Recharged Smittyball 2.0 on the Way?
This may be a somewhat controversial post for some and it should be noted that this is not necessarily a condemnation or derogatory piece on Mike Smith. This is just a look at what type of team the Falcons may field in 2014. And more importantly, what schemes and strategy the Falcons may assume.
An True Explanation of Smittyball
First of all, the term “Smittyball” was coined by our own Ken Strickland a long time ago. Some feel that “Smittyball” represents one run, one play, or one series. That is not what most of us think of when we say Smittyball. For most of us, it represents an overall philosophy that guides everything about this team from Smith’s point of view. And that is one of hyper-conservative, risk-averse leadership. It’s not necessarily a bad thing many times. That philosophy has helped him become the Falcons all-time winning coach, turn the franchise around, earn the #1 seed in the NFC twice, and make the playoffs 4 out of 6 years. However, the fear is that it will not lead to the ultimate prize of a Lombardi trophy. There have been quite a few hints and clues that a recharged Smittyball might be on the way.
A Change at the Tight End Position
Maybe this is not that big of a deal, but when Smith came out and said that, essentially, the Falcons would no longer use the tight end as much of a passing threat, alarm bells went off with some fans. Yes, there’s no way that the Falcons could replace Tony Gonzalez. No team really could for that matter. However, that means that they aren’t even going to try? He averaged 80 catches a year while in Atlanta, and that was even in the more conservative years of 2009 and 2010.
Changes occur every year in strategy and philosophy. All coaching staffs do it. But this wasn’t subtle and they didn’t even try to find a vertical threat at tight end, either in free agency or the draft. Perhaps the most angering aspect about this is that the Falcons have been unable or unwilling to find a sure replacement for Tony Gonzalez in 5 years, even knowing he was 33 years old when they traded for him. No disrespect to Toilolo, but a team hellbent on creating competition at every other position, have given virtually none to Toilolo. To throw in that fact, they added two blocking tight ends in Bear Pascoe in free agency and Jacob Pederson via undrafted free agency. Again, maybe it’s just a small change, but wasn’t the Falcons best and most explosive offense in 2012 when they had Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez?
The Addition of Devin Hester
It would be awesome and very pleasant surprise if Hester finds his way on the field on offense, but don’t hold your breath. Giving Hester a pretty large contract to be kick and punt returner signals their renewed interest on the return game. By itself, that’s not a problem and is a very good thing. But if you read between the lines, it’s hard not to see that the Falcons are putting a much heavier emphasis on the field position battle, a Smittyball hallmark. That’s a great thing when you have a dominant defense, because the two will go hand in hand. But if you’re counting on the Falcons having one of the best defenses in the NFL, there’s some fantastic oceanfront property for sale in Kansas you should look into. Again, maybe this is reaching, but it feels like another notch in the “Return of Smittyball” belt.
Running the Ball is all the Buzz
Whether it’s Dirk Koetter, Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, Mike Tice, Steven Jackson, or anyone else associated with the Falcons this off-season, running the ball has been the big and often repeated mantra. It’s really a no-brainer the Falcons have to run the ball better. They were the worst offense in the NFL at running the ball. However, does running the ball better really mean running the ball more? They added Jon Asamoah at right guard, Jake Matthews at right tackle (until Sam Baker-LT charade is over), kept Joe Hawley at center (you decide whether that was a good thing), and have seemed to do a good job of creating competition for backup spots including Gabe Carimi, Lamar Holmes, Ryan Schraeder, Harland Gunn, Mike Johnson, and Peter Konz. All signs point to the Falcons running the ball better, but does that simply mean running the ball……..more?
Steven Jackson = Turner Redux?
No offense to Steven Jackson whatsoever, but he will be 31 years old when the Falcons tee it up in September. The 30-age RB wall is not a myth, but a simple reality: their bodies simply can’t hold up after taking a beating for so long. Even the most durable backs of all-time (Ladanian Tomlinson for instance) see a steep downturn after they hit 30 years of age. Jackson had gained over 10,000 yards in his career and, sure enough, he got injured early in the year and didn’t have a good year and seemed to have lost a step even when he was healthy.
This sounds eerily familiar. The same thing happened with Michael Turner a few years back. He was the model of consistency, and around 30 years of age in 2012, he took a major step back. The question really goes to the fact of how long Smith will stick with his veteran. He has new draft pick Devonta Freeman, Jacquizz Rodgers, super speedster Antone Smith, and even Josh Vaughn looked good in preseason last year. If it’s indeed a “Return to Smittyball” than expect him to hold onto Jackson way longer than he should.
Hot Seat Return to Base Values
There’s a belief among some that when people in high profile positions feel heat in their jobs, they always return to what they know best. They become more risk-averse, less confident in any change, and generally more conservative. Similar to the idea of “circling the wagons” within yourself. There’s no proof to this, but only predictions by some that Smith will go back to his core beliefs about football and that’s “Smittyball” at its core: hyper-conservative, risk-averse, ball control offense, and prevent, soft-zone defense. That may turn out not to be true, but given all the various clues, fans may be in for a Recharged Smittyball 2.0!