Here are five things that Smith pointed out that will help the Falcons build that winning culture over the final 12 games of the 2021 season:
1. Leadership: Smith has been pleased with the leaders on the team starting with quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Matt has been terrific,” Smith said. “When your highest-paid players are your hardest workers, you’ve got a chance. Especially when you are going through a transition like this.”
The Falcons also tried to bring in quality veterans, in part, to help the younger players.
“I’d argue that these guys that we brought in here, these vets, from Erik Harris to Duron Harmon to Lee Smith, these guys have been great pros,” Smith said. “They lead in their own ways.”
Harmon, who has three Super Bowl rings, regularly works with second-round pick Richie Grant after practice. He had a crew of four young defensive backs on the field long after practice had ended on Monday.
“They help you to establish the foundation, especially in Year One when you are trying to get the culture in the locker room,” Smith said. “The guys have been around. They know how to work. They know what the expectations are, it’s helped. It’s helped a lot with our young guys.”
2. Personnel usage: Smith and his staff had several issues to consider during their bye-week self scout.
“You just have to see how we are trending offensively,” Smith said on Monday to the Atlanta media. “Look at everything. It’s a good time to reflect after five games to see how we’ve evolved and how teams are playing us.”
How the staff is deploying the personnel was key.
“Look at our personnel usages, really in all three phases,” Smith said. “Where we have guys especially on special teams. Defensively, how teams are attacking us. What we are calling and how we use or personnel.”
Smith wanted to use the time well.
“It was a really good time to be objective since you don’t have the pressure of getting ready for a game that week or game planning, so you really take a hard look at yourself,” Smith said. “I thought it was very productive.”
3. Special teams: The team hopes to fix a unit that has been shaky in the first five games. The team has had short punts in three of the five games while allowing a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and then 65-yard return the following week.
The Falcons signed Darren Bates, 30, a long-time special-teamer to the practice squad Monday. Bates has played 2,684 special teams snaps in the NFL since 2013.
4. The offensive line: With the exception of Jake Matthews, all of the starters have less than three years of NFL experience. Center Matt Hennessy (second-year) and rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield are first-time starters. Right guard Chris Lindstrom (third-year) and right tackle Kaleb McGary (third-year) round out the group.
“It has gotten better from week to week,” Smith said. “That’s the whole challenge of this business can you improve week to week… We feel like it’s trending in the right direction. We just don’t want to have these peaks and valleys.”
McGary, who has an underlying heart condition, was placed on the COVID-19 list on Monday. Jason Spriggs, a former second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers back in 2016, is the Falcons backup swing tackle. The Falcons also have veteran tackle Willie Beavers on the practice squad.
“You are consistently building and there are tough matchups every week,” Smith said. “Miami is going to present a number of challenges that are a little bit different from what we’ve seen. We’ve got to be ready to roll.”
5. Defense attacked: The Falcons also looked at how teams tried to attack the defense - and it was mixed-bag of tricks.
“Some teams have tried to attack us deep, some teams tried to stick with the run game and some teams have used the RPOs,” Harmon said. “But I just feel like we’ve done a good job of when we have a problem, adjusting to that problem. The coaches have done a good job of figuring out what we need to do to fix the problem and the players have done a really good job of going out there and executing.”
The Falcons are allowing 345.6 total yards per game.
“Is it perfect? No,” Harmon said. “But we are headed in the right direction to figuring out and how to neutralize some of plays that might have hurt us early on in the year.”
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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo
Atlanta Falcons Schedule
Eagles 32, Falcons 6
Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25
Falcons 17, Giants 14
Washington 34, Falcons 30
Falcons 27, Jets 20
Falcons at Miami Dolphins, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m.
Here’s the rest of full schedule