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Falcons GIF of the Week: Ito Smith shows off some tricks

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The rookie running back turns Haason Reddick around with his extraordinary footwork on a key third down conversion.

Arizona Cardinals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

After five consecutive defeats, the Falcons desperately needed a win to ignite some spirit back into what has become a demoralizing season. A favorable matchup against Arizona in the comfort of their home stadium proved to be the ideal antidote. They dominated in all three phases of the game. It was important for the offense, in particular, to play up to their capabilities. They failed to score more than 20 points during their losing streak. For them to impose their will with their plethora of playmakers was a sight to behold for Dan Quinn and Steve Sarkisian.

In this feature, I’ll be looking at one of the more significant plays from the Falcons’ previous game. It will be left out of my weekly GIF review for the purpose of further assessment on why it should be considered as a meaningful moment. Given how many big plays were produced last Sunday, it seems fitting to choose one that falls under the radar yet played an important role in their onslaught.

Grady Jarrett’s strip sack gave the offense a great chance to score their first touchdown of the game. It was their second time in the red zone following an unsuccessful first trip. After being remarkably efficient earlier in the season, the Falcons had reverted back to their infuriating 2017 red zone ways. They needed to score in this situation to regain some confidence.

Sarkisian decides to put their top three receivers on the right. With Julio Jones bound to attract extra attention from the slot, Mohamed Sanu or Calvin Ridley are expected to find an opening within Arizona’s zone look. Austin Hooper is isolated on the left as a potential option. Although Hooper dropped a sure touchdown on the previous drive, Matt Ryan has been targeting him quite often in the red zone this season. None of Ryan’s top four receivers end up getting the ball. It’s an exciting rookie running back that makes a huge play.

On third and seven, Ryan is looking towards the end zone. Hooper appears to be his first read in the corner. As soon as he recognizes Ito Smith is isolated against Haason Reddick, the franchise quarterback doesn’t hesitate in exploiting a clear mismatch. It’s something he hasn’t done nearly enough of this year compared to past seasons. Capitalizing on a running back-linebacker matchup was common during the glorious 2016 season. Since Sarkisian took over play-calling duties, he hasn’t created enough opportunities for the running backs to make an impact in the passing game.

Allowing a talented player like Smith to run into the flat and utilize his tremendous footwork to create separation from a linebacker can provide a massive boost to any offense. It proved to be what they needed to earn a much-needed first down. Smith’s ability to change direction and get linebackers off-balance, even when it seems like he may lose his balance, is remarkable. This is simply a nasty whip route, where he baits Reddick beautifully inside to spin back outside, leaving the linebacker in full recovery mode.

Smith still has work to do in getting to the first down marker. By lowering his shoulder, he pushes the Falcons forward into a prime scoring position. Sarkisian didn’t waste time in dialing up a quarterback sneak on the next play to get into the end zone. Smith’s agility, footwork, and drive to run through contact made the difference in putting the Falcons on course to score 40 unanswered points. Despite his impressive debut season being unfortunately cut short, the dynamic running back appears to be the next late-round gem in the front office’s growing collection.