FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons have not played a complete game. Arthur Smith said it's a frustrating part of the first half of the season.
"That's kind of been the reason why we're 4-6," Smith said. "We haven't put together a complete game. We've played - at times - good enough to win four games, but not enough to be on the other side of .500."
The loss to the Patriots last Thursday was a prime example: The defense played well enough to keep the Falcons within striking distance. However, Smith said "it's a shame" Atlanta's offense couldn't do enough to ultimately win the game.
Inconsistency has been a consistent theme through the first 12 weeks of the 2021 season for the Falcons.
Even in the lack of consistency, though, Atlanta has had its moments. When asked what those moments of consistent play were, Smith pointed to a few. There was the end of the Giants game when he could see it. A time in London against the Jets, too. The first half of the Saints game where the Falcons looked as together as they have all year. Smith said even in the first half of the loss to the Washington Football Team he was pleased with the overall cohesiveness of the team.
The issue with this, though, is that they are moments. They are halves or quarters. They are not games.
"That's the problem," Smith said. "It's frustrating."
So, what's the disconnect? It goes back to the loss to the Patriots: one unit played well, the other didn't. The Falcons have not put a consistent four quarters together in 2021 because there hasn't been consistency through all three phases of the game: Offense, defense or special teams.
Against the Cowboys last Sunday, it was a break down of all three. Against New England, the offense was never able to find productivity. The same could probably be said for the loss to Carolina, too. Against the Saints and Dolphins, even in a win, the defense let the opponent stick around too long to be comfortable. There have been blocked punts and missed assignments in returns that have given opponents primary field position. It's not just on one phase of the game. Each has had its moment of solid play. But each has let down the other phases at some point in time this season.
It sounds so simple, so cliche to a certain extent, but it's where the issues with the Falcons lay right now.
"You have to play three phases," Erik Harris said. "That's pretty generic to say around the league, but for this team to really thrive and to come out of these close games, all three phases have to play well."
The Falcons have seen what happens when they do play consistently throughout all three phases. Looking at the examples Smith laid out, they paint a picture of what he's hoping to establish in Atlanta. If we're just using the first half of the Saints game as the primary example, that's what the Falcons want to be. We haven't seen that level of play since, though, and that's the difference in the last two losses.
Smith said simply the Falcons "have to play a lot smarter" than the way they have throughout the last two weeks. It goes without saying the the offense takes on the brunt of this discussion right now for the simple fact they haven't gotten into the endzone since the fourth quarter of the win in New Orleans. For the Falcons to be more consistent on offense, well, it starts with staying away from the "obvious."
The Falcons offensive attack has become too obvious over the last two weeks, per Smith. They are getting into too many situations where they are working from behind the chains or working against the clock to get back into a game. They're having to drop back too many times because the situation has forced their hand. That, Smith said, gets the offense off schedule. And that, in turn, puts pressure on the offensive line's pass protection. If there's no mystery in the run or pass call, there are no surprises. No defense will ever be on its toes.
"If we can stay balanced and stay on track it certainly makes the job of the offensive line easier," Smith said.
Right now, the Falcons are at the mercy of inconsistent play. And until a full game is played with all three phases holding up their end of the bargain, the Falcons won't thrive the way Smith wants - or needs - them to in 2021.
"We've gotta play smarter," he said. "We've gotta stay on track. We've gotta do a better job in the run game. And we've gotta be more efficient."