Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith reacts after the Falcons failed to gain a first down against the New England Patriots during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith: Falcons will control what they can amid offensive slump

Despite two anemic showings in a span of five days last week, coach Arthur Smith insists the Atlanta Falcons’ season isn’t over.

And he certainly doesn’t want to hear about next year or a long-term rebuild.

Smith was asked during his Monday presser if the franchise faced a “bigger reconstruction project” than what he and general manager Terry Fontenot initially expected.

“You’re not gonna put those words in my mouth. You know what I’m saying?” Smith said. “Look, we understood exactly what the job entailed. There’s things that come up along the way and you have to adapt.

“Like I said, as bad as the last two games have felt, what the reality is (is) we’re 4-6. And if we can play better, find a way to go win Sunday, you’re not out of it this year. And we’ll see where it goes.”

Sunday’s visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars on paper looks like an easier task than Atlanta’s prior two weeks. The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots beat the Falcons by a combined 68-3.

Smith said the Falcons must “play a lot smarter” and not become “obvious” on offense in order to improve. They gained just 214 yards of offense Nov. 14 against Dallas, with Matt Ryan throwing two interceptions and just nine completions. Ryan performed slightly better the following Thursday against New England, but threw another two picks as Atlanta mustered only 165 total yards.

Without all-purpose weapon Cordarrelle Patterson due to an ankle injury, the Falcons gained only 40 rushing yards against the Patriots. The team has also been without No. 1 wide receiver Calvin Ridley since Oct. 31, when he announced he needed to step away temporarily from football for mental health reasons.

Smith did not offer any updates about Ridley, who’s eligible to return from the non-football injury list this week, nor about offensive lineman Matt Gono, who has yet to play this year due to an undisclosed injury.

“You’ve got to expect the unexpected sometimes in this job,” Smith said. “There’s some things that are out of your control … Of course you don’t wish some of the things happen that do, but then you’ve gotta get over it, you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to problem-solve. You got to stick with it, control the things you can control.”

With seven games to go, Atlanta is looking up at several teams in between itself and the final NFC wild-card berth, which as of Monday belonged to NFC East rival New Orleans as part of a tie at 5-5. The Falcons are just one game behind that and have one head-to-head win against the Saints in hand thus far.

Before breaking down postseason scenarios, the Falcons will need to take the winnable games in front of them, including the 2-8 Jaguars in Week 12.

“The reality is we have a great opportunity this week,” Smith said. “We’re not where we want to be. We gotta own it. We’re 4-6. We deserve to be. But we’re still in the mix with a big game down in Jacksonville this week.”

–Field Level Media

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17), is stopped short of a first down during second half action by Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24), Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant (27) and Atlanta Falcons free safety Erik Harris (23) other NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday in Miami Gardens.

Atlant Falcons V Miami Dolphins 20

Falcons CB A.J. Terrell earning notice as a lockdown corner

The Atlanta Falcons’ defense held Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans Saints to three points through three quarters Sunday, then survived a late comeback attempt for a 27-25 win on the road.

Among the Atlanta defenders who gave a stellar performance was cornerback A.J. Terrell, who broke up a season-high three passes from New Orleans quarterback Trevor Siemian and recorded five tackles.

The second-year pro has yet to snag his first interception of the season, but he has helped the Falcons by locking down his side of the field as Atlanta has improved to 4-4.

“He’s been solid,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday. “He makes an impact on every game when he’s out there. He continues to improve. He’s had some chances to pick the ball off, and I think next time he probably will.”

There are other ways to grade a defensive back besides interception total — especially when quarterbacks decide it’s better not to throw someone’s way. According to Pro Football Focus, Terrell has allowed just 74 receiving yards this season, the fewest of any starting corner in the league.

