Smitty gets to scheming, and the Falcons’ D gets good

Did we really think Smitty would put a lousy D on display? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Did we really think Smitty would put a bad defense on display? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Flowery Branch – In preseason the Falcons yielded 281 yards to San Diego in a half. In Week 1 of the regular season they allowed 259 yards in two halves. And here, for all those hand-wringers — hey, I was among y’all — is a reaffirmation: The preseason doesn’t count.

“In preseason you’re pretty much working on your craft,” Mike Peterson said. “And I was getting used to playing outside linebacker again … A lot of older guys, we don’t care too much for preseason.”

Peterson stands as a case study: In August he looked like an older Keith Brooking; against the Dolphins he resembled the young Lawrence Taylor. Yeah, it was only one game. But this one game counted.

Peterson again: “I wasn’t worried. I know you media guys get tired of hearing it, but it’s a process. We don’t game-plan in preseason; I didn’t watch tape of the tight end or the running back I was playing against. You just go out there and roll.”

One more truth we need to reaffirm: Mike Smith wasn’t going to let this defense stink when the real games began. He’s too good at his job.

He’s a head coach now, but there’s enough of his system in place and enough of his influence being exerted — Brian VanGorder is the defensive coordinator, but Smitty drops the occasional hint — that the Falcons were always going to cobble together something. (Let’s note that the 2008 Falcons, with half a unit’s worth of disposable parts, ranked 24th in total defense but a respectable 11th in points against.)

“I know the system works,” said Peterson, who played under Smith in Jacksonville. “I’ve been in it six years.  It’s the same system that won a Super Bowl back in Baltimore.”

Some will recall that Smitty wasn’t thrilled that night against San Diego — he even dressed down his D in full view of the Georgia Dome audience — but not being thrilled isn’t the same as being scared to death.  The man’s a pro, and pros know full well exhibitions are different.

“It depends on what the installations are,” Smith said. “Say the other team decides one night to run a bunch of screens, and we’re working on a different phase. We’ve got a set pattern [in preseason games]. We’re not going to game-plan. We’re more interested in how guys handle certain techniques.”

So: Just because the Chargers were converting every third-and-long, the Falcons weren’t going to draw up a new alignment in the (figurative) dirt. Just because a guy like Peterson wasn’t making every play back then didn’t mean he wouldn’t make plays come the real thing.

Smith: “It’s really hard to put stock in preseason, and even more so with older guys.”

And now it’s Week 2 of the regular season and the Falcons are 1-0. There will still be moments when this reconstituted defense gets wrong-footed — “We’ve got a young group of guys; it’s not always going to be pretty,” Smith said — but the Miami game offered the strongest indication yet that this D won’t stay fooled.

“Coming in here, looking at it on paper, I wondered [about the youth],” Peterson said. “But I’ve seen they’re eager to learn, and they want to win … My job is to help get all the guys together, and when you get 53 guys on one page, you’re hard to beat.”

A week ago we weren’t sure the Falcon defenders had gotten beyond Page 1. (”Gentlemen, this is a football.”) Against Miami they seemed to have absorbed every footnote. Professor Smith has donned his teaching hat, and class is fully in session.

191 comments Add your comment

Kurt

September 16th, 2009
1:08 pm

Great article. It’s really been a breath of fresh air since Coach Smith has taken over our beloved Falcons. He is EXACTLY what we needed.

Doyle, Winder

September 16th, 2009
1:15 pm

Kurt–yeah and amen!

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
1:17 pm

Nice column. I have to think he is already the Falcons’ best head coach ever. Excuses don’t work on him.

Oldbird

September 16th, 2009
1:18 pm

I thank Jebus every day for Bobby Petrino being Bobby Petrino and lying his way out of Atlanta. AB…I know it was probably a humiliating / tough tought time…but damn…look at the toy you’ve got now! Pig Soooooey…damn Bobby…now I only hope the Dawgs kick your Hawgs to death on Saturday.

bob

September 16th, 2009
1:21 pm

WE also didn’t play the front line guys like Abraham in the pre-season.

