within the confines of SE after Wally Butts left… Dooley saw no good in playing intersectional games west of the Mississippi if they weren’t Bowl games… They played a weak Michigan team in A2 in 1964 (north of the Mason-Dixon), and that’s it…