Posts Tagged ‘Mike Smith’

Falcons’ flaws aren’t worse than any other NFL team

Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff will take their team's 8-1 record, flaws and all. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff will take their team's 8-1 record, flaws and all. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

FLOWERY BRANCH – This is the way the season has gone for the Falcons. They win games, and people find flaws. They finally lose a game, and people scream, “Aha!”

As if the struggles of the running game, or the instability of the run defense, or the fact that Ray Edwards too often seemed more passionate about conquering the art of modeling than the art of a tackle should come as any surprise.

The Falcons have flaws, but so does every team, and they’re not going away. This is the NFL. Rosters don’t morph significantly during the season. The league has a salary cap. There is little roster flexibility. Unlike baseball, there aren’t pyrotechnics at the trade deadline. Once a season starts, the best a team can hope for is that a backup evolves and contributes more than expected, or a player released by another team can fill a void, or that drop-kicking a high-profile veteran …

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LIVE: Falcons can make it 6-0 before getting a little rest

Michael Turner scored the wining touchdown last week at Washington. (AP photo)

Michael Turner scored the wining touchdown last week at Washington. (AP photo)

Five games into the season, the Falcons (5-0) already have a 3½ game lead over Tampa Bay (1-3) and a four-game lead over New Orleans (`-4) and Carolina (1-4). They also are one of only two unbeaten teams in the NFL and lead the race for home field advantage through the NFC playoffs.

What does this all mean? Well, not quite nothing. But not nearly everything.

It’s only October, and as impressive as the Falcons have been in many areas — particularly pass offense, pass protection and to so me degree pass defense — they weren’t great in consecutive come-from-behind wins over Carolina and Washington. The biggest issues remain the running game and run defense, which also happen to be the two factors (along with quarterback play) that generally separate the Super Bowl contenders from the also-rans in December and January.

Today’s game against Oakland seems to set up perfectly. The Raiders (1-3) aren’t …

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LIVE: Falcons try to provide some relief for Atlanta fans

The weather in the Washington D.C. area has been similar to mood of Falcons' fans: gloomy. (AP photo)

Weather in the Washington D.C. area has been similar to mood of Falcons' fans: gloomy. (AP photo)

LANDOVER, Md. — Good morning. It’s the Sunday of what is shaping up as one of the worst sports weekends in Atlanta sports history. (I don’t want to declare it as the worst. Too much competition.)

On Friday, the Braves lost their wild card playoff game to St. Louis 6-3. On Saturday, Georgia got bodyslammed by South Carolina 35-7 and Georgia Tech lost to Clemson 47-31.

Today, it’s the Falcons’ turn to . . . well, what exactly?

They face the Washington Redskins. On paper, this is a game they should win. The Falcons are 4-0 for only the third time in franchise history (1986, 2004, 2012) and have one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Redskins are 2-2, their only wins this season have come over New Orleans (0-4) and Tampa Bay (1-3) and they have one of the worst defenses in the the NFL (29th in total defense, 31st in pass defense, 27th in scoring defense).

But if the backdrop of the …

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LIVE: Falcons look for 3-0 start (and some help from Turner)

There will be more fans in the stadium later, but not enough to satisfy ownership.

There will be more fans in the stadium later, but not enough to satisfy Chargers' ownership.

SAN DIEGO — Welcome to the city where it’s impossible to miserable, or so would you think. Great restaurants, a revitalized downtown, beaches, Shamu — what more could anybody want? But temperatures have been in the 80s lately and people are complaining that it’s too hot. (They should try Georgia in August — and this little thing called humidity.)

Folks here don’t seem to have embraced their NFL team, either. The San Diego Chargers are 2-0, like the Falcons, but they couldn’t sell out today’s game and the contest is blacked out locally. It’s not an unusual occurrence. That fan apathy has fueled the organization’s public relations battle against the city for a new stadium deal.

It’s similar to the Falcons’ situation. Chargers owner Alex Spanos says he needs a new venue to generate more revenue and stay competitive. If he doesn’t get it, it’s possible they will be the team that moves two …

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Loss of Brent Grimes doesn’t have to derail Falcons’ season

Falcons coach Mike Smith can't let his team go into a funk over the loss of cornerback Brent Grimes. (AP photo)

Falcons coach Mike Smith knows his team can't go into a funk over the loss of cornerback Brent Grimes. (AP photo)

FLOWERY BRANCH – Lawrence Taylor spent his career terrorizing and sometimes mangling opposing quarterbacks. But even he, the assailant, couldn’t avoid the physical residue of his profession.

