Arthur Smith Assesses Falcons’ Playoff Hopes After Loss to Buccaneers

Arthur Smith vs Buccaneers

Getty Arthur Smith watching Buccaneers at Falcons, Week 13.

Arthur Smith isn’t giving up hope of reaching the playoffs, even though the Atlanta Falcons are 5-7. Smith’s team slipped to a seventh defeat this season after being downed 30-17 at home by NFC South rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

There’s five games left, but the Falcons would likely need to win them all to remain viable in the playoff hunt. Even so, Smith told reporters there is still a chance, per Tori McElhanney of the team’s official website:

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Performances Make Smith’s Words Ring Hollow

Smith doubled down on the playoff talk during his post-game presser. His comments, beginning at the 5:33 mark of this video, speak to a coach who doesn’t want to let his first season in charge simply peter out:

One of the more potentially contentious observations from Smith concerns the idea his team is showing signs of improvement. The coach matter-of-factly stated “we’ve seen a lot of improvement the last two weeks.”

It’s hard to reconcile that statement with the way things are playing out on the field. The Falcons lost by 13 to last season’s Super Bowl champions, one week after squeaking past the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars by seven points in Week 12.

Defeat against the Bucs came two weeks after the Falcons were shut out 25-0 by the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta has just one win at home, of sorts, all season, Week 5’s 27-20 victory over the lowly New York Jets. That came in London, England at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as part of the NFL’s international series, when the Falcons were designated the home team.

Those woes at home mean it’s probably a good thing the Falcons will play three of their remaining five games on the road. The sequence begins next Sunday against the free-falling Carolina Panthers, who have lost seven of their last nine, but a lot will have to change if the Falcons are going to take advantage.

These Falcons Don’t Look Like a Playoff Team

If Smith is going to inspire confidence, he doesn’t have much to draw from, based on how the Falcons are faltering on both sides of the ball.

Against the Bucs, the defense allowed Tom Brady to complete 38 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns, according to stats from ESPN. Brady never had his collar felt by a lukewarm pass rush that let the 44-year-old to find his receivers at will.

Brady’s most profitable connection was with wideout Chris Godwin, who The Athletic‘s Greg Auman noted made a catch just about every time he was targeted:

Those numbers are indicative of a defense struggling at both ends.

It’s a similar story on offense, where quarterback Matt Ryan is being punished behind a porous offensive line. Ryan always looked like being in trouble against a Tampa Bay front seven loaded with studs like nose tackle Vita Vea, edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett and inside linebacker Devin White.

So it proved as Ryan was tormented all day. McElhaney detailed the extent of his suffering:

Protection hasn’t been good, but Ryan also isn’t being helped by a pass-first scheme. The Falcons threw the ball 41 times in Week 13, compared with just 23 rushing attempts. That’s too pass-happy in a game where the Falcons only trailed by three until deep into the third quarter.

It’s also not enough balance for an offense with most of its talent in the backfield. Cordarrelle Patterson has been the team’s standout performer, while fellow running back Mike Davis, who rushed for Atlanta’s lone offensive touchdown on Sunday, is also capable.

The Falcons have a lot to clean up in all three phases if they are going to remain in the mix for the playoffs. Even if they fix things, luck will be needed after Week 13’s loss damaged their standing, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:

The Falcons do have a chance to at least control their fate thanks to a three-way tie with the Panthers and New Orleans Saints, both of whom are still on the schedule.

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