Falcons’ Smith gets to prove he’s not just Mora the same

Mr. Feisty now needs to be Mr. Fix-It. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mr. Feisty now needs to be Mr. Fix-It. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Flowery Branch — Not to bring up a depressing precedent, but Jim Mora was 17-8 after 25 games as Falcons coach and 9-14 thereafter. Mike Smith is 16-9 after 25 games, his Falcons having lost three of four.

At issue now: Can Smith do what Mora conspicuously could not, which is right a team going wrong?

These Falcons can still make the postseason. They can also miss the playoffs and finish without that forever-sought second consecutive winning season. This season can go either way now, and it’s the head coach’s job to make it go his way.

The Falcons go to New Jersey for a game Sunday against the Giants, who are likewise 5-4 but are coming off a bye. For the first time under Smith, the Falcons seem to be dealing from weakness. They lost a game in Charlotte they should have won. The prized tailback has a bad ankle. The prized quarterback is in a funk. The famous kicker can no longer kick.

Mora had Plan A. Indeed, he got the job because he dazzled the Falcons’ brass with his charts and briefing books. But, as Mike Tyson famously said, everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. The Falcons got hit in the mouth in the middle of Year 2 under Young Jimbo and he never came up with Plan B.

Smith figures to find one. He is a better coach than Mora, and Smitty has better coaches around him. Even without Turner — all Smith would say Monday was that he’s “confident Michael Turner will play again in 2009” —  there’s enough offensive talent on hand to make do. That’s provided Ryan gets its going again, which likewise falls on the coaching staff.

Ryan proved as a rookie he has all the attributes of a winning NFL quarterback. His coaches must isolate what’s not working — be it mechanics or mind-set or decision-making — and administer the antidote. “That’s our job,” Smith said, “and not just with Matt Ryan. Our job as a coaching staff is to make sure we turn over every stone and look in minute detail to help our players perform better.”

If there was a word of the day at 4400 Falcon Parkway, it was “precision.” Mora once held a goofball Monday briefing in which his theme was “fight on!” Smitty is too much of a pro for such sophomoric glop. He’s a technical guy, a taskmaster, a coach’s coach.

“We have to be very precise in what we’re doing,” Smith said. “One person not doing his job on a play can lead to failure of the play, and one play can cost a ballgame.”

Believe it or not, professionals are more motivated by details — and the desire not to be embarrassed come Monday’s film sessions — than by happy talk and bromides. Mora wanted his men to fight their way out of a hole; Smith wants his players to play their way out of it. Big difference.

As dark as it seems now, this season isn’t nearly lost. Only four NFC teams have more victories than the Falcons, and of the other three 5-4 teams, the Falcons will face two of them. This team can still get where it needs to go, and I’m thinking it will.  I’m still thinking 10-6, still thinking playoffs.

And I’m thinking, not for the first time, that Mike Smith is no Jim Mora. Thank goodness for that.

157 comments Add your comment

TomDAWG

November 16th, 2009
6:22 pm

FIRST!!!!!!!

Gomer Pyle

November 16th, 2009
6:23 pm

Gomer Pyle

November 16th, 2009
6:23 pm

darn..that’ll teach me

TomDAWG

November 16th, 2009
6:23 pm

Wow, lol, what do I get for being 1st???

CTim

November 16th, 2009
6:23 pm

Well written Mark. Let’s hope you’re right on everything you said. This is the pivotal game that will show if this team can take it to the next level, if they will assert themselves in adversity. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. My prediction is whichever 5-4 team wins this game goes to the playoffs. The loser will be home in Jan.

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
6:24 pm

Yes, you are, TomDawg, but with an asterisk. There were 77 comments here already when a computer genius — i.e., me — managed to kill what I thought was a draft of this post but was actually the post itself.

The post has been reconstructed. The 77 comments, alas, were lost. I apologize for my stupidity.

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 16th, 2009
6:30 pm

Naw Mark, alot needed to be gone.

