Atlanta Falcons looking to explode

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
11:38
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Two months have passed since a disappointing playoff exit and Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith is still looking back at what happened in a home loss to the Green Bay Packers. That might be the best or the only way to move forward.

[+] Enlargeike Smith
Dale Zanine/US PresswireCoach Mike Smith says the Falcons' methodical offense must find a way to deliver more plays of 20-plus yards next season.
In a hotel ballroom Sunday afternoon, Smith gave plenty of praise to the Packers. Then he took one finger and pointed it at the person he believes is the main culprit for the 48-21 loss to Green Bay. The finger stopped about three inches from Smith’s chin.

“You can get paralysis from analysis,’’ Smith said. “We analyzed a lot in those two weeks of our preparation. Even though our players were off for part of that time, I think as a coaching staff, we tried to turn over every stone and look in every corner. I think there’s a point of diminishing returns in terms of your preparation.’’

In other words, Smith believes he and his coaching staff outthought themselves after they went 13-3, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC and prepared for a game in the Georgia Dome against the sixth-seeded Packers.

“As a coaching staff, the first thing you have to do is make sure that you have the plan in place that gives you the best opportunity to succeed,’’ Smith said. “I think that sometimes you make the scope too big, especially when you have the opportunity to have extra time to prepare. I think that you have to stay with the things that have gotten you to where you’re at.’’

That’s one of the things I admire about Smith. He’s as honest a coach as you’ll find, and he’ll throw blame at himself. The other thing I came to admire about Smith came moments after he talked about sticking with the things that the Falcons do best. He didn’t veer off that, but at least acknowledged there have to be some minor tweaks.

Smith and the Falcons have been a success story. The franchise was in disarray when Smith was hired in 2008. He’s produced three winning seasons, but has yet to win a postseason game. That’s the next logical step for any team in that situation, and the pressure might have increased a bit in recent weeks as Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff signed contract extensions. That’s fine with Smith.

“If you’re a relevant team year in and year out, you’re going to be judged on how you perform in the second season and we did not perform very well this past postseason,’’ Smith said. “It’s going to be a very good learning opportunity for me, our coaches and our players as well. I think we’ll take a lot from that.’’

So what specifically does Smith think the Falcons need to do to get over the hump?

“You analyze your team in all phases,’’ Smith said. “Creating explosive plays on the offensive side and minimizing them on the defensive side are very important. I think the explosive-play ratio is just as important as the turnover ratio. We did a better job this year in terms of minimizing explosive plays as a defense. But offensively, we did not create the 20-yard plays. Those 20-yard plays are very important in the flow of a football game. Usually, if you have a drive with a 20-yard play in it, you’re going to score a touchdown or a field goal.’’

It’s easy to take those comments and assume the Falcons can just go make dramatic changes and start throwing the ball downfield on every play. But that’s not going to happen, and it sure isn’t what Smith is saying.

“Our style is we want to control the clock,’’ Smith said. “We want to make first downs. Sometimes grinding it out is a tough chore, week in and week out. We recognize that we want to continue to do what we do offensively, but we want to get back to creating those explosive plays. Those 20-yard plays, whether they’re in the run game or the pass game, will be paramount toward us scoring more points.’’

Yeah, maybe the Falcons go out and draft a deep-threat receiver and a speedy running back. Or maybe they get one or both of those things in free agency, if it ever starts.

But Smith is right when he says it’s not all about the personnel.

“You can’t just sit there and say we have to have more explosive players,’’ Smith said. “That’s the easy answer. But going into the draft, we’ve used the term urgency. We want players with more urgency that are passionate with what they do and have a certain skill set. We’ll continue to look for guys like that.

“I also think you have to look at things schematically that will give you an opportunity to create those explosive plays. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn around and go away from the core of what we do philosophically.’’

Smith’s right. You don’t mess with 13-3. You might tweak it a bit, but you don’t overhaul it. You keep doing what you’re doing, slightly update your personnel and schemes, and that’s how you start exploding in the postseason.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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