The Mike Smith firing was like a slow-motion train wreck. We all stood idly by, watching the carnage and wishing we were twelve beers deep. But like a last minute pardon, a season-ending week 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers cemented Smith's fate.
We're past all that that now, and the future looks bright. Going forward, results are what's important. To get results, the Falcons need to get past their timid recent history. They need to be much more aggressive, with an eye towards burying their opponents, not simply hanging with them. My apologies for the enormous excerpt that follows.
[Mike] Smith ended his career in Atlanta with a truly remarkable tribute to pusillanimity, as the Falcons only went for it one time on fourth down in a non-catch-up situation. That came Week 13 against Arizona, on the first drive of the game, as Matt Ryan threw a 1-yard touchdown to Levine Toilolo on fourth-and-goal. The rest of the year, Smith had the Falcons punting twice on fourth-and-1 from their own 45 and kicking seven field goals with less than three yards to go, including two 20-yarders. Most head coaches over NFL history have gotten more aggressive with time; some have gone the other way, but the complete collapse of Smith's courage after a couple of failed Matt Ryan sneaks against the Giants in the 2011 playoffs is unique.
No need to go grab your reading glasses, because you read that correctly: Mike Smith was historically timid last season. In fact, for his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith got after it like a geriatric camel. He didn't push the envelope and it eventually led to his firing. Given that, are we to assume Dan Quinn has an "aggressiveness" directive?
I wouldn't say Quinn has any directives at this point. The team trusts his judgment and they're giving him carte blanche to execute his vision. But there's no way aggressiveness didn't come up in Quinn's interview. And there's no way it hasn't come up since. While the Falcons brass won't ask him to be reckless, Quinn would be wise to keep Smith's failures in mind.
There's just no room for cautious football when cautious football isn't necessary. Sure, it isn't an exact science - there's no formula you can apply when it's 4th-and-1. But a consistent preference for the safe approach probably won't get you to the promised land.