Are Dimitroff, Smitty and Matty Ice still right for the Falcons?

The general manager, the coach and the quarterback. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The general manager, the coach and the quarterback. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

More than just a giddy ride, the Falcons’ 2008 ascent from oblivion constituted a watershed: A franchise that had gotten a zillion things wrong got three major things right. In one offseason, the Falcons had found the right general manager, the right coach and the right quarterback. Could world domination be far behind?

Here it is 2012, and we’ve seen the Falcons fashion four consecutive winning seasons — this from an operation that had never known two in a row — and three playoff appearances. But there has been no Super Bowl surge, not even a postseason victory. And now we ask the chilling question: What if Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith and Matt Ryan weren’t the right guys after all?

Touting Thomas: The GM had a bravura beginning, landing Michael Turner in free agency and drafting a starting quarterback (Ryan), a starting left tackle (Sam Baker) and a starting middle linebacker (Curtis Lofton). Also included in that first class: Harry Douglas, the slot receiver; Kroy Biermann, who has started at defensive end, and Thomas DeCoud, now the free safety. In 2009 Dimitroff landed the All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez in a pre-draft trade. In 2010 he snagged linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who’s a rising star, with the 19th overall pick, and in 2011 he traded up 21 spots to land Julio Jones, who’ll be an All-Pro soon, in the draft.

Doubting Thomas: Baker’s effectiveness has waned, and defensive lineman Peria Jerry, taken in Round 1 in 2009, got hurt and has done nothing. The big free-agent signings of 2010 and 2011 — cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end Ray Edwards — haven’t yet panned out. Of the nine Falcons named to Pro Bowl rosters over the past four seasons, only three were Dimitroff acquisitions. The defense, which ranked 24th in the 32-team NFL in 2008 and was summarily gutted, still hasn’t cracked the top 10 (it was 12th last season); the offense, which ranked sixth in 2008, has since finished 16th, 16th and 10th.

Touting Smitty: This coach has won 67.2 percent of his regular-season games, which trumps the winning percentages of Bill Belichick, Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy. Only in 2009 have Smith’s Falcons lost consecutive games, and not once over four seasons have they lost three in a row. He’s the only coach in Falcons history to post four winning seasons. (Leeman Bennett had three, Dan Reeves two.) Over those four seasons, the Falcons are 34-7 against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs, which means that in an any-given-Sunday league they’re not given to lapses.

Doubting Smitty: He’s 0-3 in postseason games, and each time the Falcons entered with the better record. Over four regular seasons, Smith’s teams are 9-14 against eventual playoff qualifiers, which means they aren’t nearly as impressive when matched against teams of comparable worth. He’s 2-6 against New Orleans.

Touting Matty Ice: Ryan and Steve Bartkowski are the only quarterbacks to lead the Falcons to the playoffs three times. Over four seasons Ryan has thrown for 14,238 yards with 95 touchdown passes against 46 interceptions. He has presided over 11 fourth-quarter comebacks and led 16 game-winning drives, which beats Aaron Rodgers’ output (three and six) and is comparable to Drew Brees’ (12 and 17) over the past four years.

Doubting Matty Ice: He hasn’t finished higher than eighth in NFL in passer rating, and in yards per attempt — a key indicator — he ranked higher as a rookie (fifth) than as a fourth-year pro (15th). He made six turnovers in his first two playoff losses and couldn’t lead a scoring drive in the third. The Falcons are 3-12 in regular-season games when Ryan throws 40 or more passes, and he hasn’t had even a 200-yard game in the playoffs.

Conclusions (mine, anyway): I remain impressed with Dimitroff — the five-picks-for-Julio draft deal was a big risk that will yield a bigger reward — and see no reason why a coach capable of winning in the regular season won’t find playoff success. But Smith seemed stuck last season between his GM’s desire for a more “explosive” offense and coordinator Mike Mularkey’s more plodding scheme.

It’s the belief here that Mularkey, who left to become Jacksonville’s head coach, drummed the daring out of Ryan, and a championship quarterback cannot be timid. The hires of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator and Pat Hill as line coach — each of whom should better fit Dimitroff’s vision of “urgency” — offer the chance for a needed offensive reboot.

Dimitroff, Smith and Ryan have done great work to lift the Falcons to a place where it’s possible to be disappointed in a playoff season, and they remain bright and driven men. But the job isn’t finished, and it wouldn’t be wise to let Arthur Blank begin to wonder, as infamously happened with another Falcons owner, if his beloved club has reached a plateau.

By Mark Bradley

275 comments Add your comment

GTT

February 15th, 2012
12:28 pm

Drew

February 15th, 2012
12:30 pm

As a fan of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years, I would say yes.

crose714

February 15th, 2012
12:31 pm

First, Seriously? Nice article Mr. Bradley.

crose714

February 15th, 2012
12:31 pm

Darn… Second, is only the first loser…

GTT

February 15th, 2012
12:33 pm

Amen. This plateau is the mountaintop for this long suffering Falcons fan. Let them keep trying and the playoff wins will come.

Brave Hokie

February 15th, 2012
12:33 pm

At least there is no 1st round pic to screw up!

Mr brightside.

Ryno

February 15th, 2012
12:34 pm

If it was 2006, I bet the Indy Newspaper was writing similar article about Peyton, Irsay and Dungy.

We are lucky to have all three.

Mark Bradley

February 15th, 2012
12:35 pm

Thanks, crose714. But always remember: If GTT cannot fulfill the obligations of being first, you’re kudo’ed.

Coach Ralph Fontaine

February 15th, 2012
12:35 pm

I’ll take this for 10 yrs compared to the Smith Family era.

GooooFalcons

February 15th, 2012
12:35 pm

Dimitroff – let’s not harp on the Peria bust, there is no saying who will ever pan out in the draft. For the most part, though, you have to be impressed with the fact that most of the players we’ve drafted have stuck around the league instead of entirely washing out.

Smith – a fine coach, but not a marquee name, which I think will ultimately be his eventual downfall if no playoff success unfolds.

Matty Ice – Doesn’t seem to have the arm strength for this downfield attack we are pushing. Great guy & a good QB, but not sure if he’s the right fit for us.

GTT

February 15th, 2012
12:37 pm

Take it crose714. I’ve been first lots of times.

Coach Ralph Fontaine

February 15th, 2012
12:38 pm

They are all getting better including the owner. He realized he made a mistake by firing Dan Reeves and who do we have coaching now? Dan Reeves light.

St Simons - we're on Island time

February 15th, 2012
12:38 pm

if Smitty doesn’t lose that soft zone & get a secondary, all 3 are gone.

my grandmother’s knitting circle could get wide open for 5,000 yards

ChopAttack

February 15th, 2012
12:39 pm

The rise of the Panthers and Cam Newton could present series problems for the Falcons next season and going forward.

GTT

February 15th, 2012
12:40 pm

Ryan has arm strength. What he doesn’t have is touch. Those balls are going over the receivers, not falling short.

Ted M

February 15th, 2012
12:41 pm

Matt Ryan is the week link.

hottrod

February 15th, 2012
12:41 pm

Matt is a very scary “leaders’ who doesn’t quite know how to locate the 1st down marker. So many dropped passes because of his thros. QB sneaks are trash. And he runs slow. Our offense getting 2 points out of him is crazy. We’ve survived off our defense so much this year, they;ve probably scored more than our offense. Mike Smith decision to allow his offensive coach to dictate bad plays falls on. Can’t blame the OC this year. Such an unpsetting team w/ a billionaire ownership

Ted M

February 15th, 2012
12:41 pm

elroy

February 15th, 2012
12:42 pm

Is mark bradley right for atlanta or the ajc? No, time to move on!

