Mike Smith gets a lot of flack for failing to make in-game adjustments. Smith's critics argue that he's regularly outsmarted by opposing coaches. They say he's just not that saavy as NFL head coaches go. Much of that criticism is rooted in very justifiable frustration. The Falcons' fall from from grace this season was unexpected, to say the least.
In my mind, there's a right way and a wrong way to critique Smith. The right way is to use logic, based on the information you can actually access. For example, wins and losses. The Falcons have too many losses this year, and that is unacceptable. Sure, injuries and deficient line play have played a role, but 3 wins isn't good enough. Missing the playoffs isn't good enough.
The wrong way to critique Smith is to imply that he's simply not trying. When you claim that he's not thinking about his decisions or simply acting on misguided whims, you're way off base. You are. I'll be honest, I'm a boss at Madden, but as NFL game preparation goes, I'm a total amateur. I have no concept of what it takes to prepare for an NFL game. The game planning, strategy sessions, team meetings, number crunching, late night film watching, and mind-numbing tomfoolery that's involved is beyond the scope of my imagination. Why? Because I'm highly unqualified to coach in the NFL. It's above me. And it's above (I would assume) most of you. If it weren't, you'd probably not waste your time reading this - or maybe you would, my Dave bashing is moderately amusing.
To be sure, I'm not saying Smith is beyond reproach. Bash him all you want. There's plenty of stuff you can accurately and logically bash him about. But when you arbitrarily question his in-game decisions, the end result isn't always pretty. Take for example Smith's decision to pass on a 51 yard field goal attempt at the end of the Green Bay game. The Falcons couldn't convert a 4th and 5, and they would ultimately lose by a point. In retrospect, it's maddening that he didn't go for it. It's maddening because hindsight is 20-20 and the alternative failed miserably. Had the Falcons converted that 4th and 5, Smith would've been praised by many.
[Special Teams Coach Keith] Armstrong supported [Mike Smith's] decision not to attempt the second field goal.
“We’re going to kick the field goal when we get to the yard-line where we feel like we can make it,” Armstrong said. “Every week we decide what yard line we are going to get to kick.”
The weather was an additional factor to consider. It was sub-freezing and crosswinds at Lambeau Field are tricky.
Smith's decision to leave the offense on the field against Green Bay is unique. It's unique because we don't always have access to much background when Smith's decisions don't work out. We like to think we know all we need to. We like to think we're that special. But we're not more often than not. In this case, we do have that information. In the article linked above, Keith Armstrong basically lays it out for us. Thanks Keith!
Smith's famous for his coachspeak, and that frustrates fans, especially those that think he's just an ineffective coach, masking his ineffectiveness with empty, repetitive platitudes. But how do you judge his specific, in-game decisions when you don't have all the background? You can disagree with him. You can feel you'd have somehow made a better decision. You can eagerly peek through your curtains, expecting to see Arthur Blank roll up in a stretch Hummer, coaching contract in hand. But like it or not, Smith makes calculated decisions. Is he the greatest in-game tactician in NFL history? Absolutely not. But given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall at Flowery Branch for a week, you'd see a very deliberate, thoughtful Smith. You'd see him putting a lot of thought into his game plans.
Again, Smith isn't perfect. He's far from it. There's certainly room for him to be more aggressive, and I'm not certain I like his safari hat (it reminds me of Jonathan Hyde's character in Jumanji). All that said, however, I do believe he's an above-average NFL coach. There may come a time where that's simply not good enough. And when that time comes, we may need to move in a different direction. But in the interim, don't act like you know what goes into every one of his decisions, because you don't.