A pass rush makes the DB’s look better all time. Now, how about a tight-end screen pass to Gonzo just like the old Baltimore Colts did with John Mackey?

Sage of Bluesland

September 16th, 2009
1:21 pm

Finally showing that fraud Keith Brooking the door is not to be discounted. A clearer case of ‘addition-by-subtraction’ I have never seen.

What message does it send to all when that ankle-grabber is the proclaimed team “leader” and is yet the 2nd highest paid LB in the league?

A joke is what it was. Don’t confuse Peterson with the 2nd coming of Lawrence Taylor, either–he is a serviceable, yet declining, player.

But, compared to the alleged All-World Hometown Hero, the difference is truly remarkable! A bigger fraud has never been foisted down the throats of so many gullible sheep–and that goes from the fans to the media (yes, who bought in hook, line, and sinker)…

Now, we have accountability in Falconsland. What a difference.

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
1:21 pm

You picked out some good quotes from Peterson. I need to add him to my IDP fantasy squads.

Inya

September 16th, 2009
1:23 pm

Now if the Braves can only find a baseball version Coach Smith!

Get Real

September 16th, 2009
1:24 pm

Got to love the Falcons and Smith. Its nice to have at least one football team in Atlanta that actually plays football. Some teams can play football straight up and don’t need to resort to trickeration. Whats that Buzzing in the distance? I don’t know, but it certainly isn’t football.

I MUS WRITE

September 16th, 2009
1:25 pm

I love what TD and Smitty are doing here, I have’nt felt this good about our team in a long time…… Now lets kick sum panther azz this sunday.AHHHHHHH Yeah

SimpleDawg

September 16th, 2009
1:26 pm

A very good illustration of how this group of personnel guys and coaches evaluate talent. Once they have the talent, then they can analyze and determine how to best use their strengths.

Regardlees of the immediate results, it seems that these guys will get it right, and that the Falcons will be good every year.

It’s going to be a really good year.

Dean

September 16th, 2009
1:35 pm

Let’s talk after September 27 and October 25th games. In the mean time, it’s a lot more fun this way than the old way.

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
1:38 pm

You Georgia fans are exactly right. No leftover homers so guess what? Your two got the boot too. I see Brooking landed with a good team and is starting somehow in spite of his ankle tackles.
And your two? Where did they land?

Trainwreck

September 16th, 2009
1:38 pm

That’s the kind of D I like to see. Flying to the ball and HARD hits. When the offense really gets going, if the D can stay steady, it’s going to be a special season

F-105 Thunderchief

September 16th, 2009
1:40 pm

Smitty’s a great coach. Sage is a pro’s pro curmudgeon. Probably puts cockleburrs in this underwear on purpose to keep himself sharp.

SatchelBuzz

September 16th, 2009
1:40 pm

Sage,…KB was great player for many years. He was forced to play out of position (MLB) for several seasons. Granted, his best football is behind him, but there is no excuse for the cheap shots you offered up.

THWG!!!

Daniel

September 16th, 2009
1:41 pm

I have to publicly apologize to Stephen Nicolas. I thought he was our worst player and would be the downfall of the D. It is just one game. But, I was wrong.

AZ Jacket

September 16th, 2009
1:42 pm

Get Real….you are an idiot.

AZ Jacket

September 16th, 2009
1:44 pm

Sage can be classified as an idiot also.

Ed-Covington

September 16th, 2009
1:46 pm

Gee Sage:

A post insulting Brooking? How original! Do you dream about him too? LET IT GO, MAN!
Why, as season ticket holders, are we forced to pay full price for pre-season (read:”exhibition”) games if the players aren’t going to “put stock” in them?
GO BIRDS!! CLAW CAROL(INA)!!

