The Falcons didn’t take the field in Week 6 due to their bye, but they were back at it on Monday with a bonus practice to kick off their preparation for the Miami Dolphins.
One primary benefit that comes with a week off is health, and the Falcons seem to be trending in the right direction on that front. Calvin Ridley was back at practice after missing Atlanta’s 27-20 win against the Jets due to a personal matter, and both Russell Gage and Marlon Davidson got work in during Monday’s practice session after missing time with injuries.
“We feel good about how they’re progressing. We’ll have to see how they look in practice, but they’ll be out there practicing today,” Arthur Smith said when asked about Gage and Davidson.
It will be a grueling 12-game slog for the Falcons the rest of the way, but there’s plenty of time to focus on the big picture. For Smith, the Dolphins game is all that matters, so let’s dive into what he had to say to the media on Monday.
Self-scouting during the bye week
Another opportunity a bye week affords is the chance to self-scout and make any internal changes that a coach might not otherwise have time to make in a regular game week. For a new staff like the one in Atlanta, having the bye week early could be a big benefit.
“It’s a good time to reflect after five games,” Smith said. “See how we’ve evolved, how teams are playing us. Look at our personnel usage, really in all three phases. Where do we have guys? Especially on special teams, our coverage units. And then defensively, how teams are attacking us, what we’re calling, our personnel. It’s a really good time to be objective … we thought it was very productive.”
The Falcons have mostly improved with each passing week, particularly on offense. That’s generally what happens early on with good teams, so it’s reassuring that Smith’s approach seems to be effective so far. It will be interesting to see if any new wrinkles emerge on either side of the ball coming out of the bye week. Perhaps those wrinkles won’t be shown this weekend against the Dolphins, but a Halloween home division game against the Panthers would be an excellent time to break them out.
Preparing to face the rookie wall
A number of young guys stepped up in a big way to help the Falcons beat the Jets in London, but the coaching staff is taking a long view with their rookies. After the bye week, Atlanta will play 12 consecutive games, which is the equivalent to a full college football season. That’s been Smith’s message to his rookies, and he continues to remind them to take care of themselves. This is a long quote, but it’s a good explainer of something that is very real and happens to rookies.
“It’s a long year,” Smith said. “I always felt for the rookies, it’s the longest year they’ll have in their professional career. As soon as their season ends, a lot of these guys jump into the all-star game. So, they practice for the all-star game. They all have places they go, or their agents have deals where they workout in certain locations. And then they prep – they didn’t have the combine this year – but they prep for pro days. And then you’re just constantly getting nitpicked as you go through the draft evaluation. It’s just different for them. It’s a long process.
“And then you get all the way up to the draft, and then you come into a new environment, and then it’s kind of like drinking from a fire hydrant and then you have a couple of weeks before you start camp. It’s just a really long year for these guys. You try to prepare them mentally, but a lot of things you have to experience for the first time. So, we try to do a good job educating them, making sure they understand where they are in the season, how long the season is.”
Daren Bates coming in to boost special teams
An under-the-radar move by the Falcons on Monday morning could have a much-needed impact. Atlanta added former Titans linebacker Daren Bates to its practice squad, but he very well could end up on the active roster sooner rather than later.
The Falcons haven’t been stellar on special teams so far this season, particularly on kickoff coverage where they allowed a touchdown to start the second half against Washington and nearly repeated the mistake against New York. Fortunately, Bates has a long history of playing well on special teams, and it sounds like Smith trusts him to do that for his new team.
“Absolutely,” Smith replied when asked if Bates’s special teams ability was part of the reason he was brought in. “I’ve known Daren a long time. He’s another Memphis guy. We’ve been with him in Tennessee. He went to high school with my brother. Excited Daren’s here, we’ll see if he can help us.”
Some familiarity between Falcons and Dolphins
Atlanta’s second preseason game was against Miami, so it’s been just two months since these cross-conference opponents squared off. That’s not too common, but is there an advantage? Well, kind of, but not really.
“It’s a little bit like a division opponent, because you play your division twice a year and you learn a lot,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t like we were going full out game planning. You get a feel for them. You have a little better feel for their personnel, but the teams, like I said, we’re a completely different team than we were when we went down there and so are they.”
In that second preseason game (a 37-17 victory for the Dolphins, by the way) Tua Tagovailoa played the entire first half, as did many of the offensive and defensive starters. The Falcons, though, didn’t play many of their starters at all. Perhaps there is some small advantage the coaching staff gleans from having seen their opponents up close and in person during joint practices and the preseason game, but it likely won’t decide the outcome.