Key question: Do the Falcons still know what they’re doing?

It's this bad: Even the Bucs are mocking the Dirty Birds. (AP photo)

It has gotten this bad: Even the Bucs are mocking the Dirty Birds now. (AP photo)

Tampa – The Falcons are too good to be playing this way. They’ve trailed by double figures in all three games. They look great when they finally get serious, but by then their margin for error has been reduced to the nub, and any more wobbles — a dropped pass, a sack that shouldn’t have been taken, a lurch offside with the game literally on the line — can result in a good-looking team taking a big ugly L.

Asked Sunday night if he has been seeing the team he thought he’d see, coach Mike Smith said: “No, I’m not seeing that team … We’re making way too many mistakes.”

The same question was posed to center Todd McClure,  who said: “No. We’ve got a great group of players, but we haven’t put it all together.”

Then this: “I feel like we’re holding ourselves back. We’re not making the plays that are there to be made.”

The obvious next questions: Why not? Why is a team fancied as a Super Bowl winner darn fortunate to be 1-2? Why do the Falcons start so slowly? Why has their devotion to details — a Smith staple — gone missing? Why must the long-promised “explosive” plays be saved for the desperate hours?

Nobody seems to know. The Falcons spent three quarters letting an OK Tampa Bay team get ahead and stay there, and it wasn’t as if the Bucs seized every moment. They netted three points from two sacks-and-recovered-fumbles inside the Falcons’ 20. They had a chance to pull ahead by three scores but threw an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter, whereupon a mystery guest appeared.

A team wearing the Falcons’ uniforms drove inside the Tampa Bay 5, then got the ball back and scored in two plays, then got the ball again and surged to the 5 again. At that moment you’d have sworn this team would seize the lead and win the game and talent would have finally been served, but at the same time you wondered: Where had this team been for 2 1/2 hours?

Let’s not fault the defense. It held the Bucs under 300 yards. Let’s turn instead to the high-priced offense, which has in two road games managed one touchdown. Asked if the Falcons aren’t a better team when three wide receivers are deployed and the no-huddle offense is implemented, Matt Ryan said: “I think we’re a good football team regardless of our personnel.”

For the first time in the four years of their partnership, it’s possible to wonder if Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are as like-minded as we’d come to believe. Dimitroff traded 21 spots upward to land the hugely gifted Julio Jones, and through three quarters Sunday the receiver had one catch. He had five — for 97 yards — in the fourth. How hard is it to pull a Keyshawn Johnson and say: “Get that guy the darn ball”?

But it cuts deeper than tactics. There’s a weird air about this team. On the one hand, the Falcons seem careless. (Three turnovers and five penalties in this first half.) On the other hand, they seem scared to cut loose until circumstances render cutting loose a last resort. Former Falcons punter Michael Koenen, now a Buc, told the Tampa Tribune: “Up there, it’s a lot tighter. There’s a lot more nervous energy.”

There’s pressure on this team, yes. Dimitroff didn’t make big moves for Jones and Ray Edwards because he thought the Falcons might win a Super Bowl sometime in the next 30 years, and Arthur Blank — he of the not-exactly-relaxing late-game sideline appearances — has made it clear his only goal is to win a ring. But is a 53-man roster that includes only two Super Bowl winners capable of knowing what it takes without having ever come close?

The Falcons’  stated position is a reasonable one: They have enough talent to do whatever needs doing and enough time to correct the errors. Said John Abraham, the defensive end: “We’ve got to be back to playing Falcons football.”

For three seasons we thought we knew what that entailed — power football, focused football, precision football. Today we see a team that can’t handle the small stuff and seems, big-picture-wise, not to know what it’s trying to do. It’s as if the Falcons keep falling behind because falling behind is the only way they get to play the way they play best. It’s as if this grand design has lost all coordination.

