After four games, these are your 2014 Falcons — tied for No. 1 in the NFL in total offense and next-to-last (ahead of Jacksonville, which shouldn’t count) in total defense. Not to mix sports, but these Falcons are looking much like the 2014 Braves, who just sacked up the bats, not that they put them to much use. Like the Braves, who could pitch but couldn’t hit, the Falcons are expert at one thing but so awful at the other that they appear bound for mediocrity.
The Braves’ higher-ups were so distressed by what they beheld that they fired the general manager who’d assembled three playoff teams in four years, and they didn’t sugar-coat it by mouthing the we’re-going-in-a-different-direction line. In both their news release and their subsequent presser, the Braves used a brutal word. Fifty-one weeks after the team entered the playoffs as National League East champs, the Braves announced they’d “terminated” Frank Wren.
The state of the Falcons isn’t dissimilar. They had four playoff seasons in five years followed by last year’s 4-12. They chose only to terminate their offensive and defensive line coaches, leaving the general manager and head coach in place. But the Falcons expect big things from this team — even bigger than the rosiest of outside projections, which would be 10-6 — and they’re 2-2 with the second-worse defense in the NFL.
Like the Braves, the Falcons are about to move to a shiny new stadium. Unlike the Braves, the Falcons plan to sell personal seat licenses, which taste like castor oil if the team that’s peddling them is losing. Unlike the Braves, who have corporate ownership and rather circumspect (at least until last week) management, the Falcons are controlled by Arthur Blank, who’s known in-house as The Man Who Sends The Angry Red Emails.
Before becoming the best head coach the Falcons have ever had, Mike Smith was a respected defensive coordinator for Jacksonville. It makes no sense that such a man would preside over a team that cannot defend. Except for the blip against Tampa Bay, the Falcons have yielded at least 472 yards in every game. On Sunday they were torched for 558 by a Minnesota team playing without Adrian Peterson and operating behind a rookie quarterback making his first start.
It’s time the Falcons started making sense. Smith needs to coach this defense, it being apparent that Mike Nolan cannot. We can argue that Nolan hasn’t been equipped with enough real defenders — a pass rusher would have been nice — but when you’ve been shredded for 558 yards in a 41-28 road loss in which you were favored … well, there’s no excusing that.
It was always whispered that Smith schemed hand-in-glove when the wayfaring Brian VanGorder was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator. It’s believed Nolan, who arrived with a longer history as an NFL coach, has been given freer rein. It’s time to tighten that. It’s time for Smitty to get gritty and do the X’s himself — because the opposing O’s are winning. (And the Falcons’ raging offense might be slowed by its decimated line.)
One down season didn’t cost Smith his job. With Blank as his boss and PSLs looming, another surely would. Smith must step in and coach the Falcons’ defense — or else he won’t be coaching anything.
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