TomDAWG

November 16th, 2009
6:30 pm

I think that the Falcons are gonna be alright. No reason to panic just yet. Matt Ryan does need to stop trying to force the ball in tight coverage. I think he will be ok. Peyton Manning threw a whole bunch of picks his first few years. He is pretty good now I think. I know the Falcons have looked good in the past and have raised the hopes of the fans, only to smash those hopes to a million pieces. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and stay positive. Back to back winning seasons…GO FALCONS!!!!!!

TomDAWG

November 16th, 2009
6:33 pm

Mark? Do you mean I am kinda like Barry Bonds…an * by my accomplishment?

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
6:33 pm

It had gotten out of hand, Chef. But I’d gone through and tried to delete offending comments. Then I got stupid and deleted everything. Thanks to esteemed colleague Carolyn Warmbold for saving the day. (She’d made a copy.)

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
6:33 pm

More like a Roger Maris, Tom.

Browncoat

November 16th, 2009
6:39 pm

We must find a placekicker. Elam has struggled ALL YEAR. Most of his kicks have been ugly, knuckling line drives.

BRAVESFAN5114

November 16th, 2009
6:39 pm

Mark, Good post. I think you are on track about Smith. Better than any previous coach here, I feel like he wants to win at all costs. We may be a crossroads, but this is the time the Falcons make the right decision and take a step up. Disapointed with the last couple of games, but I feel better than I ever have after losing three of four.

bali smith

November 16th, 2009
6:39 pm

Reguardless of the outcome of the season Coach Smith is the coach. Comparing him to Jim Mora is silly. There is no comparison.The Falcons are evolving there will be ups and downs. I hope they finish 10 and 6, but they may not. I like the fact that every game thiss season the Falcons have played hard.Yesterday s game was tough to take. Hopefully there will be better days ahead

Sonny Clusters

November 16th, 2009
6:39 pm

Getting deleted on a sports blog is for loosers. Loosers. When we was first beginning to blog we knew we’d never get deleted because Clusters were not loosers. We was Honor Roll and state championship.

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
6:41 pm

I think there could be a change at kicker soon, Browncoat. Smith stuck up for Elam, but he also said, “The kicker has to kick the ball between the goalposts.”

And Morten Andersen surely has the Flowery Branch number on speed dial.

Tell it like it is

November 16th, 2009
6:46 pm

Back to back playoffs would be better.

Edd

November 16th, 2009
6:47 pm

A Falcons fan since 66′, Bottom line- Ryan is off a bit. Mike Smith, get to coaching and now !!!!!!!!

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
6:49 pm

Mark, did you get a chance to talk to van gorder today? he’s not after my job, is he? willie

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
6:51 pm

Edd, after 43 years do you still claim to have a hold on sanity?

Joseph Allen McWhorter

November 16th, 2009
6:51 pm

Mark, the falcons have games left against Tampa Bay-twice there, Buffalo, and the Jets. Those are four winnable games. Yes, I very much like your prediction of a 10-6 finish and a wild card playoff berth. I don’t think these falcons are Super Bowl material. I think they are a year away from that.They have issues, yes, but I do see the drought finally ending of non consecutive winning seasons. They will make the playoffs.

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
6:54 pm

Didn’t see VanGorder. Heard he had an appointment in Athens.

I’m kidding!

Tell it like it is

November 16th, 2009
6:55 pm

EDD–I agree 100 percent.I am a fan since 66 allso.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
6:55 pm

man, the poll on the other blog has me staying on as dc down to 14%. thats gratitude for you.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
6:56 pm

LOL! thats the best line you’ve ever popped on me.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
6:58 pm

Mark, btw, why do you call coach smith smitty? you never called me martini even when you liked me. not understanding, willie

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
7:00 pm

shades of petrino and auburn. i need to get out of this cutthroat business and do something productive. like write a column.

real fan

November 16th, 2009
7:04 pm

Id be happy with 10-6 or 9-7 but nothing less. This team has quite a way to go before it can make a real run in the post season . But I am confident we are headed in the right direction. Unlike some other Ga. teams I know .

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
7:05 pm

i think my first column will be an expose’ about the corruption and graft in the ajc sports department.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
7:06 pm

real fan, are you going to be upset when vangorder becomes my co-coordinator at uga next year?