“When you get old, everything is hurting,” Taylor said. “When I get up in the morning, it sounds like I’m making popcorn.”

Football is a brutal sport. No player goes through a season without an injury. The only question is whether that ailment involves a broken bone or a shredded ligament, something that can’t be merely iced, duct-taped or sufficiently numbed for the following week’s game. When there’s only 16 of them, the words “can’t play” are avoided at all costs.

Brent Grimes suffered one of those injuries. A torn Achilles not only ends an athlete’s season, it can be career-threatening, particularly for a relative Munchkin cornerback who makes his living …

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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 …

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Expect Julio Jones (only a ‘5 or 6′ last year?) to take over

Julio Jones (between Roddy White and Harry Douglas) could be center of Falcons offense this season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Julio Jones (center) may make more impact plays than Roddy White (left). (Curtis Compton/AJC)

FLOWERY BRANCH – Julio Jones is different. He is not different just because of his rare combination of size, strength and speed for a wide receiver, or because he possesses the ability to be one of the premier players in the NFL. We’ve seen guys with talent.

Jones is quiet. He is humble. He doesn’t spend every waking minute tripping over his ego, his tongue or his Tweets.

Do you know how rare that is for an NFL wide receiver? The position breeds divas. Keyshawn Johnson spent a career screaming, “Throw me the damn ball!” but he might as well have been a spokesman for the position.

Jones doesn’t set goals. He doesn’t write numbers down on a piece of paper and put them in the top desk drawer to check after the season. He doesn’t even think, “I want to be the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.”

His career objectives are simpler. More common-man-like.

“When it’s …

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Ryan should benefit from arrival of Koetter (and Samuel)

Matt Ryan likes the approach of new coordinator Dirk Koetter. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan likes the approach of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons’ acquisition of Asante Samuel this offseason might prove to be more than just an upgrade of the team’s secondary. He also opened Matt Ryan’s eyes a little bit with some analysis.

“Yeah, he crushed me,” Ryan said, laughing. “But he has a way of crushing everybody. We played against him four times, and I think he had like three picks against me.”

The Falcons opened training camp Thursday. Ryan had just finished talking about his revised offseason workouts (increased weight-lifting), his new approach to practices and meetings (maintaining consistent focus, discipline and intensity through the year) and the hiring of a new offensive coordinator (Dirk Koetter), all of which he hopes will result in something significantly north of another playoff shutout.

It’s no secret that Ryan hasn’t been good in his three playoff games. It …

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Falcons go into camp knowing playoff failures need to end

The unhappy faces of the Falcons' brass said it all after last season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The unhappy faces of the Falcons' brass said it all after last season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Falcons open training camp this week. They play their first regular-season game in seven weeks. They will be judged in six months.

This is their new reality.

The question with this franchise used to be, “Can they walk straight?” The answer generally was no.

Things improved. The question became, “Can they compete?” The answer over the past four seasons mostly has been yes, at least through December.

But after raising the bar with three playoff appearances in four seasons following mostly decades of infamy, the question now is a more difficult one to answer: Have they have hit a wall?

Some within the organization believe the criticism for postseason failures has been a bit too harsh. After all, two of the team’s three playoff losses have come against eventual Super Bowl winners (Green Bay and New York). The other came in quarterback Matt Ryan’s rookie season and against a team that …

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Falcons’ line improvement needs to start with Sam Baker

With it's injuries or inadequacies, Sam Baker has struggled at left tackle for Falcons.

Sam Baker, whether because of injuries or inadequacies, has struggled for Falcons. (Getty Images)

There are a lot of words that can make one feel comfortable about a football team. These two shouldn’t be considered among them: open competition. Because more often than not, open competition is a euphemism for uncertainty and involves unproven or unspectacular players — and words like uncertainty, unproven and unspectacular don’t play well in season-ticket brochures.

Which brings us to the Falcons. They have just completed their mandatory minicamp. There is a lot of optimism around the team, mostly centered on a made-over coaching staff (two new coordinators and a new offensive coach) and the addition of Asante Samuel. But if you’re not optimistic in June, there’s a problem.

There’s still vagueness (or doubt) concerning the offensive line, particularly at left tackle, where Sam Baker is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. When asked about Baker on …

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