Atlanta Falcons: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in Week 12


It’s Tuesday morning, Week 12 is in the books, and the Atlanta Falcons are in first place in the NFC South. In almost no other year or situation is this a bad thing, but it is this year.

Why is it bad that the Falcons are in first place? It’s bad because it means Mike Smith still has a job coaching the Atlanta Falcons. The 4-7 Falcons appear to be a bad football team on the surface, but I just don’t see it. Mike Smith’s end of half/game clock management has expressly cost the Falcons in two games. You can blame the execution, the play calling, or the refs, but it wouldn’t be as accurate as saying Mike Smith is the sole reason this team isn’t above .500. It is not an exaggeration in the least to say that if you hired a 12-year-old kid to run the clock, who is experienced in Madden, the Falcons would be 6-5. But enough about Mike Smith, I’ll touch more on him later, but for now, let’s take a look at what the Falcons did well, and where they missed in Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns.

The Good – Red Zone Defense

I am hesitant to compliment the defense because they allowed Brian Hoyer to throw for 322 yards, but they certainly did some things well, and stopping the Browns from reaching the end zone was one of them.

Cleveland was in the red zone on six occasions, and the Browns only came away with one touchdown. In fact, Desmond Trufant made one of the best interceptions of his career in the back of the end zone which allowed the Falcons to take a late lead. A lead that would stand until Mike Smith started coaching. But (again) enough about Mike Smith, let’s get back to the red zone defense.

Ideally, the defense would keep the offense out of the red zone altogether, but this defense isn’t good enough to do that. So in this case, I don’t mind holding opponents to field goals, and I will give Mike Nolan and his defense credit for keeping opponents out of the end zone.

The Bad – Running Game

The Falcons lost Antone Smith for the season last week with a leg injury and it was apparent against the Browns. The Cleveland run defense is 29th in the NFL in yards allowed. On average, the Browns allow 135 yards per game on the ground, and the Atlanta Falcons managed less than half of that with 63 yards rushing. A whopping 63 yards on 23 carries against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

Gerald Brown is the running backs coach for the Falcons and might be an easy target to blame, but I’m just not sure he has the talent at his disposal to do much else. I would like to know why Dirk Koetter only gave Jacquizz Rodgers 3 carries when he was averaging over 5 yards on those carries and seemed to be the only back that was managing some success on Sunday. Koetter has clearly hitched his wagon to the aging Steven Jackson but I’ve said before, I’m not sure he’s even the third-best back on the roster. The Falcons will need more out of Koetter and this stable of backs to stay atop the week NFC South.

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The Ugly – Mike Smith

Not to beat a dead horse, but Mike Smith was awful on Sunday both with his in game decisions and his comments at the post game press conference.  Let me set the scene for you for his fourth quarter antics that cost the Falcons the game.

With the Falcons trailing 23-21, Brian Hoyer threw an ill-advised ball and Dezmen Southward was there to pick it off at the ATL 45-yard line with 2:51 left. A few plays later, Atlanta had moved the ball to the Cleveland 43-yard line with 1:31 left. It’s first down and Matt Ryan throws a 1-yard dump off to Rodgers, and the clock continue to click down close to a minute. The Falcons have a couple timeouts and it’s pretty obvious time will not be an issue for the Falcons and yet they begin to run a no-huddle offense. I don’t know who made the no-huddle call but Mike Smith is the head coach and he has to stop it.

The Browns weren’t calling a timeout and the next play was called with :20 left on the play clock and 1:03 left on the game clock. That 20 seconds wasted that could’ve taken the clock down to 40 seconds. The next play was a short out to Harry Douglas who managed to get 7 yards and move the ball to the 38 yard line and there is now :55 seconds left on the game clock (Should be :35 if we don’t waste the previous :20 on the last play).  It’s now 3rd and 2, and we are within Matt Bryant’s range.

So what does Mike Smith do? HE CALLS A TIMEOUT!!! The Cleveland Browns are sitting on all three timeouts, and ideally, you want to force them to use them while you control the ball but not Mike Smith. We’ll get to his reasoning in a second but let’s finish out the game.

So it’s 3rd and 2 and in Matt Bryant’s range but it would be nice to drain some clock and get a little closer. A good coach or a competent 13-year-old Madden player would run the ball and either get the first down or at the very least force the Browns to use another timeout, but not Mike Smith. The Falcons run a sideline fade to Devin Hester and it goes incomplete. Matt Bryant crushes the 55 yard FG and the Falcons take the lead but thanks to Mike Smith, the Browns have a plethora of timeouts left and plenty of time on the clock.

If you are keeping track at home, that’s three clock mistakes in a span of two plays. I think the Falcons could’ve survived two of them and come away with a victory, but all three doomed them as Billy Cundiff pounded home a game winner with :05 seconds left. That’s it for the game and now let’s take a look at Mike Smith’s press conference.

Mike Smith was asked about his idiotic timeout with :55 left and he said “Well, we wanted to get our best play for third and two, to try to earn the first down,”  If throwing a sideline fade to Devin Hester is your best play to gain 2 yards and run the clock then fire everyone. But we aren’t done yet, Mike Smith also said that if he didn’t call the timeout with :55 seconds left then the Browns would’ve. I actually think Mike Smith is an intelligent human being, but that’s one of the dumbest reasons I’ve ever heard a head coach use.  It’s hard to believe that Mike Smith doesn’t understand that the basics of clock management but it’s obvious that he doesn’t.  He’s cost the Falcons 2 games and what would be a commanding lead in the NFC South. I’ve never wanted one of my teams to tank before, but if it means I don’t have to see Mike Smith coaching the Falcons, I might just change my mind.

The Atlanta Falcons take on the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals next week in a game that may determine their playoff future, as well as Mike Smith’s future with this football team. Stay tuned.