Mike Smith on his Falcons: ‘We’ve got to do something better’

It's not a stretch to suggest that this is a big season for this man's team. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

It's no stretch to suggest that this is a big season for this team. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Mike Smith works hard to reveal little, but those who know the man consider him a terrible loser. When his team fails, he doesn’t just feel bad — he agonizes. It’s fair to say that the Falcons’ failure to win a playoff game under this coach bothers this coach, who won a Super Bowl as a Baltimore assistant, more than it does anyone else.

On a Wednesday in August, the day before the Falcons would begin their exhibition schedule, Smith spoke of January. Sometimes he would stop himself — he is still Mike Smith — and insert a boilerplate, “Can’t put the cart before the horse — we’ve got to get there first.” But mostly this was Smitty being as candid as Smitty ever gets, at least for public consumption.

“When we get there,” he said, meaning the postseason, “we’ve got to play better football. We’ve got to coach better football. Look at the past two years — teams that play well in December and January [a reference to the late runs made by the Packers and Giants, both of whom beat the Falcons en route to the Super Bowl] … All playoff teams have talent; it’s the teams that play their best games in the playoffs that move forward.”

Then, speaking of his team: “We’ve got to do something better than we did last year, especially when we get to the postseason. Everybody knows that.”

The Falcons are exiting a tricky offseason. It’s never easy to change what has, at least from September through December, been working. We’ll never know if Smith would have fired coordinators Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder had they not been hired by somebody else, but we do know he was moved to cut ties with line coach Paul Boudreau, whose work in 2008 helped make Smith the NFL coach of the year.

Smith: “When you’re going through a process of building [as was the case in 2008], you have a foundation, but you have to be able to improvise and adjust. You do it every Sunday — you plan for one thing and something else happens. We don’t want to change things at the center of our philosophies, but you do have to tweak. And sometimes decisions are not always black-and-white — they’re subjective.”

More Smitty: “We’re going into this season wanting to be a better team than we were last year. We’ve always had high expectations. This year’s expectations are much higher than last year’s simply because we’re another year along in this maturation process.”

And more: “We’ve made significant changes in our roster, additions that we feel have strengthened us. We feel we’ve identified a lot of areas we need to improve. Trading for [cornerback] Asante Samuel will help us match up. We’ve not been a very good third-down team. We’ve also addressed and are addressing an area we felt we need to improve, and that’s the offensive line.”

To date, the coach has been pleased. “I like the way the guys have worked the first two weeks. They’ve worked hard, worked smart. I liked the way we went up to Dalton [for Monday's scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans]. I really was impressed with what we did throwing the football. We got a chance to look at different protections, and the work Matt [Ryan] and the receivers and the tight ends did was most impressive.

“There’s a lot of energy out here. It’s very competitive. … Any time there’s more competition, there’s going to be an energy. When you work hard and play fast, that leads you to be a team on edge.”

The Falcons didn’t lose in the playoffs last season (or the season before, or back in January 2009) because their work ethic was suspect. They lost because they got outplayed, duh, and maybe because they weren’t quite sure they were destined to win. The Falcons have been a good team ever since Smith started coaching them, but an edgy one? That’s a bit different, and not unwelcome.

“I believe you win in the locker room before you ever go out there,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have inner strength. Your foundation is laid in March, April and May. We’ve done a good job this offseason laying that foundation.”

The Falcons have four exhibitions and 16 regular-season games before they can think about January, but the cold truth is that nobody in Flowery Branch thinks about much else. This team has spent four years building. It’s time to finish the project and cut the ribbon.

Looking toward Thursday’s game, Smith said: “There are going to be some things that look the same, but there’ll be some things that look different.”

Then, speaking of his team’s design: “You don’t blow it up. You just try to adjust and make it better.”

Further reading/viewing: MB on how there will be no in-between for the Falcons this season, and why he thinks they’re going to the Super Bowl.

By Mark Bradley

56 comments Add your comment

Seminole Ed

August 8th, 2012
2:07 pm

Gasp! Could it be?

Mark Bradley

August 8th, 2012
2:08 pm

Could. Kudos.

Sid

August 8th, 2012
2:17 pm

“We’ll never know if Smith would have fired coordinators Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder had they not been hired by somebody else”

……………….yeah but you can sure have a pretty damn good guess!

Best Buy

August 8th, 2012
2:19 pm

youTROLLScalledAINTS

August 8th, 2012
2:29 pm

So go get it! Rise Up!

Gman 84

August 8th, 2012
2:36 pm

It all sounds nice. Let’s see waht happens when the games are played. It would be a great idea to win the opener unlike the past few years. It would also be fantastic to make a fouth and 1 with the game on the line.

