The situation was critical. The Falcons had it on their own 29-yard line with 4:48 left on the clock. They were down by seven points, 27-20. It was fourth down and they needed only one yard.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith decided to go for it instead of punting it away. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked on the play and they turned it over on downs to the Giants, who promptly kicked a 26-yard field goal to ice the game with only 2:11 remaining.
Some have criticized Smith, saying he should have had more faith in his defense and kicked it away. But as he put it later, “We had not stopped them.”
Smith was right. The Giants had scored 14 unanswered points to take a 27-20 lead. The Atlanta defense was not stopping anyone. That’s what happens when your defense is not playing well. You do things you would not normally do when your team can’t stop the opposition.
Then Tuesday defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hinted around that he didn’t agree with Smith’s decision. Nolan, a former head coach of the 49’ers, was out of line and should have just said he supported the decision of his head coach. Instead, Nolan intimated that Smith screwed up.
Well, if Nolan’s defense had shown it could stop someone, maybe Smith wouldn’t have been so aggressive in trying to make sure the Falcons could have a better shot at tying the score.
But look, it’s not all Nolan’s fault. He’s trying to make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. The Falcons do not have impact players on defense. John Abraham is gone. Jessie Tuggle is long-retired. Some of the others that were thought to be impact players have not panned out, like Osi Umenyiora, who is not a pass-rush specialist.
Blame Thomas Dimitroff if you want to, since he failed to bring in an impact pass rush specialist this past offseason. There was (and still is) money left under the cap, but the Falcons believed the improved run defense with Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson would make the difference.
The Falcons have the 5th-worst run defense through the first five weeks of the season. The defense has allowed 147.6 yards per game so far. The pass defense is a bit better. It is ranked 24th with 259.6 yards per game given up. Atlanta is giving up 407.2 yards per game overall, which is 4th-worst in the NFL.
How about sacks? The Falcons have the second-fewest number of sacks in the NFL with only four.
So that’s why this team is 2-3. They’ve lost three road games – to Cincinnati, to Minnesota and to the New York Giants. That’s an issue unto itself. But the defense is the main problem.
And that’s why Smith did something Sunday that he would not have normally done. It’s what happens when your defense is downright offensive.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smith made right call on 4th down play
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