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The Falcons were great at protecting the football under Mike Smith

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We'll hope the Falcons can continue to limit turnovers under Dan Quinn.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons' tenure of Mike Smith will be best evaluated years later, when we've had some time and distance from his successes and the 2013-2014 stretch of excruciating losses. If there's one thing Smith did well during his tenure in Atlanta, though, it was instilling discipline in his football team.

We've all talked about how the Falcons were typically one of the least-penalized teams in the NFL during Smith's tenure, or at least until things went south in 2013. What's less recognized is that the Falcons have had a remarkable run of luck or success, depending on your perspective, having committed the fourth-fewest fumbles in the NFL since 2010 and averaging the third-most plays between fumbles. Take out some sloppy plays the last two years and that might be even higher.

The Falcons operated for years with a defense that was more opportunistic than laden with talent, and their offense was excellent but not exactly a juggernaut. To overcome the thin margin of error that afforded, the Falcons needed to play nearly flawless football, and while they had their share of interceptions and certainly mistakes, the lack of fumbles and penalties ultimately gave this team the extra push it needed. Even in the dregs of the last two years, this was a team that just didn't fumble the football a whole lot, and while that's not entirely within a team's control, the focus the team placed on not turning the ball over still shines through.

The Falcons will look to upgrade their talent and coaching this offseason with an eye on returning to relevance in the near future. Let's hope that if Dan Quinn takes just one focus from Mike Smith and his crew, it's limiting the turnovers, as well. As the article I linked above shows, the Patriots have combined talent and an obscenely low turnover rate into nearly-constant success, and that's something any team would like to emulate.