MR

November 16th, 2009
7:10 pm

Smith is 16 – 10, 63%, and to compare him with Mora is an unfair comparison. Mora took over a pretty good team, Smith took one that was in the grave and brought it to life. I forget though, the Atlanta media can only tear down, they do not know how to take the positives. What a joke.

Mark Bradley

November 16th, 2009
7:11 pm

The only reason I call Mike Smith by his nickname is because everybody with the Falcons does. If you say “Smith,” out there, they think of Rankin.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 16th, 2009
7:14 pm

MARK

You are a joke.

pilgrim

November 16th, 2009
7:16 pm

The Panther loss was the worst since Smith has been here. It destroys confidence inside the team; it discourages the fans. But I’ll take your hopeful words, Jeff. I see in Smith an essential identification with his team. When Mora hit the skids he looked westward.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 16th, 2009
7:19 pm

Mark, thanks for removing my post that referenced your hypocracy.

Are you not man enough to admit that you criticized bloggers who tried to compare Vick to the CHOKE, and you said Vick is a former Falcon.

Now you are comparing Smith to Mora, who is a former Falcon.

So what are you saying? You want it both ways?

-Mora………..championship game

-Smith………..1 and done

-Mora………….qb in pro bowl

-Smith………….qb never going to pro bowl

Great comparison.

Clint

November 16th, 2009
7:31 pm

I’ve been reading this blog for a while and this “Choke” guys seems to be on Vick cowgirl style.

Paul Johnson

November 16th, 2009
7:36 pm

Matt Ryan wouldn’t make my team. Not man enough. Neither would Vick. I’ll take Brooking and Nobis though.

Danny

November 16th, 2009
7:37 pm

Mark,

Do you know why the Falcons seldom throw the deep ball? Opposing defenses have a much easier time when they know Ryan is not attempting passes more than 20-30 yards.

teabag93

November 16th, 2009
7:41 pm

Mark,you once made a statement that Turner was starting to look like a one hit wonder. So let’s not be bias and try to defend Ryan by turning the attention toward the head coach. His not throwing the ball in the other receivers hands,Ryan is. Because of his bad play the falcons are losing games they could win. Even though the defense is weak now because of injuries they still have played good enough to win. Turn overs lose games especially when they come during a crucial moment in the game

Tell it like it is

November 16th, 2009
7:41 pm

that Panther game did remind me of a lot of bad games through the years.I hope thats not a bad omon, but like said i’ve saw it before.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 16th, 2009
7:42 pm

ATTENTION “CHOKE” FANS:

Stay tuned for Monday Night Football and watch the quarterback the Falcons should have drafted……………..

JOE FLACCO BABY :)

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 16th, 2009
7:44 pm

JOE FLACCOOOOOOOOOOOOO :)

Mary Wanna

November 16th, 2009
7:57 pm

When is the AJC going to hire some real sportswriters? These blogs are always inflammatory without any substance. Mark, can you really not come up with any worthwhile analysis with the Giants on deck? You seem to spend more of your time moderating and deleting your critics than doing any valid research. Mora? Who cares?

Bud Adams

November 16th, 2009
8:01 pm

Hey Vick! You oughta come play for me. Unlike the other owners I have faith in you – I believe you can flip off the fans with the best of them. I should know. Of course you’ll have to back up Vince Young and Kerry Collins. Bud

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
8:03 pm

i see on the nick smitty. too bad my real name is willie. maybe bobby cox can come up with a good nickname for me. not the kind some of those uga fans use though.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
8:05 pm

i do appreciate Mark you deleting the foul vulgar comments about me that sometimes appear. i TOLD coach richt to quit posting them.

GW

November 16th, 2009
8:06 pm

Ryan is not looking good right now but the defense is hanging by a thread. Carolina had been a turnover machine until Sunday. Is Ryan locking in on Gonzalez too much?

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
8:06 pm

NOt sure i buy that explanation. rankin smith was never a coach. MHRIP.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
8:09 pm

folks say richt has no temper or passion. not true. i’ve seen him throw his laptop against the wall after reading one of your pieces.

willie martinez

November 16th, 2009
8:12 pm

marywanna misses the whole point of the blog. its just a release valve for normal, everyday idiots like me. willie