Falcons coach Arthur Smith: ' We all can do a better job’

Here’s what Falcons coach Arthur Smith had to say after the 24-10 victory over the Panthers on Sunday:

On Jessie Bates III’s performance and the defense as a whole: “I think it was overall a great team win and the way we’re built. There’s a reason we wanted to get those guys in our program. You’re playing a rookie quarterback, you’re at home, those guys were in tune to everything. There were some things that he anticipated, and he’s a great player. That’s why we signed him. It was all those guys -- Kaden, David. I think what I was really pleased about our guys and really our staff, a couple things we weren’t clean executing early on, especially in the pass game. It wasn’t just the obvious protection, there was some spacing things that whether it was Week 1 – we all can do a better job.

But we’re able to adapt and we’re able to play as a team. Whether you get in there in field position and get the turnovers. I thought those guys, as the second half went, they wore them down.

When you get a win like that, you’re not behind the count. We’ll never apologize for winning. We know we’ve got a lot of work. That’s the National Football League is to keep improving. Don’t ever stay the same. Guys made big plays in the end. It was good for Kyle to go get that ball and Des to deliver it.

Like I said, we weren’t clean enough in the first half in the passing game. That’s on everybody. I promise you we’ll get cleaned up, but you can see the mental resolve, and that’s how you win games like that as a team. So we’ll be back to work tomorrow. Very, very happy for our guys.”

On whether RB Bijan Robinson surprised him today: “That first touchdown, that’s the stuff we see every day in practice. That didn’t surprise me. You guys kind of looked at me – ‘running back?’ – but he’s a football player. He’ll line up all over the place, and there’s still more he can do. He’s such a unique player and unique balance. So, you get in there and get in the red zone. The guy made a heck of a play, but we saw that every day in practice. I thought that he’d do something like that today today, and he did. I’m glad it helped us win.”

On being above .500 for the first time in a long time: “Every season is different. Every team is different. And I know we’re just happy to get a win so we’re not behind in the count. I’ll just go by recent history. Last year we were up, and we didn’t finish. This year, a little different mindset. The guys made plays. Again, maybe not going your way – even Kaleb McGary, right? The pass pro – and give Brian Burns credit. Didn’t know what kind of mindset he’d be in. Went after him early, but he came to play and we weren’t going to let him wreck the game. So, you pivot. Those guys, they wore him down. That’s a physical group and a well-conditioned group.”

On QB Desmond Ridder having more receptions than WR Drake London: “Let the fantasy guys worry about that. We’ve got to clean some things up. We can all be better in our spacing, and targets is the most misunderstood thing in the National Football League. There’s progressions, there’s spacing, if somebody underneath is not right, that’s the stuff where I’m a little irritated as a coach. We had to fix it at halftime. That’s on me. That’s on everybody. We don’t care. Drake London doesn’t care. All we care about is 1-0. We have a lot of work – and that has to improve because it’s not going to sustain every week. Every week is its own entity. We don’t care about the stats. We care about winning.”

On QB Desmond Ridder’s performance: “It takes 11 on offense, it does. Whether it’s protection, spacing, operation – so many things that go into it. At the end of the day, I can promise you, this team is not going to play in their fears. That’s why you launch the ball. It was good for Kyle to go get that. He threw a hell of a football. Same thing, I trusted him right there, everybody thinks you’re going to run. Great. Coverage took him over to Drake, you’re talking about a play that was designed for the X. Quarterback knows, ‘I’ve got the look.’ They tried to take Drake out. It went to Mack Hollins. That’s how you win football games. That’s what I’m proud of. It’s not perfect. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I’d much rather do that 1-0. We’ve got a bunch of real guys in that locker room. Happy as hell I get to coach them.”

On the key to the defense’s success today: “It starts with the players – the type of players. We have a great football staff, and we communicate. We were able to go get guys that they thought fit. It’s not just names sometimes – the Kaden Ellisses – it’s chemistry and fit. Thankfully our organization allows us to build this thing and go get the right players. In simple terms, you want to see the return on that investment. At least we saw that today.”

