Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith talked about the usual suspects when asked to assess the team he will be facing this week in Seattle, naming guys like Earl Thomas, Chris Clemons, Matt Hasselbeck, Marshawn Lynch and Marcus Trufant as players his team needed to prepare for.
But more than anything, Smith said his team needs to be prepared for return specialist Leon Washington, who is becoming this team’s MVP candidate because of his momentum-changing plays each week.
“I think the most impressive thing that stands out to me is the play of your special teams,” Smith said. “Leon Washington is someone that we’ve have got to make sure that we account for, not only on kickoffs. … He also has done a great job, I think over 18 yards on punt returns.
“They block field goals. They block punts. I think their special teams is something that they are playing at an elite level right now.”
Listen to a snippet of our conversation with Smith here.
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Smith said one of the reasons for his team’s success is because he believes they play in the most competitive division in the league, year in and year out.
Hard to argue that, with the Falcons at 11-2, New Orleans at 10-3 and Tampa at 8-5 and Carolina out of the running at 1-12.
“I’m biased, but I think it’s the most competitive division year in and year out,” he said. “This is such a competitive division. I think the proximity of the teams geographically makes it so. But right now the New Orleans Saints, they are the Super Bowl champs and will be continue to be that until we crown a new one. And I think they are a team that everybody has looked up this season because they are the defending champs. And I think competition brings out the best in all of us, and having them in our division definitely helps us, and ramps up our competition level.”
Smith said a couple things that he has built his football team around is being physical, playing smart and winning the fourth quarter.
“Statistically we know that around half the games are going to be decided by eight points or less,” Smith said. “And about 25 percent are going to be decided by three points or less.”
Seven of Atlanta’s 11 victories have been by seven points or less.
Smith said with his team on a seven-game winning streak and facing New Orleans in two weeks, that Atlanta is focused on Seattle.
“From the very beginning we’ve stated that the most important game is the next game,” he said. “We don’t look beyond down the road. We try to keep it very segmented in the process of our preparation. And Seattle is a darn good football team that is fighting for a playoff spot.”
Smith went to say that his team needs to be ready to deal with the crowd noise, and that the Seahawks are a different team when they play at home.
One of the reasons Atlanta has been so tough to stop offensively is because of their balance. Running back Michael Turner is fourth in the league in rushing with 1,174 yards. And receiver Roddy White leads the league with 99 receptions for 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns, so teams have to pick your poison.
“We’re balanced all the way around,” White said. “We can run the football. We can throw it, and that’s just given defenses so much difficulty. When the come and bring the eight guys down in the box and they play a lot of single-high, we’re making plays on the outside, me and Michael Jenkins. And if you play Cover-2 we hand the ball off to Mike (Turner).”