Matt Ryan's Dad

February 15th, 2012
12:44 pm

Dimitroff seems to be the only one with a set…Smitty and Ryan are way too conservative. Being conservative may have worked in Baltimore when he had a great defense, but the run first mentality doesn’t work against Green Bay and New Orleans.

Sage of Bluesland

February 15th, 2012
12:48 pm

I’m glad to see our boy-wonder GM included in a measure of accountability. Our drafting success needs to be better for us to take the next step; free agency has proven not to be the way to build a team.

I believe his trading of the farm for Julio will be his ultimate downfall. It’s one thing if this type of trigger was pulled for a franchise QB….but a WR? Come on.

If he actually thought we were just one player away from elite, then he needs to be fired. We are far from elite on either side of the ball, namely along the lines of scrimmage.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
12:50 pm

Bradley

You know the answer before you even asked the question.

Look no further than the Rookie Coach & Rookie Quarterback that started their 4 straight years of playoff wins and you have your answer.

To make matters worse the Ravens got their guy for 42 million less. That’s why the Ravens are locking Flacco in for the long haul.

The honeymoon is over, and Bradley you are quoted as saying this is the best coach in Falcants history and that CHOKE is the 2nd coming of Manning. Well Manning is a pain in the “neck” and CHOKE is a pain in the rear end :)

Delbert D.

February 15th, 2012
12:50 pm

Yes. Is Mark Bradley still right for the AJC? Yes, when he doesn’t use blog teases for headlines.

buster brave

February 15th, 2012
12:52 pm

well said mark; i remember all too well the “plateau” during the rankin smith era. accurate article dude !!

Jimi

February 15th, 2012
12:52 pm

All three are doing a very good job…can’t wait for new season to start.

ashvillle dawg

February 15th, 2012
12:54 pm

These guys have brought in the most successful “era” in Falcons history.Just changing the pieces for changes sake would be unwise. Changes, just for the sake of change, don’t always work.

WD

February 15th, 2012
12:54 pm

I think in a league like the NFL (NotForLong) that demands change so often, there is something to be admired by the Falcons stability. Being able to maintain that stability and still make the playoffs isn’t admired in Atlanta because the city is so starved of champions. The Falcons are in a much better place than that bball team next door (Name not be mentioned). Whom constantly tout their mediocracy.

Lon Stotts

February 15th, 2012
12:54 pm

I like the boldness of the move, but I can’t say I agree with you on the Julio trade being an indubitable smash hit. We gave up a lot. Julio is a freak of nature athletically, but I still question whether or not he possesses the one attribute every WR must have- good hands. We all know he (and Roddy for that matter) has battled “chinchilla hands” bouts since his ‘Bama days. If it was for AJ, then it woulda been a sure thing. Also, the questions about Matty’s downfield efficacy affect my view on the trade and will linger until he shows the doubters he can throw deep. Hope Koetter can help alleviate those issues.

Smitty is my favorite coach in Atlanta sports right now– he’s prone to the sugarcoating and BS that every coach in ATL may spew after an ugly loss, but I have no doubt his players like and respect him, and he’s not afraid to shake things up to produce results.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
12:56 pm

No playoff wins since 2004. Not so easy to replace the guy that many of you said it would be so easy to replace him.

No playoff wins this season and this marriage will split wider than Sarah Palin’s mouth.

This experiment has failed, and because all the draft picks have gone to Cleveland this franchise will quickly return to 2007 status.

Anybody that thought 22 picks as a 5th year senior doesn’t matter, now you know :)

hottrod

February 15th, 2012
12:58 pm

Falcons are trash… With Roddy, Douglas, and Jones, we should have beat the Giants, but Matt doesn’t have the winning mentality to move further or EVEN win a game. Much like the Braves, people will go light on them b/c of who the leaders of the team are, but are so quick to go at Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. Hold them all to the same standards.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
12:58 pm

Jimi

February 15th, 2012
12:52 pm

All three are doing a very good job…can’t wait for new season to start.