By Mark Bradley

598 comments Add your comment

NagoyaFalcon

September 25th, 2011
9:10 pm

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

September 25th, 2011
9:12 pm

Short answer is No

FALCONS BRETT FAVRE STILL CAN PLAY

September 25th, 2011
9:12 pm

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

September 25th, 2011
9:13 pm

A team that was SERIOUS about Super Bowl would cut this punter

Falcon Fan For Life

September 25th, 2011
9:14 pm

2nd i was close

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:15 pm

Turner is losing his edge…also need more of a passing threat out of the backfield

dirtybird

September 25th, 2011
9:16 pm

you’re right, it’s just not the fans who are confused, i’m positive the coaches have no idea what they’re doing.

Falcon Fan For Life

September 25th, 2011
9:16 pm

What we see in bosher is beyond me. And I think harry douglas and dominque franks are better punt returners than weems. If early though but we better figure this our soon or it could get ugly quidk!!!!!!

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:16 pm

Yep, looking way too tight…especially on the road

dirtybird

September 25th, 2011
9:17 pm

the coaches are as confused as the fans

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:17 pm

Agree Bosher is no Koenen, but the OL is a bigger concern unfortunately

Terry Browning

September 25th, 2011
9:17 pm

I concur wholeheartedly and it all comes down to coaching and preparation……………………………..or lack thereof.

NagoyaFalcon

September 25th, 2011
9:18 pm

What about controlling the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. Was Dirty Dahl so important? What about on D? Missing Babs and and Anderson. At least Jamaal was a good run stopper.

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

September 25th, 2011
9:19 pm

Tampa was just sitting there: wanting to be beat

If this offense can’t run (and was Dahl as important as he appears to have been), then Matt Ryan needs to be Aaron Rodgers… But we can’t run . And Ryan isn’t Rodgers

BIGG E

September 25th, 2011
9:20 pm

FALCONS SUCKS BOTTOM LINE

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:20 pm

Maybe need to change to a west coast style offense with the big receivers and Rodgers?

brenda

September 25th, 2011
9:21 pm

what is mike smith good at? is he an OFFENSIVE GENIUS or a DEFENSIVE GURU? Or is he just a vanilla corporate shill who gets along with ARTIE THE SIDELINE DWELLER? that game was as sorry as the SF-CIN game and the SEA-ARIZ game.

YAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWN and P-U!

Ted M

September 25th, 2011
9:22 pm

Well said Mark

BIGG E

September 25th, 2011
9:22 pm

FALCONS WILL NEVER WIN A SUPER BOWL WITH MATT RYAN DO I NEED TO REPEAT THIS OVER AND OVER

NagoyaFalcon

September 25th, 2011
9:22 pm

And no sacks! Again, we seem to be left with mediocrity as far as coaching goes.

Rip n' Read

September 25th, 2011
9:23 pm

Poorly played and executed football game.

Am I the only one who thinks Artie Blank should stay upstairs in the owners box in the 4th quarter?

I’m fairly sure Stephanie will own half of the Falcons sometime in the future.

FALCONS BRETT FAVRE STILL CAN PLAY

September 25th, 2011
9:23 pm

MATT RYAN GOT TO GET IN THE WEIGHTROOM!

SRF

September 25th, 2011
9:23 pm

Falcons stink and Braves stink – ATL is just blessed

Ted M

September 25th, 2011
9:23 pm

oh you could kinda replace the Braves for the Falcons and blog would still work

htwo0rider

September 25th, 2011
9:23 pm

They can’t block. That is the biggest difference from last year. Ryan will not make it through the season. Run the no huddle all the time, and maybe he’ll make it. Why not, what have you got to lose. The Saints and Packers loom….

A Complete Blank

September 25th, 2011
9:24 pm

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:25 pm

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH./////FALCONSSUCK~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

falcon fred

September 25th, 2011
9:25 pm

welcome to mediocrity…for tips on living with mediocrity, please visit any of the numerous uga football blogs for helpful tips on coping with this condition…

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

yall talk major $$$$ but then disappear when its time to face da music!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Supes

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

Mularkey is a relic…they are holding back Matt Ryan and the offense. It’s clear that the no huddle multiple WR set is the way to go right now…I know they wanna run Turner from the I formation but it isn’t working very well (with the exception of a few runs in the first 3 games).

