Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith plans to make sure that his 5-0 squad stays grounded moving forward.
Instead of basking in the glow of the NFC’s shiniest record, Smith, unsolicited, rips off a list of things that need to be “fixed” on his team as it prepares to face the Oakland Raiders before heading into a bye week.
Among the items were the run defense, the coverage units and the offense’s penchant for committing some pretty bizarre and devastating turnovers that could be costly against tougher competition. Also, while he likes the mental toughness that the team has shown while battling back in the fourth quarter of the last two games, he doesn’t want that to become a habit.
“We’ve got a lot of things to improve on,” Smith said. “First thing that comes to mind on the defensive side of the football is we’ve got to be better stopping the run. We gave up over 100 yards, 125 yards of rushing (against the Washington Redskins).”
After the bye, the Falcons could get back one of their key run-stuffers, defensive tackle Corey Peters, who’s been on the reserve/non-football injury list for a stress fracture he suffered while working on at a local gym before the team’s offseason training program started.
“It’s fixable, everything we’re talking about,” Smith said.
The run defense was going to be under scrutiny after the Falcons allowed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, the team’s leading tackler last season, to leave in free agency. He signed with the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta is playing much more nickel defense, but Lofton’s replacement, Akeem Dent, is off to a slow start with just 13 tackles.
“We haven’t fit the run well,” Smith said. “We haven’t basically taken the blockers on in our terms. Our path to the ball and our tackling hasn’t been what we need it to be.”
The Falcons elected to carry only five linebackers, and they brought back veteran Mike Peterson after they terminated the contract of injured linebacker Lofa Tatapu. They appear set to stick with Dent.
“We do have a rotation in the defensive line, not so much with the linebackers,” Smith said. “We only have five linebackers on our roster, so it kind of limits us. We’ll look at everything in terms of scheme, in terms of players and who’s playing and who’s not playing. I think it’s something we definitely have to fix.”
The special teams coverage units are also under the microscope. Smith and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong were not pleased with Washington’s Brandon Banks breaking loose for a 35-yard kickoff return Sunday. Banks also had a 13-yard punt return.
“I think we’ve got to become more consistent on special teams,” Smith said. “We’ll have two real nice coverages, and then we’ll have them pop one out to the 30-, 35-yard line. Those things will come back and haunt you if you’re not on top of it.”
Smith was perturbed by a fumbled center snap, when quarterback Matt Ryan pulled out to soon as he was making some last-second calls at the line of scrimmage. Also, Ryan tried to float a pass over Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, and it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
The fumbled snap happened when the team was in field-goal range, and the touchdown accounted for a 10-point swing. If the Falcons don’t commit those two turnovers, they would not have needed another fourth-quarter rally to vanquish the Redskins.
“Offensively, we haven’t turned the ball over (a lot), but when we have turned it over, it’s been catastrophic,” Smith said.
Smith isn’t expecting much resistance from his squad as the coaches continue to press them for improvement.
“Believe me, they know, they watch the tape,” Smith said. “We’ve got great leaders in our locker room all across the board that are going to make sure we stay focused on the task at hand. Right now, it’s just a start. You ask what do you think about 5-0 for the first time in franchise history? It’s just a start. That’s all it is.”