Falcons OC Koetter says opponents can’t key on A. Smith

Falcons running back Antone Smith hasn’t gotten a carry, reception or pass target on 61 percent of his plays, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said that’s an important factor in Smith’s remarkable big-play streak.

After Smith had touchdown runs for 50 and 38 yards on two of his five carries in 2013, Koetter said opponents started keying on Smith because he usually got the ball when he was in the game. This season Smith has played 49 snaps with 11 carries, six catches, and two incomplete passes by quarterback Matt Ryan while throwing his way.

“Last year it was like every time he went in the game (opponents) were like ‘Hey, 35 is in the game,’” Koetter said. “Because we have been playing Antone more—I know people think he hasn’t been playing enough—but we’ve been playing him more and he doesn’t get the ball every time he’s in. He is running between the tackles. He is (pass) protecting. He is doing all the things Steven Jackson does, all the thing Jacquizz (Rodgers) does.”

Smith’s 74-yard touchdown catch against the Giants on Sunday was his fourth score of the season, with all of the plays going for at least 38 yards. After the game Falcons coach Mike Smith said Smith deserved more touches.

“Antone is on a hot streak with the ball in his hands,” Koetter said. “I’ve never seen a guy on a streak where a guy is making this many big plays based on percentage of time he’s in there. Antone is improving in all areas but the thing he is best is when he get the ball in space. That’s his thing.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Antone Smith has been reasonably efficient in limited rushes between the tackles: 17 yards on four carries (4.25) average. He has one lust fumble on his seventeen touches.

Koetter said Jackson and Rodgers are both effective in pass protection and that Smith and Devonta Freeman are improving. Smith bristled at the suggestion that he has issues in protection.

“I have no problem with pass blocking,” he said. “I said that’s one of the things I have to work on. Every running back has something to work on. Running the ball is easy; catching the ball is easy. But a million dollar quarterback, you’ve got to be able to protect him. That’s something every running back has to work on.”

Smith said he hasn’t noticed extra attention from opponents because of his big plays.

“If I have an impact on the game like that, they have to take away (attention) from the rest of the guys like Julio and Roddy and Matt throwing the ball,” Smith said. “I don’t think I am that much of a big problem for the other team.”

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