Super Bowl? doubtful

D in ATL

August 8th, 2012
2:53 pm

Smitty is a Coach destined for greatness. It’s time to stop nitpicking on flaws (every NFL team has them) and support out team. A flawed Giants team won the last Super Bowl. Today’s NFL is about teams who are able to exert their strengths or WILL in crunch time. The Falcons have put together an organization that have stuck to their principles and have committed to constantly adding talent. Its time to support our team and bear witness to a team that learns how to play their best when the pressure is heightened.

Mitch Kumstein

August 8th, 2012
2:54 pm

At least he takes some of the blame for the coaches decision making. 4th and inches and can’t get a first down how many times?
I like this team and think this year, they will get the monkey off their back in the playoffs.

mountain_jim

August 8th, 2012
2:56 pm

Well replacing both OC and DC and OL coach was my dream come true…

So ready to have it proved this season that our previous OC and DC held this team back.

Mitch Kumstein

August 8th, 2012
2:58 pm

In the Saints game, a Ryan bootleg would have worked very well. They had the whole team plus the cheerleaders in the box.

Tony Grazziano

August 8th, 2012
3:09 pm

Will Ryan still be scared to throw downfield this year? He is KING of the wide reciever screen!

4th & inches

August 8th, 2012
3:09 pm

Michael Turner and Ovie Mughelli were a good duo.

old qb

August 8th, 2012
3:11 pm

Forgive me, but I don’t understand two of Smitty’s statements. First, “We’ve made significant changes in our roster”. Other than Samuel, and Tatupu (gone), and Manawui (gone) is he also counting the undrafted free agents he invited to camp this year?
And second, ”
“We have not been a good third-down team”. I’m glad someone has noticed that on the coaching staff. Talk about understatement. That’s like the first mate telling the captain of the Titanic we have a minor hole in the boat.
I think the Falcons will be a better team this year, but I keep looking at the schedule and 9-7 record would be respectable. Don’t think that will qualify for the post-season.

first!

August 8th, 2012
3:16 pm

PMC

August 8th, 2012
3:17 pm

Losing in the playoffs wasn’t a result of belief. It was a result of poor execution. First came 3rd and 16.

Next came 2 terrible 1st half game clenching interceptions combined with a complete inability to finish plays on defense.

Then came the Giants loss when the offense and specifically the offensive line was unceremoniously destroyed. They scored 0 offensive points in a playoff game. Absolutely abysmal.

Hopefully they will find out early what they can and perhaps more specifically they can’t do, and then start doing the things they can do more instead of trying to force something they absolutely can’t do, like 1 yard on 3rd or 4th down.

PMC

August 8th, 2012
3:18 pm

Right now, they are the San Diego Chargers East.

PMC

August 8th, 2012
3:21 pm

I like Coach Smith, I want him to be here for a long time even if they lose this year. I think I like TD too.

So, yeah lets Hope Peter Konz is stellar.

Me Too

August 8th, 2012
3:22 pm

Instead of “We’ve got to do something better”

it should read ……………………………..

……………………………..”We’ve got to do something different”.

MattyB

August 8th, 2012
3:24 pm

We will see if Smith and his team actually do have an “edge” this season. They certainly have not in the past – large lack of swagger. Go Falcons!

Paul Lipsey

August 8th, 2012
3:34 pm

Shazzam, Bradley!! I’m stil reeling after watching you say (on camera) that the Falcons are going to the Super Bowl! Damn the Torpedos! Blitz the Bradley jinx! Say it out loud! I’m with you big man!

Let’s go to . . . well, wherever the Super Bowl is this season. I’m down! Go you freaking Birds –

Jaded

August 8th, 2012
3:40 pm

Smitty is right. The Falcons do have to do something better. The problem with this team over the past four years is that they’ve been solid in almost every area but exceptional in none of them. That works great in the regular season but doesn’t usually pay off in playoff time. In the postseason, you need either need elite QB play or dominant defense, preferably both.

I think Nolan’s improvement on the defense will be noticeable, but I still don’t think we have enough playmakers there to be as good as a team like San Francisco or Baltimore. So, for this team to become legitimate Super Bowl contenders, Ryan has to finally break through into that elite class of QBs. He established himself as a good second-tier QB as a rookie but has pretty much been stuck in that group ever since. He’s made some improvements, but they’ve been marginal ones.

