Arthur Smith earned his first win as head coach and helped the Falcons improve to 1-2 on the season with a 17-14 win against the winless New York Giants. It was far from a pretty game for Atlanta, but the defense kept the team in the contest long enough for the offense to deliver two key drives in the fourth quarter. Throw in a potentially game-altering special teams play, and the Falcons finally looked like the kind of team Smith desires – a balanced one.
Complementary football was a topic Smith discussed during his Monday press conference, and it’s something he has stressed both publicly and with his team. We saw small flashes of why he’s focused on building that brand of football on Sunday, as it’s much easier to win games if two of the three units on the team can buoy the other if it falters.
“Lastly, was at the end of that game really in all three phases we played together,” Smith said of his team’s performance late.
“So, it was really cool because it shows, in phases, guys didn’t flinch. You go down 14-7 and kind of, we’ll call it a ugly game, I guess, the result was pretty to us but you know not maybe not aesthetically pleasing for the fans, but we grinded it out and it was good to see.”
Could Falcons be eyeing a Taysom Hill-like role for Feleipe Franks?
One of the more interesting developments of Sunday’s game was seeing undrafted rookie quarterback Feleipe Franks deployed as a tight end for a couple of plays. The 6-foot-6, 234-pound Franks led the Falcons with 113 rushing yards in the preseason, including a 52-yard scramble, so it’s clear he’s got plenty of athleticism to offer.
That’s something the Falcons want to kick the tires on.
“Feleipe continues to improve, like where he’s going at quarterback, but we think athletically, there may be something he can give us at other positions and we’re always going to look to – if there’s somebody on the roster that can help us, we’ll try it,” Smith said.
Perhaps there’s some down-the-road inspiration for the Falcons probing of Franks’s abilities. The polarizing quarterback-turned-swiss-army-knife Taysom Hill has become a wild card in the Saints’ offense, giving Sean Payton the creative capability that Smith surely wants. Whether the Franks experiment actually produces something tangible for Atlanta in 2021 and beyond remains to be seen, and the Falcons have some other tight ends who fans would like to see more involved. That’s not stopping Smith from turning over every stone to get an edge.
“I think New Orleans kind of set the stage for everybody, and everybody’s been looking for that type,” Smith said. “You see some people trying to, you know, situational football, they got a running quarterback on the roster they put them out there, but they’re only in that role. Taysom’s the only guy that I’ve seen that truly can play multiple spots. He runs routes well. Obviously, he can move the football running zone read, play action. There’s not a lot that he doesn’t do, so we’ll see.”
Smith liked the offense’s ability to grind through the game
It was not pretty for Atlanta’s offense against the Giants, but they made enough plays to win in the final seconds. Days like that happen for even the best offenses in the league, and it was clear that New York was intent on not allowing explosive passes. They succeeded in that mission, but Smith thought that Matt Ryan and the unit did a good job remaining patient. That patience really paid off with a 15-play touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter and a seven-play drive to win it. Here’s hoping better days are ahead, but the Falcons showed some grit to do what was needed.
“I think when it comes down to, to be able to grind out drives if people want to play you really soft zone coverage, try to take away some of the deep three-level throws, or whatever they’re trying to do, they don’t think you have the will to grind out those drivers,” Smith said. “They say hey you won’t be patient. At some point you’ll get greedy. I think that’s with Matt Ryan that’s an underrated quality because of the way some of the things the way people are trying to play, he will go through, he’ll make the right play, doesn’t panic and tries to force one that’s just not there.
“So that’s an underrated approach. There are certainly things that we can do better. Clearly, as an offense, everybody – but that those are the underrated things that people don’t think you’ll actually take what they give you all the way down the field.”
Defenders stepped up to help shut down the Giants
With A.J. Terrell out due to a concussion, the Falcons were going to need some defensive players step their game up. Isaiah Oliver and Dante Fowler were among the many who did. It’s notable for Oliver and Fowler, however, because they both need to have good seasons after slow starts to their Atlanta careers. Oliver played perhaps his best game as a Falcon, allowing just three completions on six targets and forcing a fumble that he then recovered.
“[Dean Pees and Jon Hoke] kind of had a vision for him, where they thought he could play,” Smith said of Oliver. “… When you’re changing schemes like that, you got to try to find, ‘Okay, this guy doesn’t fit this, maybe he can fit here.’ Really it was the same role that Logan Ryan had for Dean and Vrabes (Mike Vrabel) in Tennessee, and Zay’s taken that on and he’s smart, he’s instinctual. If you’re going to play the nickel in this defense you’ve got to be a willing tackler too.”
Fowler was active on Sunday, recording his second sack of the season after getting his first with a strip-sack of Tom Brady in Week 2. He also batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage and seemed locked into the game from the start. This is very encouraging for a defense that needs an exterior rusher to emerge.
“This is a huge credit to him, I’ve enjoyed working with Dante and these guys are playing together and when his number was called, a lot of it is plays that he may not make but he’s playing within the scheme and his effort’s been phenomenal,” Smith said. “I think there’s a play last week against Tampa, the game’s over, we’re all frustrated. He rushes and comes down and makes a stop, gets it to fourth down and we stop them on fourth down, and that says a lot about his character.”
On A.J. Terrell (concussion), Russell Gage (ankle) and Frank Darby (calf):
“I think A.J. is doing pretty well but again we got to see. We’ll be cautious. There are still some steps he’s got to go in the protocol. That’s not being evasive that’s just part of the protocol and being smart there but, he’s got a chance. Russell and Darby both will, again, those will be things we’ll see we’ll talk tomorrow night, about where they’re at. They’re getting close.”
On Josh Andrews and Kendall Sheffield’s possible return this week:
“We’ll just have to assess it. You’re able to practice them, so we’ll just kind of see Wednesday where they’re at. Whether they’re ready to practice and then we’ll have to make a decision, we got some time to make a decision.
“We’ll make that decision tomorrow. We have a staff meeting on Tuesday afternoons. We think they’re close. Again, not being evasive but we don’t make those final calls until tomorrow afternoon.”