7-7 in Week 4, 37-25 overall.
Perhaps no consistently successful head coach over the past 6 seasons has had the guys around him to succeed like Mike Smith: a franchise QB from day one, a hall of fame tight end that falls into his lap, a GM from the Belichick tree, a massive unconventional draft day trade for Julio Jones that worked out, the late blooming of Roddy White, Michael Turner’s free agent contract working out where several like it for other players were disasters, and Mike Nolan fixing his defense after Brian VanGorder blew their 2010 season. Mike Smith’s teams have been trademarked by consistent methodical driving that wins in the regular season, but can’t seem to ramp up the explosiveness in big games to put them over the top. For a team with two great receivers, a franchise quarterback, and a hall-of-fame tight end, the Falcons should be much better at hitting big plays early and playing from behind late.
How many times did the broadcast team and TV prognosticators on NBC tell you that Bill Belichick’s defensive strategy would be to take away Julio Jones and make Matt Ryan go to someone else. And really, even if they didn’t do that, Aqib Talib has been so good this season that you wouldn’t go right after him to begin with. Atlanta’s game plan reeked of a team that didn’t have the savvy to realize they were playing right into Belichick’s hands. The best part was how many people were thinking Matt Ryan was tearing up New England’s defense with by hitting Tony Gonzalez again and again. This was precisely what New England wanted. We’ll let you dink and dunk, clamp down for field goals (3 tonight), and trade those for Brady-led touchdown drives.
The smart teams realize that Bill is coming in with that game plan and do one of two things: allow the great weapon to be taken away and get other guys involved in explosive ways, or design plays to force it into him, refusing to concede to the defense. Either could have worked tonight, but the Falcons have enough weapons that the former should have been the game plan. Harry Douglas shouldn’t have been only targeted 3 times in the first three quarters. He should have been used explosively down the field and occupied safeties deep to get Julio more one on one. If Julio is as great as you think he is, he should be winning the Talib battle early and often on the sidelines. We didn’t find out who could win until there were 9 minutes left in the game: Talib picked off Ryan when he laid it way too far inside on a go route, and Julio won the next one, making a sensational 50 yard grab on the final drive of the game. It was way too little and way too late, and while I love a good onsides kick recovery, the Falcons never did anything explosive to scare the patriots’ beleaguered secondary.
Defenses should be terrified of Julio Jones. They shouldn’t have to wait until they’re up 17 in the fourth quarter to wonder what he’s going to do to them. They should think he has to be contained rather than stopped. With the majority of his production tonight coming during the desperation comeback, the Patriots game plan should be considered a massive success, and that’s saying something against who I believe is the 3rd best receiver in the NFL after CJ and AJ. Mike Smith should be storming into the meeting room Monday wondering why New England had it so easy en route to a 30 point night despite having no tight ends, multiple backs injured, and rookie receivers whose missteps are getting Tom Brady’s body language in a tizzy. To quote Doug Farrar’s twitter account: “The team doing more with less is beating the hell out of the team doing less with more”. Don’t let the patronizing of Tony Gonzalez during the broadcast and his 2 TDs fool you. That was a massive coaching and gameplanning failure. The Falcons were genuinely underwhelming Sunday night, and deserve to be 1-3.
Monday Night Football
Dolphins at Saints – The Saints have been one of the quieter 3-0 teams in the league thus far, and they get a pretty favorable big stage to make a statement against a 3-0 Dolphins team that hasn’t seen a big stage yet. The Dolphins have indeed been impressive in the past two weeks, but not necessarily high scoring. They’ve shown you nothing that would suggest they could keep up with New Orleans if they have one of their 40+ point home games. Miami shouldn’t get embarrassed, but if you’re not a contender, the Saints have a gear your offense doesn’t. Saints 38, Dolphins 27.