The first showing for Arthur Smith as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons was certainly not what many expected or wanted. A 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, one in which Atlanta’s offense scored nary a touchdown, does not inspire much confidence for the remainder of the season.
Still, it’s incredibly early yet and the NFL is all about adjustments. So, what will the Falcons do to bound back from a poor initial showing with the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers next up on the schedule? Here are the initial takeaways from Smith’s Monday press conference.
How will the Falcons judge Jalen Mayfield’s first start?
Jalen Mayfield’s first NFL appearance went about as poorly as one could imagine. He allowed five pressures and gave up two sacks throughout the afternoon, and Mayfield was also charged with two untimely penalties. The coaching staff has to walk a hard line between keeping Mayfield’s self-confidence intact and ensuring he does not repeat Sunday’s mistakes.
“Certainly, he’s not going to be pleased with his performance, and he knows what the issues are,” Smith said Monday. “He’s a tough-minded guy, with the situation, it is what it is, when Josh (Andrews) gets hurt, and then we’ll evaluate this week, whether we play Drew (Dalman) in there, or somebody else out there. When you’re bringing along rookie linemen in the interior, it wasn’t the plan to play him early. We got him reps in the preseason. There are things he’s got to work on. I got all the faith in the world that he’ll be just fine eventually. You’re going against that kind of front, and when it got obvious and we’d become one dimensional, it’s certainly an advantage to them, especially when you’re playing that kind of front.”
Dalman, another Falcons rookie, saw some time with the offense on Sunday and fared better outside of his penalty. Once Josh Andrews is healthy, it’s expected the veteran will assume the starting role. That still might not fully answer that position for Atlanta, but after the start to the season, all options are presumably once again on the table.
“At every position we’re going to look to upgrade the team,” Smith responded when asked about upgrading the left guard spot. “So, if there’s guys out there that we feel like can help this team. We’re certainly going to look and that’ll be every week, regardless of the position.”
The flow of Sunday’s game got away from the Falcons in clear ways
Despite running the ball fairly effectively against the Eagles, the Falcons still really couldn’t find much offensive efficiency or cohesion. There are two complementary reasons for that: Penalties and obvious offensive situations. The Falcons committed 12 penalties, and many of those were of the pre-snap variety. Those penalties, especially on offense, really impacted what the Falcons wanted to do.
“I think we had about 40 snaps, the first three drives with six points to show,” Smith said. “You’re balanced. I thought we’re running the ball pretty well. Then we had the situation backed up, and I did play conservatively, you know we tried to get the ball out of there, milk little time off the clock, knowing they got the ball start the second half. Just get into that drive and let’s go down and score some points. Then we had the false start, I got in there to pop a run, so you know that’s a fair criticism there, why I didn’t pick it up because we were backed up and I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to go pin their ears back. But those are the ones, the discussions you have, the postmortem after action report, whatever term you want to use when we’re talking as a staff, and I put that on myself in a 7-6 game that’s where I felt we were, and I didn’t want to go lose it backed up. So, hindsight. Sure, I wish I had called something maybe different on third down.
“So, in the second half we get the ball back. We get behind the sticks, with penalties, and you’re in a lot of second and longs and third and longs and they add up on you. You have a chance to overcome one, we had a 1st-and-20. Hit Pitts up the seam, then 2nd-and-2, we have a miscommunication. Again, put that on me. We’re trying to jam a run in there to get going on the drive and we damn near lost it on a fumble. Then you’ve got to make a decision at some point, you’ve got to speed up and go. Give yourself a chance to win the game. When we got behind, credit to Philly, they made us kick field goals. We got down and we did nothing to capitalize really from that backed up situation the rest of the game.”
That’s a lot to digest, but every word there is worth internalizing. On the surface, it’s a coach taking the blame in hindsight for decisions that made sense in the moment had they worked out. They didn’t, though, and Smith would perhaps do them over. That sounds a lot like a coach working with new players and making the big decisions for the first time. No problem, that’s understandable.
This is a great breakdown of how coaches think about games. At 7-6, the Falcons were 100 percent in that game. With the ball backed up to their own goal line just before halftime, the Falcons weren’t trying to take shots, they were trying to end the half or perhaps spark something that allows them to reconsider. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative. But this is one way to understand what happened, and it’s coming from the man making the calls. Might as well listen.
“I think somebody asked me the question yesterday, what did they do in the second half? Well, they got ahead and they really didn’t change anything,” Smith said. “They felt they could get home with four. They sat back and played zone. You get penalties. You’re in obvious situations. We’re off track. You don’t run the ball, and we’re out of rhythm, so I have to find a better way to get us jump started when you get into those lulls in the game because they’re going to happen. You wish it was every possession you get right down there, but that’s not life in the NFL. Matt executed the plan. Obviously, would have loved to have gotten into more of it, but like I said, we got down and we became one-dimensional.”
The Kyle Pitts debut and the need to get more receivers involved early
The world-destroying performance people are hoping to see from Kyle Pitts will have to wait one more week, and perhaps expectations for the rookie should be reevaluated after Week 2. His best play was a fourth-down conversion in which Pitts barely picked up the needed yardage. Still, it was a moment of trust for the rookie, which will go a long way with Matt Ryan.
Philadelphia clearly wanted to limit Pitts, and the level of information tight ends at the NFL level have to process on any given play is vastly and regularly understated. Still, Pitts was the fourth pick in the draft for a reason, and the team needs to get him going. But that’s not the only player Atlanta needs to get involved.
“Certainly, try to get [Pitts] going early,” Smith said. “Didn’t do it, but he stayed with it. Made a pretty tough catch on fourth down when we went for it on fourth down. It wasn’t pretty, but he executed it. Matt was under duress there. They had a pretty good call there, but again, that’s what a veteran quarterback does. He knows your issues. He knows where you’re hot and what you’re doing. Give Kyle credit. Again, that’s not a flashy play in the stat sheet, but that was a conversion when we needed to when you take the risk and go for it on fourth down. Got into the game – multiple times – I mean all of those guys, I have to do a better job of getting him and Russ [Gage] into the game early. Russell Gage, there were some opportunities. The thing I can’t say enough about Russell Gage, like a lot of guys, it’s like basketball, people want to touch the ball. I have to do a better job of getting them the ball early, but Russell is a real pro because he battled. He battled. I told him this morning. It says a lot about your character when the ball doesn’t go your way in how he competed. I have to do a better job there.”