On what Panthers OLB Brian Burns brings to a defense: “They’ve got a lot of good players in there. Derrick Brown is one of the better interior players that nobody talks about. I’d love to know how he got to Auburn. He’s one of those guys that nobody talks about, but that guy has been a pain in our side since I’ve been here. He made one play before half, but I thought those guys – that’s good on good. It’s Lindstrom on Brown. The one guy, it’s a good thing we’re not talking about an offensive lineman, but Bergeron, moment wasn’t too big for him either, just like Bijan.

Derrick Brown is good. Shaq Thompson, he’s so smart. When you’re in a chess match with those guys, you’ve got to bring your A game. They’ve invested a lot in their defense, so it’s a battle. Our guys know them well, whether you change the scheme or not. And then Burns, he fits – when you’re able – no one ever gives the guys on the inside enough credit. He’s a terrific edge rusher, but if you’re a terrific edge rusher and you don’t have dudes inside, well you can take every protection scheme right to him. That’s a credit to Carolina. Again, Burns, give him a lot of credit with the way he started the game, but we weren’t going to sit there and repeat the same mistakes and let him wreck the game. Thankfully we pivoted and our guys didn’t blink, and we came away with the win.”

On looking at tablets on the sideline and whether anything surprised him today: “Nothing surprises you Week 1. Was I confident? Yes. Again, there’s a lot of ways to look at it. You can spin it however you want. The ultimate result was we won. But it’s why you still have belief, why you still take those shots late in the game. You learn lessons, or you say, look, we’re not going to sit here and just get in there and pack the paint and play three yards and a cloud of dust. So, it’s give and take. Momentum certainly plays into how the other side is playing. There’s a lot into it. If I give you a real reason, it’s going to sound excuses, but we’ll get back to work tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of faith in our guys.”

On the decision to challenge the fumble in the second half: “A couple things, right? There’s an emotional sideline. Everyone has their opinion on the sideline. We have a process and the way it starts, again, teamwork, logistics and communication. So I want to hear it confirmed upstairs. There’s trust too. Some players, they claim they got the ball every time. Our guys were convicted. I got the call upstairs. So, I went with it. Good teamwork.”

On whether it’s accurate to say they turned it on late offensively: “There’s so much unknown. It’s kind of like you get into Round 1 and there’s a little bit of sparring. Don’t like that the ball got popped up the first play. You don’t want to sit there and be obvious that you’re trying to throw something different at them. Didn’t go really well for multiple reasons.

But you adapt. You’re able to play the momentum off the turnover. Able to punch it in. Bijan made a heck of a play. I thought in the second half, you adapt to circumstances of the game. That’s what coaching is. Our guys did, and there’s a lot of trust, but that had been built up. Like I said, we’ll get back to work. Happy I get to coach guys like that.”

On whether it’s accurate to say they pressured Panthers QB Bryce Young more often as the game went on: “We tried to [come after Young early]. They threw the screen on the first third down. We had a chance to heat them up. They made a play. Got the first down. We had a stop on the fourth down after that series. I don’t claim to have a photographic memory like some of the guys in this business do, but if my memory serves me correct, and you can fact check me as you’re scrolling through your name on Twitter or X or whatever they call it. I believe that was they converted the third down on the screen. We came after him. I think he threw to Shenault, and we stopped them on 4th-and-1. That was a big momentum play. We did try to come after him early. Again, we adapted some of our rush plans. I thought David Onyemata had some big rushes late. We started to hit him. We weren’t getting to him early, that’s credit to them, but we started to wear them down and hit him.”

On QB Desmond Ridder’s composure when things weren’t going well: “He’s not afraid of any moment. What happens sometimes is guys have to do more. It’s a long series. It’s the National Football League. Sometimes when people are pressing -- the good thing about Des is you can actually coach him. He’s not one of those guys that tries to take his ball and go home. When Dave and I are talking to him, just get back to your basics. But if we didn’t have that trust, you don’t call those plays late.”

On CB Tre Flowers filling in for CB Jeff Okudah: Tre had a great camp. Had a lot of faith in Tre, but that’s why you try to build depth. Mike Hughes practiced well all week, but again, you’re trying to play the long game sometimes, so there’s a strategy. So, we brought Brooksy up – Natrone Brooks – and the way we thought, just being smart, trying to play the long game. Mike had a good week, but that’s one of the decisions you’ve got to make. When there’s trust built between the staff and the players, and there’s some strategy in it involved, but yeah, absolutely.”

On fourth quarter adjustments: “It’s coaching. That’s what it is. It’s the National Football League. When you’ve got a good staff and smart players, that’s how you make those adjustments. It doesn’t happen – you can’t sit there, it’s not like Hollywood. People think – and they do a great job at NFL Films cutting up the emotion, but like I told you, somebody asked me about play-calling earlier in the week. I mean that. When you’ve got a good staff, it should go in sync. That’s what happens. Guys going back and forth, and it was great communication with the defensive staff, offensive staff, special teams. That’s what you have to have, that cohesion that allows you to do stuff like that. ‘Here’s their plan today. Ok, here’s what’ – again, there’s unknowns. Some of it is our own execution and our lack of. Give them credit. The other is pivot and adapt, and we pivoted. We certainly wanted to throw it a little bit more in the first half. Didn’t go very well. So, you pivot and you play the situations, but you can’t do that if you don’t have the right people. Certainly, that gives us a chance every week because of the way we’re built.”

On how pleased he was with RB Tyler Allgeier’s performance today: “Very. Mike Petry does a great job. He ran the ball pretty well early on, so give and take. You’ve got to pivot. We’ll happily go back after a win and get some things cleaned up and we’ll adapt, but Tyler had a couple of carries. Again, you have guys like that, you’re coming off a big year – stating the obvious – you take a player like Bijan. They’re different players. If you’ve got selfish guys and they don’t trust you, it can go sideways, but what you saw is when you go from Bijan to Tyler, two pretty damn good football players

What you saw is when you go from Bijan to Tyler, two pretty damn good football players. Like I said, it was a heck of a run he made to bounce that thing. He’s just so strong, and so is Bijan. It’s a joy to coach them.”

On the importance of the early fourth-down stop: “Yeah, it’s like a turnover, absolutely. They make the decision. It’s nothing special now. Everybody’s got the same numbers. I would be shocked if they had kicked it. It becomes almost obvious. I think that kind of happened in baseball. Reading something that was written by Theo Epstein one time, but – so you expect people to do that, especially in that middle, plus territory. So, our guys are wired that way. It’s something we practice all the time. It still doesn’t mean you’re going to execute it, and so credit to our players, but that’s a huge – it’s like a turnover. It really is. However you want to look at it, a three-point swing.”

On whether that was the workload split that he expected out of Allgeier and Robinson: “Certainly, you want to have more, longer drives. We’ve got to get better on third down to state the obvious. It’s also the game plan. If you go back and look at where Bijan played when he plays the nontraditional running back when Tyler’s in there – depending sometimes how you package plays. May call a run, then go to a screen, may go to a pass or whatever, but certainly when you get in at halftime, and he’s run the ball well, but he hasn’t gotten enough carries, that’s when you pivot and adapt.”

On whether he thinks RB Tyler Allgeier’s growing confidence has translated to the field: “It translated pretty well today. Tyler is a special player. I think he’s got a unique mindset like a lot of our guys do.”

On whether they anticipated the running backs getting the majority of touches in today’s game: “No, we’re going to try to be more balanced. Give Carolina credit. Put it on me. We’ve got to be cleaner. In the second half, the way the game was going, you just pivot. We certainly want to be more balanced. Somehow we come out of this game – and I’ll never apologize for winning – and it’s like, ‘Hey, there they go running again,’ but we can do a better job.”

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