Smith was quick to point out that Terrell will attract more attention from fans and the media because of his status as a first-round draft pick last year out of Clemson. Smith said Fabian Moreau has also had a strong season opposite Terrell. The Falcons have needed them to perform, with slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver lost for the season with a knee injury.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Smith said. “(Terrell) could probably tell you he could still play better. I know there (will be) some social media fan boy … when you look at some of these other grading systems and whatever. He’s done a nice job, but he can continue to get better for us.”

That will be pivotal as the Falcons head into Week 10’s visit to the Dallas Cowboys, whose normally dynamic offense features not only Dak Prescott at quarterback but also a talented receiver tandem in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

The Falcons passed over Lamb when they selected Terrell 16th overall in the 2020 draft. A former five-star high school prospect, Terrell grew up in Atlanta before heading to Clemson, where he grabbed a pick-six off Tua Tagovailoa in the Tigers’ national championship game victory in January of 2019.

For now, the hometown connection is paying dividends for the Falcons. On the season, Terrell has six pass breakups and a forced fumble to go with 29 tackles, after making 14 starts as a rookie and racking up seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception.

But as Smith said, “it’s everybody involved” that he needs to continue producing on defense.

“There’s a lot of people that help and make this thing go,” Smith said. “The contributions that you get from guys, and it’s a long season, you need that. There’s no scholarships given here. Everybody we bring in there, as we say, has a chance to play and contribute.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) tries for a catch against Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn (21) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith to Falcons rookie TE: ‘Don’t live through your avatar’

Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons are learning a few lessons the hard way this season, the rookie coach said Monday.

For one, breakout rookie tight end Kyle Pitts coming back to Earth courtesy of a session with Panthers shutdown cover man Stephon Gilmore.

Asked what Pitts could learn from Sunday’s battle with Gilmore, Smith said, “don’t live through your avatar.”

“It’s a fake world, and we’re all guilty of it,” Smith said. “He’s got to look at the big picture and the process. It’s a tough profession. It’s a tough league. I said it last week, coaches and players, you’ll get humbled real quick if you’re not ready. That’s the grind of the National Football League. … It’s a lesson learned for him. Give Gilmore credit. My money is on Kyle will learn from it (and) if he takes that mindset, he’ll be just fine.”

Coming off a dominant performance in the Falcons’ 30-28 win over the Dolphins, Pitts was held to two catches for 13 yards in Gilmore’s debut with the Panthers. He had 16 receptions and 282 yards in the two previous games, wins over Miami and the New York Jets.

Smith didn’t place the blame on Pitts, who is getting more attention with wide receiver Calvin Ridley out for the second time in three weeks to address his mental health. Ridley is not expected to play this week.

Regardless of his personnel on the perimeter, Smith expects the Falcons to pick up the performance on the line of scrimmage.

“Until they change the rules of the game, if you’re losing the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to win,” Smith said of the 19-13 loss to the Panthers.

“We’re going to win and lose games as an entire team. You’ve got to give Carolina credit. They beat us on the line of scrimmage both sides of the football. They had a game plan to come in here and execute and they stuck with it.”

Carolina had two interceptions, recorded three sacks and ran 72 plays to 50 for Atlanta while rushing for 203 yards without All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.

Smith said the inability to put pressure on the Panthers was “frustrating” and a grave concern based on what he’s seen from the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are one spot behind the Panthers — and sixth in the NFL — with 219 rushing attempts in 2021.

“They beat us on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “We better fix it in a hurry. We’re going down to a hornet’s nest in New Orleans. You can probably take a good educated guess what their game plan is going to be.”

New Orleans knocked off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday but lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston. In Tennessee last season, Smith worked closely with Trevor Siemian, who replaced Winston in the victory over Tampa. He was the Titans’ emergency quarterback on the practice squad.

“We’ll look at Trevor,” Smith said of how he’ll prepare this week. “He’s a good guy, smart player. He played (Sunday) and played well.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith talks to quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during a timeout against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Confidence kickstarts 3-3 Falcons

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith feels good about the health of his team, including the secondary he disagreed was “banged up pretty good.”