Am I confident Ryan can become elite this year? Not really. My opinion when he came out of college was that he’d be a very solid long-term NFL starter but never a dominant player. I still see the limitations in his skill set that I saw in 2008.

agent7g

August 8th, 2012
3:45 pm

@PMC – SD East is about right but we have yet to win a playoff game. I still like our crew but the NFC is so much stronger than the AFC that my guess is that there will be 10-6 teams that don’t make the postseason. Detroit, NO, Arizona, Philadelphia all come to mind. Not to mention Dallas, Chicago, Seattle & TB will all be better this season. And yes we play all the aforementioned teams save Chicago & Seattle. Even a September 23rd meeting with our west coast counterpart.

Paul Lipsey

August 8th, 2012
3:47 pm

And Kudos to Smitty for opening up a little bit and showing that he can “live on the edge” if that’s what it takes. You’ve got to be a little edgy to bring it all home in the NFL, coach. You’re coming from that “soul place” now brother! I’m with you Fourth and Whatever . . . . .

warfalcon

August 8th, 2012
3:57 pm

We are going to be a very good football team.

Jaded

August 8th, 2012
3:57 pm

Let me also add that I’m a big Smitty fan. I think he’s been limited by his personnel, and to some degree, his coordinators. No one thought Bill Belichick was all that smart before he got Tom Brady. No matter how great you are, you need to have other great people around you.

If the Falcons miss the playoffs this year, I think it’d be a grave mistake to make Smitty the fall guy.

Son of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr

August 8th, 2012
3:58 pm

The Falcons are who their record says they are. Like UGA football by the time December 1st comes fans of both teams will be looking forward to spring football and pre-season mini-camps.

Really?

August 8th, 2012
4:19 pm

So what is there record then so i dont have to watch the season then Mr. Know It All. Really? LOL!!!!!

Really?

August 8th, 2012
4:24 pm

So what is their record then so i dont have to watch the season then Mr. Know It All. Really? LOL!!!!

anonymous

August 8th, 2012
4:29 pm

It’s you sorry fans. They coulda came back against Green Bay if y’all hadn’t all left in the third quarter. Broke the poor birds’ hearts.

Nativebird

August 8th, 2012
4:39 pm

More talk….and more talk from this regime, wow, deep, profound….”we’ve got to get better”, “foundation”, “starts in the locker room”….blah blah blah. This regime talks and talks and talks and says nothing. Nada. Enough with the Blank corporate suit jabber talk straight out of Home Depot headquarters.
Shut up and put up. Win a friggin playoff off game, than pop off. Until then….zip it.

1990_Champs_GT

August 8th, 2012
5:49 pm

Enough talk! I’m ready for some MFN FOOTBALL!

Larry

August 8th, 2012
6:03 pm

First things first; one game at a time, boys.

You don’t make the playoffs in September and October, but by looking ahead you could eliminate youself by November 1st…see the “dream team,” the 2011 Eagles, for example.

old qb

August 8th, 2012
6:18 pm

There’s the old, “You can’t go to the superbowl without a great defense. So, will Akeem Dent (starter since we don’t have any other middle linebackers except Peterson) play like Ray Lewis or Jerry Lewis? Will Weatherspoon be allowed in this new scheme to run free like Clay Mathews. And can DeCoup step up his game like Ed Reed and not Donna Reed.
The injury bug has taken out two of our better defensive tackles allowing Mr. Dependable, Piera Jerry to finally become a starter–and the pre-season hasn’t even started.
This defense on paper doesn’t stack up against the elite in this league.
Usually there’s two or three really excellent NFC teams out there. But this year Green Bay, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, and especially San Francisco are all improved–especially San Francisco. I wouldn’t put the champagne on ice just yet.

WooYeah

August 8th, 2012
6:18 pm

Some things to keep in mind:

–Winning consistently is not an accident. Good leadership brings several moving parts together.

–You also have to be willing to learn from your failures — adjustments must be made, and if necessary, you have to reassess and start over in some areas.

–Perfection does not exist, so you play to your strengths.

The Falcons are not perfect. Smitty is not perfect. However, there is a strong philosophy in place that has led to consistency in winning. Now, he is working on reaching the next level.

There are parts that could be better, but for this season, we have positioned ourselves to be better and more competitive, and I think his leadership has grown as well.

Let’s get behind this team, and get behind Smitty. Go Falcons!

youTROLLScalledAINTS

August 8th, 2012
7:24 pm

@Wooyeah…….GREAT POST! I am all in, RISE UP!

