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ATL News / Sports

Falcons starting to establish identity under Arthur Smith

After watching every snap of the Falcons, most of them twice, I can comfortably say they aren’t a very good football team; however, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re 6-7 and in the playoff hunt. Atlanta has everything right in front of them, and for the first time in a while, will be playing in December with the postseason on the line.

The Falcons are a long shot — more than a touchdown underdog — to upset the 49ers this weekend, but for Atlanta’s playoff hopes, it’s do or die. And though it may not be high compared to the rest of the league, the Falcons are peaking right now. Everything is relative, and for Arthur Smith’s team, they’re playing the most complete football under the first-year head coach when it matters most.

Different facets of the Falcons have caused losses, but against the Panthers last Sunday, the players showed signs of understanding the scheme, meshing with their teammates, and buying into their coach’s mentally and physically tough culture. Against Carolina the first time, the Falcons defense gave up over 200 yards on the ground. There was no question what Matt Rhule wanted to do, especially after firing offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who likely didn’t share his head coach’s philosophies.

Fans, media, and especially the Falcons knew what was coming. It was going to come down simple assignment football but more importantly will — the most primitve aspect of the sport. It wasn’t just the defense that was preparing for a smash-mouth type of game; the offense wanted to continue their recent success on the ground. Prior to the Panthers game, the Falcons had rushed for over 100 yards in three of four weeks as the offensive line started to click.

Throughout the week leading up to last week’s divisional matchup, players and coaches made sentiments that showed a sense of buying into what Arthur Smtih wants to do. “Got to put our big-boy pads on and get ready for the run,” Duron Harmon said before the game, via The Athletic. The defense came out and held the Panthers to 91 yards and forced three turnovers after getting run off the field the week before by Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

“We want to run the ball. So, let’s do it,” Cordarrelle Patterson said last week, via Atlanta Falcons. “Why can’t we rush over a 100 yards a game? Why can’t we be those guys? The first few weeks – or however many weeks – during the season, the run game was not there, but honestly it’s been there these last two weeks,” Patterson said, “and we just gotta continue to push every day just to show the coaches that we can run the ball.” The offense came out and ran for 128 yards on a respectable Panthers defense, mostly because of the offensive line, who also kept Matt Ryan clean all day — something they haven’t been able to do this year. 

The players certainly deserve credit; after all, they’re the ones out on the field battling. Credit should also be given to Terry Fontenot for making the most of what he had to spend in free agency. Still, Arthur Smith should receive most of the praise. He’s the leader of this team, and the players are beginning to buy in to what Smith’s building. The resilience it takes to lose games how they did to the Patriots and Cowboys while continuing to fight and correct miscues is astounding and speaks to the culture being established.

It is encouraging to see things begin to take shape in Atlanta, but they’ll have another litmus test against the run-heavy 49ers this week. The Falcons will need to play their most complete, mistake-free game of the year to pull off the upset. Not only that, but the trenches is where this game is going to be won and lost. The Falcons big men will have to play with a chip on their shoulder as the inferior units, continuing to adopt the mental and physical toughness Smith has been preaching. From the comments made to the media this week, the staff and players seem to be in agreement this ship is headed in the right direction.

 

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