__________________________________________

Spoken like a true winner :)

honest_abe

February 15th, 2012
12:59 pm

the upcoming season will tell us alot. although mularkey was criticized, it’s his conservative, run first approach that allowed this team to win a lot of games. now that MM is gone and there is a philosophical change in the o-coordinator things will either get drastically better or alot worse. i dont’ believe next year will be repeat of this season.

hottrod

February 15th, 2012
1:00 pm

Traded away all the picks, but left with John Abraham, Snelling, and Turner… Really? Brent Gimres is nice, but who else is in the secondary. Matt Ryan is Mr. “3 and out” and the fans here know it. They just excuse it b/c being in Atlanta, it’s a likeablilty contest.

JR

February 15th, 2012
1:01 pm

I still believe in the three. We look more like a football team with them than without. We are a joke without Dimitroff and Ryan. I love Mike Smith, but some of his moves have been questionable. Not sold on the new OC, but we will see.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
1:03 pm

Andy Reid has some 6-7 division titles, 5 Championship game appearances, 1 Superbowl appearance, and he is on the hot seat.

Smitty has an 0-3 record in the playoff and his fan base is happy.

That’s the difference between a winning franchise and a LOSER organization.

HA HA HA…..You guys deserve never ever winning another playoff win :)

Greg

February 15th, 2012
1:04 pm

We usually beat weak teams. We rarely beat strong teams. We have an average NFL team that has benefited from a weak schedule. You are way too kind to TD. You say Robinson and Edwards “haven’t yet panned out.” They weren’t signed to “develop,” and there’s no reason to believe we haven’t yet seen what they bring to the table. They were signed to make an impact. Robinson is a major embarrassment. He has played as a sub-par corner since he got here. Horrible talent-assessment by TD. Edwards has done better, but is still just a solid, average DE. Has shown practically nothing in the pass rush, which is what he was signed for. Another miscue by TD. You say the Julio trade will pay off. I say he’ll be a great player, sure, but you have to put something in the other side of the scale…namely, all the talent we could have gotten that we gave up. That’s a total unknown, but all I hear from NFL analysts and former players is that we paid too much. Could all these guys be wrong? I doubt it. IMHO, another stupid move by TD.

hottrod

February 15th, 2012
1:04 pm

Not to mention, We picked of the Jaguars leftovers who were last in the league in offense.. lol Who swap OC with a team that has yet to make a playoff under the OC reign? Falcons. Much like the Braves who traded away Yunel Escobar (solid infield defense), Gregor Blanco ( great backup CF), Matt Diaz, & Melky Cabrera ( great OF defensive arm) for out of shape non base running Hinske, Freeman, etc.

Ostrich Racer

February 15th, 2012
1:04 pm

It’s called “addition by subtraction” — with Mularkey gone, maybe we’ll get down to business.

My wife (who is not a noted football analyst) summed it up in the second Saints game: “If they needed 6 yards, why did he only throw it four yards?”

Heisenberg

February 15th, 2012
1:06 pm

Robinson is a bust and a late hit cheapshot artist. Need to ackknowldge that mistake and move on. Otherwise, the continuity of GM, HC, & QB are on the right track. There will be a breakthrough soon enough.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
1:08 pm

Zero offensive points in the playoffs & 0-3 in the playoffs and you guys are happy….

