What the Falcons did in free agency this year sent a clear message about where their emphasis would be. The signings of linemen like Paul Soliai and Jon Asamoah indicated that the goal was to improve the team’s play in the trenches. On Tuesday, meeting with the media for the first time after offseason activities began this week, head coach Mike Smith reiterated what exactly the Falcons are looking for this year.
“We need to have big, strong men,” Smith said. “At the core of the game, the game is about controlling the line of scrimmage. Yes, it’s a quarterback-driven league. Yes, it’s a passing league, but you still have to win the line of scrimmage. That’s something that is going to be a major focal point for our football team as we prepare for the 2014 season.”
Last season, the Falcons allowed 44 sacks on offense and allowed 135 rushing yards per game on defense. Both stats point to defencies on the lines of scrimmage and with the draft two weeks away, there’s still more time to improve the areas they’ve already focused on. Smith hasn’t been very verbose in describing what needs to change this season, saying only that he expects the team to play tougher and the additions of the physically large players is a step in the right direction.
Some would call it an “old school” mentality, but Smith said every team he’s been around that has won in the NFL has done it led by large and strong players on the front lines.
“The defenses that I’ve been around and the teams that I’ve been around that have been successful have had big men on their lines of scrimmage, on both the defensive and offensive sides of the football,” Smith said.
An attempt to improve the run game and the run defense is in the cards for the Falcons this year and while those are meat-and-potatoes kind of improvements, they should go a long way toward turning around a franchise that experienced its first losing season last year in six years. Battles along the line of scrimmage are responsible for the inches that dominate the game and that’s where the focus is for the Falcons as they enter the offseason training period.
“We did not win the line of scrimmage this year,” Smith said. “It’s a matter of six inches. I’m not saying we’re going to become this 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football team. You have to be able to run the ball when you have to run it. You have to be able to protect your quarterback. You’re fighting and battling for those six inches.It can be the difference on a run play. You’ve got to have a clean pocket for your quarterback to be able to throw the ball down the field.”
An infusion of toughness has come to the Falcons through a rejuvenated coach, who cut his teeth in the NFL with physical football teams, and the retention and addition of players that play with the toughness the franchise needs. Smith said toughness can mean different things to different people, but should the 2014 Falcons find success, it’ll most likely be due to that.
“You have to be tough to play this game,” Smith said. “The tougher teams are the ones that win, there’s no doubt about it.”