There is no debating his level of confidence in kicker Younghoe Koo, who is standing out during a season in which kicking struggles appear to be contagious.

“You build confidence — we’ve got a lot of confidence in Younghoe,” Smith said. “That’s not an easy position to break into this league. Most of the times those guys get cut. … It’s tough. You’ve got to be tough-minded. It’s a specialty job. You see a career path, a lot of these guys, they bounce around. Fortunately, Younghoe is here. He’s a guy that’s improved. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. Of course, you look up there, I had all the confidence in the world, just like I did in New York, he’s going to smoke that thing in there. He did.”

Koo made a 36-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired Sunday, leading the Falcons to a 30-28 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Smith said he had a laugh about Koo’s celebration, but his success feeds his thinking when it comes to strategy.

“You get paid to make decisions,” Smith said. “That’s what you signed up for.”

Atlanta is 3-3 with wins over the Dolphins (1-6), New York Jets (1-5) and New York Giants (2-5).

The 3-4 Carolina Panthers are due up this weekend for Halloween festivities in Atlanta. Game 5 of the World Series is scheduled for Sunday between the Braves and Astros.

Smith said he grew up following the Braves in Tennessee with no MLB team to pull for, and appreciates “how electric the atmosphere was” during the NLCS games in Atlanta.

The Panthers opened the season 3-0 but have lost four straight. Starting quarterback Sam Darnold finished Sunday’s game on the bench but is set to return this week, according to Carolina coach Matt Rhule.

NFL Network also reported cornerback Stephon Gilmore, acquired from the New England Patriots, would suit up for the Panthers in Week 8. It’s possible Gilmore will align across from rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who racked up 163 yards at Miami.

Smith confirmed right tackle Kaleb McGary, who didn’t play against the Dolphins, was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

“That’s why you have a team. That’s life in the NFL,” Smith said.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a catch in front of New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons’ Arthur Smith on Julio Jones: Conversations are private

Atlanta Falcons first-year coach Arthur Smith on Tuesday didn’t shed much light on the rampant trade speculation involving All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.

One day after Jones told Fox Sports that he was “outta there,” Smith elected against answering questions on the seven-time Pro Bowl wideout.

Smith did not directly address whether Jones asked for a trade earlier this year or whether the sides could come to an agreement on the upcoming season.

“Any private conversation that I have with our players is going to remain private on my end,” Smith said. “And I’m not going to sit here and comment on any potential roster moves that we may or may not make.”

When asked about the notion of trading away a franchise favorite in Jones, Smith elected to take a bigger-picture perspective.

“Look, this is a tough business. We all signed up for it, coaches and players, we understand that. But everything we do here is going to be well thought out and it’s going to be handled out behind the scenes with dignity with the players. As long as I’m here, that’s that way it’ll be done.”

Multiple reports emerged before the NFL Draft last month that indicated the Falcons were listening to trade overtures from other teams. That came after Jones asked for a trade at the start of the offseason, and the team was trying to honor his request behind the scenes, per reports, adding the Falcons were seeking a first-round draft pick in return.

Jones, 32, caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns in nine games in 2020. His low production was a byproduct of injuries. The Falcons selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Jones has three years left on his contract, including $15.3 million for the 2021 season and $11.51 million for 2022 and 2023. His salary cap hit for 2021 is $23.1 million.

Between Jones, Matt Ryan and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, more than $70 million in 2021 salary cap space is consumed by three contracts.

Jones and Ryan have been one of the most prolific combinations in NFL history. Entering last season, Jones’ career average of 96.2 receiving yards per game was the best in NFL history.

But the hamstring injury derailed his 2020 season and Ryan clicked with Calvin Ridley. The third-year pro caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s owed just $1.9 million in the final year of his rookie contract but the Falcons are planning to exercise his fifth-year option for 2022.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA;  Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

New Falcons coach excited to work with QB Matt Ryan

Taking over as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Smith knows one person he can rely on for stability: quarterback Matt Ryan.

