"We did not play very good football today."
That, in a terse nutshell, was Mike Smith’s assessment of the Falcons’ performance in Sunday’s abysmal 27-13 loss to the Cardinals.
So, if nothing else positive emanated from the desert, at least we know that Smith is just as frustrated as the rest of us.
Smith didn’t have much to be frustrated about during his first five seasons as the Falcons head coach. That alone separates Smith from all of his predecessors.
He’s making up for lost time this season.
In just seven games, the Falcons have plummeted from Super Bowl contenders to clueless sad sacks. They’ve amassed all of two wins. One over a team that remains winless, and the other over a team that entered the weekend with the same record as Arizona.
But don’t take my word for it. Smith himself had plenty to say during his postgame tirade, er press conference, Sunday. His words weren’t even edited prior to publication at atlantafalcons.com. Here’s his opening salvo:
"In terms of the ball game today, I think anytime that you give up explosive plays like we did in the first half offensively, and an 80-yard touchdown where you lose leverage, where you get beat on a double-move, you have 10 penalties, you have four interceptions in the ball game, and you can’t run the ball effectively, it is a formula for not playing efficient, effective football, and that was the case today here in Arizona."
That’s a lot to digest, but we’ll try. The explosive plays included a 51-yard pass to Teddy Williams, a receiver not to be confused with Jerry Rice. Yet he managed to maneuver 15 yards behind the entire Falcons secondary.
The 80-yard touchdown romp came from Andre Ellington, a runner not to be confused with Jim Brown. Ellington, a rookie making his first start, managed to take a handoff, hit the line, bounce outside and sprint untouched the length of the field. The Cardinals would end up running the ball 30 times for 201 yards. That’s an average of 6.7 yards a pop.
Those two plays came during a dreadful stretch for the Falcons defense. From 3:23 left in the first quarter until 1:55 left in the half, Arizona had three possessions. They produced three touchdowns on drives of 80 yards in six plays, 80 yards in one play and 78 yards in six plays.
Think about that: 13 plays, 238 yards, 21 points. They held the Cardinals to a mere 18 yards per play during that stretch!
Compare and contrast with the Falcons first three possessions of the second half. Trying to cut into a 21-6 halftime deficit, Matt Ryan managed to end each drive with an interception.
Think about that: 20 plays, 70 yards, zero points, three turnovers.
Smith also addressed Ryan’s turnover issues: "There was a lot of pressure on the quarterback. He was under duress. We have to do a much better job in keeping the quarterback clean. We did not accomplish that today."
What seemed to rile Smith the most, and there was much to choose from, was the Falcons’ proclivity for procedure penalties. They became so adept at this violation that eventually they would have two linemen jumping early simultaneously. Even Tony Gonzalez got into the act.
"Probably the thing that I am most concerned about is that we had all of those procedural penalties," railed Smith. "It’s not that hard to see the ball move and not jump early. We put ourselves in situations where we can’t overcome them."
Not when you have a one-dimensional offense. Everyone thought the return of Steven Jackson would ignite the Falcons running game. Everyone thought wrong. Jackson gouged the Cardinal defense for six yards on 11 carries.
That’s an average of 19.6 inches per carry.
"Again, until I watch the tape, standing on the sideline, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities," groused Smith. "Obviously, the statistics will back that at this point in time. We’ve got to be more efficient, as I mentioned in my opening statement.
"Those are the things that win and lose football games. Today, we did not play the type of football that we need to play to be successful."
Now that he’s warmed up, we’ll stick with Smith for the unhappy recap: "We didn’t play well. We have to get it fixed. I know those guys there in that room will handle that. We have a strong, resilient group. We have to keep our head down, keep working and dig every day to dig out of the hole we’re in."
That’s a tall order right there. The hole seems to be getting deeper each week.