Falcons coach Arthur Smith: ‘Really proud of these guys’

Here’s what Falcons coach Arthur Smith had to say after the 23-20 win over the Browns on Sunday:

OPENING STATEMENT: “It’s never perfect in an NFL game. That’s why I really – going through the first half, we knew it was going to be – the way that they played, they were going to try to grind it out, but they made the big stops when they had to. Regardless of how that first half went. And then the second half, they played really well, especially down the stretch. Really proud of these guys. That was a really good team win. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re a team. We’ve got contributions from all over the place.”

ExploreDefense steps up as Falcons pull out victory over Browns

On the defense improving in the red zone over the past two games: “It’s always going to be about us and the team. So, our defense, we adjust. We got really, really smart players and coaches, and certain things, that’s what it is. It’s a constant work in progress. There’s a lot of things we’ll have to clean up tomorrow. We’ve got to be objective. There’s some things we’ve done differently down there. Those guys communicate well, and a lot of times it’s a chess match. I thought they handled it well today.”

On the spark RB Caleb Huntley provided: “Yeah. He’s another guy in our program, and we believe in this team, and that’s our charge. As a coach, everybody on this roster, you never know when you need – next guy has to step up. Caleb did that today. So did Tyler Allgeier, and so did Avery Williams. He had a big run late in the game. We had CP early. That was a good contribution in the run game.”

On whether he put RB Caleb Huntley in for a spark offensively or whether that was part of the normal rotation: “Sometimes you get in there, and they have a say, too. We didn’t execute well. I think we had three drives in that half. I think we had 17 plays, if I’m not mistaken, at the half. So, we come out, try to take a shot. We don’t hit it. You kind of get off track. You’ve got to punt. You come back. Try to do a little misdirection. Nothing there. Get Drake (London) going, get the face mask, right, and then you play it in their hand and we’re really off track. So then coming back out, we knew we wanted to get back to our game. It wasn’t perfect. Got the pick on the movement pass. (Denzel) Ward made a pretty good play. And that defense did a nice job. That was a big stop by them, sudden change. Then we came back out, and we were just playing our game. In a lot of those first start of the series, put us off track. That’s credit Cleveland, and we’ve got to execute cleaner, and certainly I can look at everything I was doing, and then we’re going to make a statement. That’s what we did. Had nothing to do with Caleb and nothing to do with anything else other than playing our style, and that’s what we did.”

ExploreMichael Cunningham: Falcons win ‘big boy fight’ with big effort from defense

On whether he’s referring to the 14 straight runs: “Absolutely. When the line is running like that, that’s what you call being in the flow. Proud of those guys. We knew it was going to be a big boy fight. Seeing the run attempts, and I always thought the team that ran the ball better today was going to win. That held true thankfully.”

On his plan for the running back rotation: “I’m saying this, and I’m being dead serious. I believe anybody is up on game day. Mike Pitre does a hell of a job. He’s got his hand on it. If I need somebody on a play, like I wanted Avery on a certain play to set up, I’ll call on him. I’ve got all the faith in Mike Pitre. I don’t care who is out there. I believe in everybody we put up on game day, whether it’s receiver, running back, tight end, Feleipe (Franks), I don’t care because I believe in these guys. It’s not a status thing. It’s not a star, fan thing. We’re trying to win the game. Mike thought Caleb could get a couple reps in there, and he proved that he was right. That’s a credit to Caleb, and Mike Pitre does a hell of a job.”

On whether he stuck with RB Caleb Huntley after a few successful runs: “Certainly. You know what, Caleb played, he had a first real carry a couple of weeks ago. It may not mean a lot to some people, but to kind of get your feet wet, so to speak. I was very confident in Caleb. That’s why we put him up. Like I said, we knew what kind of game it was going to be. That’s why we only had four wide receivers up.”

