Falcons want a common vision without any lobbying from ‘Capitol Hill’

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons’ depth at tight end and along the defensive line will be tested over at least the next four games.

The Falcons lost Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts and defensive end/tackle Ta’Quon Graham to knee surgeries and both were placed on injured reserve.

The reserve defensive tackles pitched in to help pull out the 27-24 win against the Bears and tight ends, No. 2 through No. 5, will try to replace Pitts moving forward. The Falcons (5-6) are set to face the Commanders (6-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field in Maryland.

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Coach Arthur Smith discussed the common vision of the personnel department and the coaching staff that has helped them to provide depth on the roster.

“Well, it says a lot about us as a football staff,” Smith said. “Our personnel guys do a great job. They found players from everywhere, and if you got common vision and you don’t have a political staff where it feels like Capitol Hill.”

Owner Arthur Blank got a kick out of that line and chuckled. Smith kept going.

“You got a great group of people that can check their egos at the door, and part of our jobs as coaches is to be on the same page and develop guys because it’s naturally going to happen in the NFL, you get to a game, and hopefully Kyle is all right, that’s what coaching is, you got to alter your plans, switch it on,” Smith said. “MyCole Pruitt stepped up big time.”

Pruitt, 30, who’s in his eighth season in the league, will get more action with Pitts out.

“There were little things, nuances in the game plan that he did that nobody will ever know, but that’s our job,” Smith said. “That’s our job as coaches, as a football staff and a team. Our guys believe that. Whoever is out there, we got faith in.”

While playing with a league-record $77.4 million in dead salary-cap space, the Falcons are in the NFC playoff battle with six games to play.

“We’re all going to make mistakes,” Smith said. “I’m not going to call a perfect game, and we’re not going to bat 1,000 on draft picks. If you sign a guy in free agency, it’s a fine line of when to turn the page so you don’t let one mistake become two, as you can see it’s happened all over the history of pro sports.”

The consensus building starts in the offseason. Now, with the season in full swing, it’s a matter of execution, performance and production.

“It’s hard because you can make a subjective argument that, ‘hey you need to give him more time’ or you move on too quick, or guys (want to) keep him when you know he can’t get play,” Smith said. “It takes three different position coaches for you to realize that a guy can play. I’ve seen that, too.”

Just because the Falcons try to have a common vision, it doesn’t mean that they don’t disagree on matters.

“So, when you get guys and you get opinions and you disagree, but at the end of the day, you make decisions and you move forward. That’s what you’re looking for,” Smith said. “Easier said than done, and we have a great staff over there. They find guys from everywhere, right? We’ve gotten Dee Alford from the CFL, and the list goes on and on and on.

“Feleipe (Franks), a guy who has been a valuable roster player who was a quarterback coming in here, all kinds of guys, Jalen Dalton, Timmy Horne, Bernie (Jared Bernhardt). I mean, all of these guys that we have, even a guy like Avery (Williams), the impact that he’s had even as a late-round pick, DB, returner, been a good player for us on offense. That’s what I appreciate about that staff.”

Once the season is over, the coaching staff gets involved in the personnel side of things.

“When those picks get made, we’re all on board,” Falcons outside linebacker coach Ted Monachino said. “They are Falcons picks. They are not (general manager Terry Fontenot’s) picks, (Smith’s) picks or Ted’s picks. These are Falcons picks.”

The scouts have been on the road since August, and the draft meetings will start after the season.

“The work has been done on the front end, and it’s exhaustive,” Monachino said. “But I will tell you that we look at all of them. There are a lot of different factors that we look at.”

The Falcons have drafted three outside linebackers in the past two drafts – Ade Ogundeji in 2021 and Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone in 2022.

“Can he physically do the things we ask the guys at that positions to do,” Monachino said of evaluating a player. “No. 2, is he our type of guy from a football character standpoint. Will he play tough, rough, physical, rugged and hard all the time? Can he learn? Can he adapt during the course of a game and during the course of a practice?”

By the time the draft rolls around, the Falcons have answers for those pertinent questions.

“It’s a sliding scale,” Monachino said. “Those guys with predominant pass-rush trait, they tend to move up the list. If you have two guys that are exactly the same, you take the bigger one, or you take the smarter one or whatever that is, that one factor that separates them. That’s how you make those decisions.”

Ebiketie is off to a fine start, and Malone is set to have his snaps increased down the stretch.

“We had a lot of love for both of those guys when they came out,” Monachino said. “We were fortunate that the draft fell the way that it did, and we were able to get them both.”

Pruitt doesn’t feel any added pressure to replace Pitts.

“It’s not just me having an increased role,” Pruitt said. “It’s everybody on the offense. Kyle is a guy who one person can’t make up for his contribution. So, the whole offense has to step up. Every position, and that’s the way that you fill in for a guy like Kyle.”

Pruitt could have signed elsewhere, but had played for Smith in Tennessee from 2018-20.

“That had a lot to do with it,” Pruitt said. “I had a lot of familiarity with Art, his system. I feel like this was a place where I could come in and contribute right away.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 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 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

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