John

August 8th, 2012
7:40 pm

True Falcon Fans would know the significant changes this team has made in the off season. The additions of Samuels and the rookies is just the start. The main changes were the addition of the New defensive and offensive coordinators and the New offensive line coach. Tha Falcons have had the talent but not the coaching that allowed them to excell. That has changed this year. RISE UP FALCONS FANS RISE UP..

jerry

August 8th, 2012
7:44 pm

Truth be told, the Falcons have not played that well during the regular season against the better teams, so it should come as no surprise when they flop in the playoffs.

Rick

August 8th, 2012
8:28 pm

Like what Smitty says about adjusting the game plan when things aren’t going their way….that was a big problem last year …..they would run the same plan no matter the outcome. I hope to see a change this year….and also more focus and passion

Nite Owl

August 8th, 2012
8:34 pm

I think the adjustments we are making will make all the difference.

Putting Asante Samuel in there instead of Chris Owens has a domino effect. Dunta doesn’t have to try to be a shutdown corner in space; instead, he stays inside where he’s comfortable and plays physical on the slot receiver. The pass rush will get an extra half-second to turn the QB pressures into QB sacks. Nolan’s scheme will keep offenses guessing. We will play to the strengths of our talent, e.g., letting Spoon loose.

On offense, I don’t care about the offensive line. Just take a 3-step drop, chuck it to Julio, and watch him run. Good play-calling will make all the difference, as well as playing to the strengths of our skill players. Julio and Harry Douglas were both under-utilized by Mularkey. Time to turn ‘em loose.

The only thing that stinks is that even if we go 14-2 and steamroll teams like the Saints and Eagles, people will be saying, “Oh, wait for the playoffs, they’ll blow it.” As for me, I’m going to enjoy the regular season (I hope) and look for signs that we CAN hold up against the big boys.

JB

August 8th, 2012
9:22 pm

Hope Coach Smith Saved some of that big money. He’ll probably be back in the assistant ranks in a year or two………………..But maybe not, there are lot’s of NFL teams who would like to win 9 or 10 games a year.

That's Mularkey!

August 8th, 2012
10:07 pm

jerry don’t blame me for that.

Yellow Jacket

August 8th, 2012
10:33 pm

“There are going to be some things that look the same, but there’ll be some things that look different.” Profound insights obtained by exclusive interviews….

Gritsfed

August 8th, 2012
11:57 pm

I was at the scrimmage, here, in Whitfield County, Monday. In my 52 years that was the first time I was able to see something resembling NFL football that close. Really, it looks just like other football up close–only the bodies are bigger! I was impressed with the organization!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

August 9th, 2012
1:46 am

When is CHOKE going to stop being the joke of the NFL? :)

Chamwa

August 9th, 2012
5:49 am

This o-line that contributed to not being able to gain a few inches against New Orleans and New York had little chance. Teams know what we will do. The play calling killed us in those games…not the players. Imagine a pass to Tony in those situations. Opponents would not have seen it coming and we would have gained those inches. If our play calling can become more unpredictable the Falcons will do great things with this talent. Let’s hope the new guy is not full of Mularkey!

Gamer

August 9th, 2012
6:38 am

PRESEASON GAMES ARE TUNE UP GAMES FOR REGULAR SEASON AND TO PARE TEAM’S ROSTER TO 53 PLAYERS…..NO GAME PLANNING JUST TINKERING AND GETTING A FEEL FOR REAL GAMES SITUATION…

SO PLEASE NO CRAZY PLAY THAT CAN CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY…..LET’S LEAVE THE GAME WITH ALL OUR STARTERS READY TO SUIT UP SEPTEMBER.

FALCONS ON THREE, DOMINATE!

By the way, I didn’t know Coach Smitty won a SuperBowl….?

Stepchild

August 9th, 2012
7:12 am

Falcons on Mike Smith: What about you coach? Are you going to do something better?

Mike Smith is an interim coach. The Falcons players have lost faith that he can man the ship. Those 4rth and short calls last year, especially against the Saints were straight up PANIC jobs. 0 offensive points against the Giants….really? San Fran scored on them and their QB & offense had fewer weapons than ours. We are fooling ourselves if we think Smitty is the man to get it done. Who should shoulder the blame???

Average and Nice

August 9th, 2012
7:36 am

@john7:40pm: get over yourself pal

Luscious Lucius

August 9th, 2012
8:29 am

3 things need to happen for Falcons to make a Super Bowl run. 1)Pass rush from defensive ends to stop Brees,Cam,Freeman,etc. from sitting there until receivers get open. 2)Convert 3rd downs. 3)Matt Ryan step up and be an elite qb.

youTROLLScalledAINTS

August 9th, 2012
8:49 am

When you stop being the standing joke on this blog!