They should go look at the K-Gun offense from the early 90’s…the Bills dominated the AFC with it. We’ve got the personnel…just don’t be scared to use it!

Nothing wrong with the Defense…they played well today. Today’s on the offensive coordinator and the players failing to protect Ryan – (who got beat up yet again). One more thing – Roddy less talking and more HOLDING ON to the darn ball!

BIGG E

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

FALCONS NEED A NEW O/C AND A NEW REC COACH AND DEF/C THESE COACHES MUST GO THAT PLAY LIKE THE GA/BULLDOGS SORRY GO GATORS BEAT BAMA

falcon fred

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

and dawgs too ted…

Thom

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

Why are people (Eric C.) so quick to say Turner is a problem? The offense cant do JACK if there is no blocking. I watched all three games and the common theme is that the offensive line has issues. If that doesn’t change we’ll be lucky to get to .500, regardless of our offensive personnel!

Mike

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

Frustrated with the poor starts on the road, the lack of pass protection, and the turnovers. However, it is still very early Falcons fans. When the schedule came out most of us said that we would be in good shape if we were 3-2 after 5 games. That being said Seattle is now a must win game in my opinion. We have to beat Seattle, then we need to go 4-1 in the rest of our NFC South games, 2-1 in our remaining NFC North games, and 3-1 against the AFC South. That puts us at 11-5. And I agree Bradley, THROW JULIO THE D*** BALL!

Fan of the Game

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

Better quit living off last year and our offensive line is not playing well at all.

All I'm Saying Is...

September 25th, 2011
9:26 pm

I don’t think our coaches are on their game….yet. Our Offensive-identity the last two years was run first to set up the play action pass. Not seeing that tactic. 1 and 2 not the end of the world but things are suddenly tough in the division with NO 2 and 1 and TB 2 and 1 (and effectively 2 games up on us at this point). Next week is another defining moment for the season and another must-win game.

LET’S GO FALCONS!

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:27 pm

Bring out da bandwagons…Cmon dudes..where’s da faith????????

Matty Ice

September 25th, 2011
9:27 pm

Hey I am still filthy rich from King Arthur’s money whether we win or lose. Stick that in your pie hole!!

Birdy

September 25th, 2011
9:27 pm

Hey Mark,

I’ve got a few questions related to what you have implied in your writeup.

Since the team moves the ball well with Ryan orchestrating the offense in the no-huddle, why don’t the coaches concede the point and leverge Ryan’s play-selection savvy on a fulltime basis?

Shouldn’t Ryan be allowed to call the plays at the line of scrimmage at all time, similar to the way Peyton Manning does? My recollection s that the tactic is always effective. What do you think?

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:28 pm

@Fan0fTheGame…
No its just that yall team sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Supes

September 25th, 2011
9:28 pm

It stinks to watch a team with that much talent and yet again NO identity on offense. They are trying to be “everything” to “everyone” – it’s not working!

I see the Matt Ryan haters are out in full force, but if you are laying the blame on him today you didn’t watch the game or simply hate the guy and wanna see the team fail.

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:29 pm

Where was the so-called “EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE” u guys brag so much on..LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:29 pm

Yeah, I think folks are going a little overboard…things are lot better right now with the win against the Eagles than they could be…got Seattle coming up so not the end of the season. Seriously, we all knew the Falcons would come out flat after the Eagles game.

phil

September 25th, 2011
9:29 pm

Green Bay game….i’ve said it a dozen times…exposed us for what we aren’t. A winner.

Fan of the Game

September 25th, 2011
9:30 pm

CANDICECANDY – Your mama said it is time for her to bath you, remember you have school tomorrow.

CANDICECANDY

September 25th, 2011
9:30 pm

ooo. n Yea..i almost forgot..WHODAT???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BIGG E

September 25th, 2011
9:30 pm

MATTIE ICE=WEAK ARM

Eric C.

September 25th, 2011
9:30 pm

This explosion was there in the 4qt…just gotta harness a little earlier

J.J.M.

September 25th, 2011
9:30 pm

falcons are becoming a patriots run offense soon we will not run the ball that much

phil

September 25th, 2011
9:31 pm