After sparking quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s career as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans the past two seasons, Smith now gets to work with a former NFL Most Valuable Player at QB.

“(Matt) is a great leader and obviously there’s a lot of things he can do, but I don’t get into comparisons because we did something with Ryan,” Smith told AtlantaFalcons.com on Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to do the same things with Matt.

“We’re going to play to Matt’s strengths just like we tried to play to Ryan’s strengths.”

Ryan, 35, is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in pass attempts (626) and completions (407) while throwing for 4,581 yards, which ranked fourth in the league. He fired 26 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

As for how the rest of the roster will shake out, Smith said, “We’re going to constantly look to innovate and adapt, regardless of who are personnel is,” Smith said. “We’re going to play to the strengths of the team, and we’re going to be flexible. But we’re going to do it in all three phases. And we’re going to have guys that are great teammates and understand how to adapt week to week. …

“We’re going to look for guys that are great teammates and we’re going to hold our best players accountable. And so whether that’s Matt or Grady Jarrett, they are all going to be held to the same standard.”

Smith will be part of a new power structure in Atlanta, teaming with newly hired general manager Terry Fontenot.

“We share the same vision,” Smith said. “We have the same values. Certainly, it won’t be groupthink, but Terry and I … it will be an ultimate partnership. It will be a great collaboration, a good partnership as we look to build this team for the short term and the long term.”

Fontenot, a former assistant GM with the New Orleans Saints, said his philosophy regarding the draft is to grab the best available player.

“It’s never a bad thing to add to a strength,” Fontenot said, according to AtlantaFalcons.com. “You want to get good football players, because it’s a long season. There’s a lot of injuries. A lot of things happen, there’s a lot of challenges.

“At any position, you want to continue to add competition, and you want to get the best players that fit the makeup standard, that fit the physical talent, that fit the skill set and we have a clear vision for what they’re going to be.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official: Arthur Smith signs on as Falcons coach

Arthur Smith officially signed his contract on Saturday to become the next coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

“We are thrilled to welcome Arthur to Atlanta and introduce him to our city and fans as the Falcons new head coach,” team owner and chairman Arthur Blank said in a team statement. “Throughout our research and interview process, Arthur stood out amongst a very deep and very talented candidate pool with an outstanding plan for our organization to return to the level of competition our fans deserve and expect.”

The team didn’t announce either the contract length or financial terms. He replaces Dan Quinn, who was fired Oct. 11 after an 0-5 start.

Smith, 38, spent 10 seasons on the Tennessee Titans coaching staff — the past two as offensive coordinator. He made the rounds on the interview circuit this month and was asked to interview for all seven NFL head coach openings.

“The Falcons organization stood out to us in this process primarily due to the leadership and support from the top in Arthur Blank,” Smith said. “His actions and core values provide a great model on how to operate for so many, and align with how I plan to move forward in reaching the levels of competition the passionate Atlanta fans so richly deserve. That will all start with the culture we as a team create and thrive in.”

Blank said Smith was the right fit for the organization.

“He has all the characteristics of a strong leader and while his achievements have primarily come on the offensive side of the ball, he has provided a plan that is comprehensive within all three phases of the game,” Blank said. “With Arthur, I am very confident that our process and approach have led us to a dynamic leader for our team and I believe our players, staff, fans and community will be as well.”

In Tennessee, Smith was credited with reviving the career of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and developing an offense around running back Derrick Henry, who ran for a league-leading 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020.

The Titans finished fourth in the NFL in scoring at 30.7 points per game and won the AFC South. They were eliminated from the playoffs in the wild-card round by the Baltimore Ravens, 20-13.

–Field Level Media

Nov 3, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith calls a play during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith odds-on favorite to be Falcons’ next coach

Arthur Smith emerged as the odds-on favorite to be named the Atlanta Falcons’ next head coach.

The Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator has been associated to some degree with every NFL head coaching vacancy this year. However, he is now being offered at 4/5 by SportsBetting.com to succeed Dan Quinn in Atlanta, making him the only odds-on favorite among the current NFL openings – meaning he has lower than 1/1 odds to be hired.