HA HA HA :)

jhughes

February 15th, 2012
1:11 pm

Choke
how did vick do in the playoffs this year? and didnt the Falcons beat the Eagles this year too ? HAHAHA your pathetic

Mack1124

February 15th, 2012
1:14 pm

I am still a believer in Ryan and Dimtroff. I question Smith. Watching other playoff teams this year, made me wonder (for the first time) if he has what it takes, to be CONSISTENT in going and winning playoff games. Each playoff game gotten worse by the way. Everyone wants to blame Mularkey but I still think it always go back to the Head Coach. Maybe Smith was the right guy for the job at the time (Dogfighting, QB in prison, Petrino, 4 win season). Not sure if he has what it takes.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

February 15th, 2012
1:17 pm

jhughes

February 15th, 2012
1:11 pm

Choke
how did vick do in the playoffs this year? and didnt the Falcons beat the Eagles this year too ? HAHAHA your pathetic

________________________________________________

0-3 & ZERO offensive points in a playoff game……………….

Vick is not the Falcons qb…..stick to your sorry team……………….

HA HA HA :)

Who was the last qb to win a playoff game for the Falcants? I keep forgetting :)

Bill Cody

February 15th, 2012
1:23 pm

Please remember where the team was 4 years ago !!
The 2007 Super Bowl winning Giants lost playoff games two years in a row and were blown out the year before they won the Super Bowl.
For years Peyton Manning legacy was questioned since he hadn’t won a Super Bowl.
Give the entire group the 2012 $ 2013 seasons before we ask for their heads, we could always try to hire Bobby Petrino or Marion Campbell again !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

Mike

February 15th, 2012
1:24 pm

Here is the thing about the Falcons and this “urgency.” This is the most successful stretch in Falcons’ history. They have never had two winning seasons in a row before Ryan/Smith/Dimitroff. I will repeat that:

The Falcons have never had two winning season in a row before Ryan/Smith/Dimitroff.

Why is that important? Winning is bred into a franchise and so is losing. I would say right now, the losing history has been basically shaken off. The Falcons are now a playoff staple which is uncharted territory for them. The next step is learning how to win when you get there. Then the championships will come. Just like for Tampa and Indianapolis in the 90s, this can take some time.

Mark, as you point out, they have made some coaching moves that should help them take that next step. The offense should be in much better hands. I expect solid improvement there. The defense should also improve. Mike Nolan is an excellent DC and should be an improvement over Van Gorder.

The whole “win now” bit is OK, but put into perspective, this team is right where you want them to be…shook off losing history, became a playoff staple, and now ready to truly be a factor in the championship and complete the turn around of the franchise!

Admiral Obvious

February 15th, 2012
1:30 pm

It’s a good question that’s about eleven (11) months too early. It was obvious in the loss to Green Bay in last seasons play off game the Falcons had issues that needed more than a couple of nifty personnel moves which is all that occurred. Their so called play-makers on offense, play to not get hurt(Michael Turner – touch him and he falls down and runs like frozen molasses) And to borrow a quote from Giselle Brady that I believe also fits the Falcons receivers; “My husband can not f****ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times.”. Their defense is not a shut down defense it’s a bend us a few times and We’ll break defense.

That said, these three will be on the hot seat at the end of next season should there be a similar failure. And of the three I blame Matt Ryan the least. I believe Mularkey was the biggest issue on offense and he’s now gone. I believe our most serious player issues are on defense. I give Van Gorder for getting as much out of them as he did because all he had to work with was Abraham and two pretty good linebackers.

Jeff

February 15th, 2012
1:31 pm

Now can we get an article about Wren, Gonzalez, and Liberty Media being wrong for the Braves?

jhughes

February 15th, 2012
1:35 pm

choke you come on here with your crap all the time and you used to want to talk about how the falcons made a mistake with vick but now that he was awful this year nothing? hahaha grow up dude get over it and move on

robdawg08

February 15th, 2012
1:35 pm

It all depends on what Mr.Blank’s definition of success is. For a man like him I’d think the Super Bowl was the goal not just making the playoffs. There’s too many other GM’s,coaches,and qbs out there that might get him that Super Bowl. I’d like to hear his thoughts.

Mr. Thomas Anthony Jones, SR

February 15th, 2012
1:35 pm

Fire all three of these guys. They are failing. The fans need to boycott the Falcons until they are fired!