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
1:53 pm

You know guys. These Ga fans need Brooking bad. That’s why they can’t let it go. They’ve spent over a week now trashing CMR, his assistants and their QB. I didn’t really want to pull for them vs SC but after the pick, I was afraid what they’d do to their own guy trying his best.
Trash a college guy doing his best.
Georgia fans are something.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 16th, 2009
1:56 pm

Mark, you’re right schools in session. Sunday’s lunch menu Smoked Panther.

todd

September 16th, 2009
1:57 pm

y do you guys always get so hyped up over one game? carolina could come in here and throw up 500 yards of offense and everyone would start whining again.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 16th, 2009
2:05 pm

Todd, that’s the beauty of this regime. Last year they gave up ALOT of yards but not points. This year from where I’m sitting even with a much tougher schedule, they give up fewer of both.

GTFalconFan

September 16th, 2009
2:06 pm

This will likely be one of the few times I will cheer for a UGA win. Petrino embarrassed the Falcons franchise, and I hope his Arkansas days are spent trolling the bottom of the SEC standings… even if it means a UGA win (wow, that pains me to even think that).

Glad to have a class act and great coach in Mike Smith.

scott case's lack of remorse

September 16th, 2009
2:08 pm

I like it. Nay. Love it.

EW

September 16th, 2009
2:12 pm

I think it’s great that our D opened up strong. Even better because the first game of the season is usually hard for any offense. We saw examples of this with a few missed throws from Ryan early and over all the offense was just OK. Miami, whether it be a result of our D or lackluster first game O, got outplayed by our D and that was the deciding factor. However, I think next week the O will start rolling and can take a little pressure off the D. All in all a great start to the season, can’t wait to see this team week in a and week out and that says a lot about what our staff has put together here.

Navigator

September 16th, 2009
2:12 pm

I have said here on these post that the Falcons defense will get better and by the end of the year, much better than last years. I’m not a bandwagon sort of a guy, and I think their defense is still going to have some set backs this year, especially if any key member gets hurt.

Wesley Wallace

September 16th, 2009
2:18 pm

I would like to thank Jacksonville for their coaches and players. Peterson is much better at OLB instead of MLB…Smitty is so smart. I think picking up three cornerbacks, and drafting one was a great way to shore up what I preceived to be the achilles heel of the team. The cognitive test will be Foxboro. If the Falcons can win there, then Pittsburgh (not reg season), mmmuuuuaaaaaaahhhhh.

downsouthdirtybird

September 16th, 2009
2:21 pm

lets go falcons!!!! lets go dawgs!!!! fuzzyjackets just go away!!!!

GregNorton

September 16th, 2009
2:22 pm

Am I up yet?

Oscar Ingle

September 16th, 2009
2:24 pm

Last week I saw an article talking about running backs nicknames around the league and the fact that Atlanta running backs did not have a nick name. I believe that they should be called “The Bruise Brothers”. I think that it would fit nicely.

GregNorton

September 16th, 2009
2:24 pm

Hey, who hid my bats?

Vick=Dog killing thug

September 16th, 2009
2:27 pm

I hope the Dawgs kill Arkansas just to see Petrino flounder. Let’s also hope the Falcons get many hard painful hits on Vick if and when he comes town. Hopefully he’ll be back in prison by then?

Love the Dawgs and the Falcons…

leland

September 16th, 2009
2:28 pm

Dear Mr. MB–four reasons the Falcon defense played so much better. 1. they got tired of all the criticism. 2. they got reamed out good where everybody could see. 3. they were just teasing before. Your pal, Leland

Quick

September 16th, 2009
2:29 pm

Hey Trainwreck…sho ya rite. Daniel, preshate the humility. I liked ol #54 last year and talked about he was our sleeper along with #71. And on that note, someone on a blog the other day said we he needs a cooloer number. I couldn’t agree more. We need to get MB and DOL to petition him to change to, say…75 at least. Like a Deacon Jones or Mean Joe Green. More like a 90something though. Don’t sleep on Sidbury either. He’s gonna knock some heads too. Hopefully soon #98′ll be vacant. Oh yeah, todd…shut up.

Quick

September 16th, 2009
2:34 pm

Hey Oscar Ingle and the rest of the birdcage, I thought Turner and Norwood were Thunder & Lightning?

