Mike Smith is catching it from every direction right now for going for it on 4th and inches on his own 29 yard line in overtime. I don’t fault Smith for going for it, however I do fault him for the play call (more on that in a minute). The fans and media criticize a coach when a gutsy play goes wrong and say that Smith didn’t have faith in his defense.
Why can’t it be that he had too much faith in his offense and none of these opinions would have been heard if the Falcons got the first down? The TCU coach went for a two point conversion on the road in Boise State, where they haven’t lost since we feared Y2K. That decision won him the game and made him a hero but if the pass was just one more inch inside, it would have been condemned as the dumbest decision ever (ok, behind Mark Sanchez’s timeout).
Should Smith be blame free? Of course not, but it’s the conservative play call that should be drawing him heat. He said he went for it because all they needed was a couple of inches. Well, that was true until he lined up Michael Turner 8-yards deep from the first down mark. I’ve included 3 pictures so you can look as we go along.
The Saints came out with 11 defenders within 2-yards of the point of contact. The Falcons line up with 8 blockers on the line, Matt Ryan, a fullback that was 5-yards away from the defenders, and of course Turner. By the time the fullback reached the line, all 11 defenders are past the point of the eight blockers. Who would have known that 11 defenders could overtake eight blockers before a ninth blocker entered the melee? Ryan obviously isn’t going to block for Turner so the Falcons have no way of winning this battle. Turner met contact 3-yards behind the line to gain. There was literally a cluster of 20 people between the next three yards. I don’t care what great running back in NFL history you put in that situation; they are set up to fail.
I don’t want to hear that hindsight BS. The reason for going for it was because they needed inches not yards. This play added 8-yards to what the team needed and lacked creativity, and that’s in part what has been holding this team back all year. The Falcons have so many offensive weapons, but Coach Smith doesn’t know how to use them. It’s taken Smith half of the season to get Jacquizz Rodgers more touches and adapt the offense to all of their weapons. They still haven’t got the last part figured out yet. What should they have called on 4th and inches? Spread the field and get better matchups, quarterback sneak, kick it outside etc. There were numerous better options. Whether you agree with them or not, they would have given the team a better opportunity for success. With 11 defenders that close to the line, wouldn’t you trust Turner to beat or make 1 cornerback miss towards the outside? Wouldn’t you trust Ryan to get a push of a few inches without 11 defenders on the ball? Wouldn’t you trust Tony Gonzalez one on one on a quick hit route over this alignment?
Okay, I can’t drop this topic without touching on a guy who’s getting a pass from everyone (and probably dropping it). Roddy White had a bad game and it proved costly. One ball went through his hands that turned into an interception. Then on the final drive, Matt Ryan made a throw that should have ended the game, but White couldn’t haul it in. This led to the Falcons kicking a field goal and sending the game to overtime. While there is plenty of blame for Mike Smith, let’s not give a pass to the other problems with this Falcons team.
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock