I hope one of Mike Smith’s New Year’s Resolutions is to work on Atlanta’s third-down problems.
The 22-17 loss to Tampa Bay was not the finish Smitty was hoping for in week 17. Smith said his team would ‘Play to Win’ in the season finale at the Georgia Dome, even though the Falcons were the only playoff team that got business taken care of before the final week of the season. With that being said, the fact that Atlanta lost doesn’t bother me at all. I wasn’t even perturbed at Smith continuing to play the starters after John Abraham and Dunta Robinson went down with injuries. I honestly believe both will be ready to play in two weeks. One thing that annoyed me watching the game was how the offense and defense struggled on third down.
It’s a problem that has reared its ugly head more than it should throughout the entire season, and it needs to be the focus during the bye week.
I’ve been saying all season that while the ‘Bend-but-don’t-break’ defense philosophy has worked during the regular season, it could definitely hurt the Falcons in the playoffs, especially if the opposing team jumps out to an early lead. Atlanta can’t keep welcoming offenses into redzone and expect they’ll keep teams out of the endzone. That viewpoint needs to change for playoffs. Tampa only scored one TD the entire game, but it was the FIVE field goals that did Atlanta in. We should try to keep teams out of field goal range unless we’re up by two TD’s. Make opposing teams fight for every yard.
Then there’s the offense…
They still look lost on those third-and-short situations. A interesting stat popped up while I was watching the game. It said Atlanta was only converting a league-worst 50% when a yard or less was needed on third-down. That stat speaks volumes about Atlanta in the trenches. A team with as many weapons as the Falcons should be able to get a yard when they need it. It’s a problem that has plagued them since last season (Giants?)…Find out why and fix it fast. Mike needs to inform Pat Hill about it, that battle (trenches) HAS to be won in the playoffs.
Getting off to a hot start will be important in the playoffs, especially if we’re facing a rookie QB. Playoff pressure is a different kind of encumbrance…Make a rookie QB feel it in a loud environemnt like The Dome and watch their confidence shatter. Wear the defense out by keeping them on the field by converting those crucial third downs, and when the rookie QB does touch the field? Expose his inexperience by getting him off the field ASAP. Let the young QB know how dissimilar the regular season is from the NFL Playoffs.
If we happen to see an experienced QB (Like Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship maybe?), Atlanta HAS to score first, and when the lead is captured, the Dink-and-Dunk will come in handy. Time of possession is important when facing a experienced QB, so long drives that keeps the QB from getting hot would be helpful. That means converting a lot of third downs and finishing with TD’s and not FG’s (Unless you have a sizable lead).
Winning the third down battle in the playoffs should be of utmost importance.
Enjoy the New Year Everyone!!!!