Jeepers

September 16th, 2009
2:37 pm

O captain my captain. The Falcons are in great hands.

kappellmeister

September 16th, 2009
2:38 pm

What is it with all the bitter feuding between UGA and GT fans? I don’t get it. I mean, my fav team is UGA, and my 2nd favorite is TECH. Why? They’re both in GEORGIA, my beloved home state. I mean, I get the rivalry; however, my guess is that those who hate the other ‘home’ team so much are those who have never bothered to live anywhere outside of their home towns, much less their home state. Once you live in Nebraska or New York or California I guess your home-STATE teams are all a bit endearing.

Why the hatin? They’re not even in the same conference. Whatever happened to rooting for team/conference/region?? It gets annoying.

But, to answer you JACKETS2009, they landed everywhere: Seymour in Oakland, Ward in Pittsburgh, etc. You don’t honestly think GT stacks up historically to UGA in NFL talent, do you?

DAVID

September 16th, 2009
2:40 pm

I want to see what the Falcons look like down the season… Miami doesn’t have a pass offense thats a game we should win,you gotta win the expected ones.. Judging off how our offense played if our defense plays like that all season it’s going to be HARD to beat us..I’m glad we have a schedule like this, it gives us a chance to see where we are in the NFL…

Knuckle Sandwich

September 16th, 2009
2:41 pm

Is Smitty’s teaching hat anything like his sweet pit helmet?

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
2:42 pm

Oscar, good one.
Smitty and PJ are everything Uga fans want CMR to be.
Should have asked the AD to get that type of coach if you had to have one.
It’s your team but I can’t see the sense of running CMR off because he coaches differently but it’s your team.
Maybe you’ll clean house at the end of the year.

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
2:46 pm

That wasn’t the question. Where Shockley and Brown? Compare histories?
Ya’ll can’t stand it when a Bama fan comes on to remind you of their 12 NCs. Or a Gator fan with their recent history. What would you do without GT to compare with and that day may be passed too.

Terrell

September 16th, 2009
2:47 pm

Vick=Dog killing thug, You, my friend, is one sad little man. You can give credit to the sorry “DAWGS” and love our Falcons without the unecessary remarks to somebody who is not a part of this team anymore.

Paul

September 16th, 2009
2:48 pm

So…did anyone else notice that two of the sacks and several of the hurries were created by coverage? Pennington has no business holding a ball that long anyway, considering his arm, but much of that line pressure was courtesy of the secondary/ coverages. Hopefully Carolina is bad again next week…but it will be really interesting to see how the Falcons hold up against Brady and the five-wide shotgun.

midnite

September 16th, 2009
2:49 pm

I wonder what happened to all the preseason “Chicken Littles”. Oh, I know they are hiding in the covered part of the bandwagon, just dying to gnash teeth and ring hands. These birds of prey are for real.

GTFalconFan

September 16th, 2009
2:49 pm

@kappellmeister

There is a rivalry between Tech and UGA for the same reason there is a rivalry between Miami, Florida, and FSU; or the Yankees and the Mets; or the Falcons and the Panthers; or Texas and Oklahoma, etc. It should be obvious. Playing a team year after year should stir the competitive juices between the two teams involved. If you are a Tech alum or a UGA alum, you have a special allegiance to your program. I would not expect anything different from a UGA alum. My brother is a UGA alum, but I would never expect him to passionately root for a Tech win simply because the school resides in the same state. That is the essence of a rivalry. I am glad that UGA fans are as passionate as I am about my team. That is what makes the Saturday after Thanksgiving such an enjoyable day, and the Sunday so much sweater if we win (or horrible if we lose).

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
2:50 pm

You know I think if Saban had asked Bama for 10 mil a year he’d have gotten it. He has them on track to their past standing at the top. Glad we don’t play them and you feel the same too I’ll bet.

Keith Brookings

September 16th, 2009
2:52 pm

Well just wait till they have to play against a real quarterback. The pats coming up in less than 2 weeks and 2 games against the saints. The schedule looks brutal, the only gimmes are the 2 games against they bucs. If they go 9-7 they’ll be fortunate

Jackets2009

September 16th, 2009
2:56 pm

I’m curious why the Bill’s coach didn’t have the returner down the ball. They deserved to win or at least not fumble it away.