On playing with five linebackers on the field: “It looks like something you can play different fronts, very multiple. They were things, we get a lot of speed when you put Troy (Andersen) and Myk Walker. Sometimes it looks like base, you can go five down, sometimes four down, three down. Those guys are fast enough to play in the slot, and that’s what having versatile players does for you. So, you can mix and match, whether we put Mike Ford in the nickel, Myk Walker, Troy Andersen, Dee Alford. That’s why I get excited. That’s why I’m thankful to coach this team.”

On whether they plan to play five linebackers simultaneously against teams that want to run the ball: “Depends on the scheme and what they’re trying to do. They run multiple personnel. It’s very similar to Cleveland, little different scheme, but similar mindset. They run a lot of different guys in there, give you a lot of different looks. They shift. They motion. Some of it you’re playing situationally, and some of it you’re playing personnel. That’s the chess match. Kevin Stefanski, Bill Callahan and that whole Cleveland staff, they do a hell of a job.”

On the importance of finishing games defensively with a sack and then an interception in back-to-back games: “Most of these games come down to the end, whether we’ve got to go put a drive together. Certainly, you’d love to have a touchdown there, but in my biased opinion, I’ve got to put (Younghoe) Koo out there. In these clutch situations, I’ve got my money on Koo. Koo bangs it through. They use their timeouts, and that’s the game you’re playing. Not only that, what I liked about that last drive, too, was they checked us up, and they threw what I call a big box fade. (David) Bell caught it on Alford, and then Dee didn’t flinch. Get up and play the next situation. They run a screen. They get guys down the field. Take the penalty. You kind of got a chance to pin your ears back and then be able to get that pick the next play. That says a lot about the kind of guys we’ve got.”

On his message to the team after the win: “You just said it. We’re a team, and we’ll find different ways, and we believe in these guys, and we’ve got to keep improving. These guys believe, and that’s the way they work. So hopefully we can get back. We’ve got a huge divisional game down in Tampa next week, and we’ve got to get ready. We’ve got to go in there and assess where we’re at tomorrow and onto Tampa.”

On the defense’s success against Cleveland’s screen passes: “Some of it and guys being disciplined. They had a pretty good call. We were pressuring. Guys being able to read out of it, and that’s kind of the game. You get a feel. Some linemen, maybe they give it away because they’re too quick, they let you beat them too quick. We had different calls in there, too. It’s instinct, knowing the situation, and being able to make those plays.”

On a possession in the second half where CB Darren Hall played instead of CB Casey Hayward: “No different than having Huntley and Allgeier in there. We’ve got a team. We’re going to continue – no different if Troy plays a little bit. (Nathan) Landman had a package. Like I said, we believe in this team.”

On whether he saw something from CB Darren Hall that made him confident subbing him into the game: “A lot of guys I see that can help us win. Doesn’t matter whether we roll tight ends or receivers or backs, D-linemen, corners, safeties. We believe in our guys that are up, and we’ll continue to work. That’s all it was.”

On whether he felt Cleveland was targeting CB Dee Alford and whether he was surprised Alford responded as well as he did: “No. I wouldn’t say they were necessarily looking at him. Sometimes it happens to be the coverage. They try to get indicators. Sometimes they get them. Sometimes they don’t. A lot of that is, when they’re packaging plays, I’d say it’s more about what they thought the look was. So like I said, they thought – they guessed right. They didn’t guess right. They had a tell, but they had something completely different the next time, and we were able to get the sack. They thought they were getting it again, and they weren’t. That’s the game within the game. They checked to it, happened to get man, and they got a big box. Some people call it stomp route, have called it a hundred thousand things. That’s all it was. I didn’t see it like they were attacking.”

On calling this a big boy game and what he saw from his offensive line in the run game: “To be able to – you know, we didn’t have a lot of snaps early in the game. Like I said, credit to Cleveland. There’s kind of a lull really by both teams that started that third quarter. It was getting kind of quiet in there. Those guys keep swinging. That’s the way they work. We know it’s going to be a challenge. We’re not creeping up on anybody. People know we want to run the football. That’s what fires you up, and it won’t be that way every week. We’re going to have a challenge. We know how competitive it is. But when you can run the ball, when they know you’re going to run it, that speaks volumes about your guys.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25: Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2: Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD