Falcons’ Arthur Smith: ‘We’ve got a big game next weekend’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who played at North Carolina was pleased to be back in the Tar Heel state, and was absolutely delighted with the 29-21 win over the Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

Here’s what Smith had to say.

Opening Statement: “It’s good to be back in the Tar Heel State and get a win. So after that, I’ll take it over to you.”

The play of the run defense and the turnovers forced: “What you saw out there is that the guys made a commitment to shut the run down. I thought we were very physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Defense did a nice job of getting three takeaways. I thought we played pretty decent complimentary football. We were able to run the ball. I believe it was our third straight 100-yard rushing game and if we’re going to be a physical team and you want to win in December, you’re going to have to bring your run game with you. I thought we did that today.”

Play of the running backs: “I thought they played pretty well. They all run extremely hard. I think you’re seeing the run game that guys are in sync. It’s not perfect and there’s always things that we’ve got to work on but I really believe in those three backs and they did a nice job today.”

Message to the team on playing meaningful games in December: “I told them that I’m proud of them like I always am to coach this team. It’s a great group of guys in there. They work extremely hard and they fight. It’s an unselfish group so I’m always reminding them how proud I am to be their coach. Then we turn to the task at hand. We’ve got to get back to work tomorrow and we’ve got a big game next weekend.”

Where has the defense improved the most. “I think it’s the whole team. You come in here and it’s a lot of turnover with a new staff and a lot of new faces and the whole goal, and what I’ve been saying to you guys even if I sound like a broken record, but you’ve got to improve as the season goes on and I think we’re improving.”

The mentality of getting a win on the road: “It’s just a belief that we have. If we can get better and again it’s not perfect, we’ll have plenty of stuff that we have to clean up and that’s our job. But it certainly helps to have that mindset. It’s a tough-minded group. They sent us to London earlier and wherever we’ve got to go play, we’ll be ready to go.”

Running back strategy late in the game: All three of them ran well. We tried to spread out some of the carries. We ask a lot of CP (Cordarrelle Patterson) and he does a good job. He’s also not superhuman either and we’ve got a belief in Mike Davis and Qadree (Ollison). Those guys all run well and when they can do that by committee it helps. I trust all those guys. I don’t get in a panic on purpose with what happened with Q. I’ll give him the ball next weekend because I believe in that guy. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and rally and handle sudden change better. You don’t want it to happen but I’m not going to sit there and stay that he can’t go back out there. It’s not it at all. I believe in Q.”

Motivation of Mike Davis given that he played for the Panthers in the past: We’ve got the right guys. We don’t have to motivate them. If you’ve got to sit there and find corny things to try and motivate guys, you’ve got the wrong guys. We’ve got the right guys in here.”

Status of Erik Harris after injury: Like always, I know you guys have to ask, I’m not the doctor. I didn’t go to medical school so we’ll just continue to evaluate and let the doctors do their job and we’ll see again tomorrow and as the week goes on. It’s hard to give you an update right now because I don’t know.”

What he saw with physicality at the line of scrimmage: “I saw that the line moved...the line of scrimmage moved. You can see it with your own eyes. That’s a good defense. It’s a physical game and I thought our guys stepped up.”

That is the identity he wants the team to have: Absolutely. Absolutely.”

On the defense getting contributions from guys that aren’t stars on defense: “They’re all good players. I’ve never called anybody a star. I know you guys want to put labels on guys. We’ve got guys that have improved, we’ve got young guys. I’ve never called anybody a star. We’ve got a lot of good players.”

How much that has helped the defense get to that point: “What helps is that when you have a plan that when (general manager) Terry (Fontenot) and I got here and as we’re trying to develop, there’s a constant evolution. We continue to develop guys. The staff’s done a great job and the players work really hard at it. It goes back to our preseason strategy. It’s why you continue to develop. It’s part of your job description. Develop and coach and our staff’s done a good job. The players have. So you’re going to need everybody. It happens. It’s a long season. We’ve got 17 games and you better make sure that you’re constantly developing your roster.”

Bouncing back from losses and responding from adversity: “You want to respond. It kind of tells you what you’re about. If you sit there and it’s not going to perfect. I look at them as obstacles. I think if you’re weak minded or fixed-minded, you’re going to say it’s a disaster or catastrophe. We never looked like that. You don’t want things to happen. They’re obstacles and you want to continue to work and improve. This business isn’t for soft souls. It’s the National Football League. Every win is hard and I’m proud of our guys.”

The play of the defense: “It’s a constant improvement. (Defensive coordinator) Dean (Pees) hasn’t even scratched the surface of the evolution of how much we’re going to put in eventually. It takes all 11 guys. Sometimes, you wouldn’t know unless you’re in the meeting rooms or see the call. A guy out of place here or there when you have a drop or simulate pressure and you’re a hook defender, if he’s too wide, you may give up something over the middle. You’ve got to have all 11 guys on the same page and when you do that and you have coordinated rush games, when you’ve got a quarterback that can obviously extend plays, it works. But it takes a commitment by all 11. There’s a lot of unsung heroes. You want to continue to show that. You may see one guy get the sack and if one guy doesn’t take two or if he doesn’t sit there and set the game up, the sack may never happen. Same thing that if they throw you one because of the internal pressure in the pocket so it’s playing together, everybody doing their job, focusing on the details so it’s a credit to the entire defense.”

Defensive improvement when he sees the offense face off: “I’m also the head coach so I’ve got to make sure that I’m evaluating every phase. So yeah.”

As you’re going against the defense day to day, do you see it as a more difficult challenge as the season goes on?: “It’s not a more difficult challenge. It’s part of our job. There’s enough time in the day. We’ve got a great staff and that’s our charge is to get better every day and I think that’s kind of stating the obvious there of knowing what’s going on and those guys continuing to improve and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Buccaneers 30, Falcons 17

Falcons 29, Panthers 21

Final four games

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26

Falcons at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 2

New Orleans Saints at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9