The Falcons conducted two interviews with Smith, who has also drawn significant interest from the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions.

Atlanta has interviewed seven candidates, including NFL offensive coordinators Joe Brady (Carolina), Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City) and Nathaniel Hackett (Green Bay).

Falcons Head Coach Odds (SportsBetting.com):
Arthur Smith 4/5 (6/1 odds last week)
Joe Brady 3/1
Eric Bieniemy 3/1
Nathaniel Hackett 7/1
Brandon Staley 9/1
Raheem Morris 10/1
Robert Saleh 10/1
Todd Bowles 12/1

The Falcons fired Quinn after starting last season 0-5. Interim coach Raheem Morris went 4-7 and has also been interviewed for the job.

With Urban Meyer reportedly close to taking over as Jacksonville’s head coach, SportsBetting.com is not offering odds on the Jaguars’ opening.

Odds on the remaining vacancies:

Chargers next head coach
Matt Eberflus 7/2 (10/1 odds last week)
Brandon Staley 4/2
Brian Daboll 9/2
Robert Saleh 5/1
Joe Brady 7/1
Eric Bieniemy 8/1
Arthur Smith 9/1
Dennis Allen 10/1
Jason Garrett 15/1

Eagles next head coach
Joe Brady 5/2 (6/1 odds last week)
Lincoln Riley 3/1
Robert Saleh 5/1
Arthur Smith 7/1
Eric Bieniemy 9/1
Duce Staley 10/1
Kellen Moore 10/1
Todd Bowles 12/1
Jerod Mayo 12/1
Mike Kafka 12/1
Brandon Staley 15/1
Ryan Day 20/1

Jets next head coach
Robert Saleh 2/1 (8/1 odds last week)
Doug Pederson 5/2
Brian Daboll 5/1
Arthur Smith 5/1
Brandon Staley 7/1
Eric Bieniemy 8/1
Joe Brady 9/1
Aaron Glenn 10/1
Matt Eberflus 12/1
Marvin Lewis 15/1

Lions next head coach
Eric Bieniemy 5/2 (4/1 odds last week)
Robert Saleh 3/1
Arthur Smith 7/2
Dan Campbell 5/1
Marvin Lewis 8/1
Todd Bowles 10/1
Darrell Bevell 10/1

Texans next head coach
Jim Caldwell 5/2 (10/1 odds last week)
Eric Bieniemy 3/1
Marvin Lewis 4/1
Joe Brady 4/1
Leslie Frazier 7/1
Brandon Staley 8/1
Arthur Smith 10/1
David Culley 10/1
Josh McDaniels 15/1

–Field Level Media

Oct 18, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith talks with quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) before a game against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Six vacancies, six interview requests for Titans OC Arthur Smith

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith could be primed to become a first-time head coach.

ESPN reported the Tennessee play-caller has received — or soon will — interview requests from all six teams with head-coaching vacancies.

According to multiple reports, the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons have already requested a sitdown with Smith. The Houston Chronicle reported Smith could interview with the Texans after Houston wraps us interviews for its vacant general manager position.

Smith has received praise for his work as offensive coordinator since he was promoted from tight ends coach two years ago. Current Titans head coach Mike Vrabel gives Smith credit for turning Ryan Tannehill’s career fortunes around last season, and the Titans just produced a 2,000-yard rusher in Derrick Henry.

Smith has worked with the Titans in multiple capacities since 2011 under multiple coaches: Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey and Vrabel.

Smith worked closely with current Packers head coach Matt LaFleur with the Titans and during his initial NFL job, Smith was quality control coach of the Washington Football Team. Joe Gibbs was the head coach of the team in 2007, and Jim Zorn took over in 2008.

Smith, 38, attended the University of North Carolina to play basketball but his career was shortened because of a foot injury. He played offensive line in high school.

–Field Level Media