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Bair: Arthur Smith embracing pressure, challenge to turn things around following frustrating stretch

Falcons head coach will use the bye to identify solutions, snap a three-game losing streak. 

These Falcons are frustrated. That has been evident over the last few weeks, in body language and tone of voice and general disposition, as they've lost three straight winnable games and fallen off the pace in the NFC South.

That term has been used by Jake Matthews, Drake London, Arthur Smith, Jessie Bates III and countless others during a rough patch that must be considered the low point of this season.

Generally speaking, frustration is a catch-all to highlight the mixture of anger and disappointment with a current lot. It's a broad term used by most, and could come from a lost football game, heavy traffic or a restaurant getting your order wrong.

Frustration is an emotional response to stress and, at times, a state of being. It is, at its base, a symptom of something else.

There are also degrees of frustration, and this Falcons incarnation is heightened over the past few seasons.

In 2021 and 2022, the Falcons were frustrated because nobody likes losing, but there wasn't the talent or depth available – for several reasons, especially salary-cap constraints – to do enough about it.

That's not the case here. In this instance, the Falcons are frustrated because they're playing below their potential. They know they're better than what they've shown. As Calais Campbell said after the Vikings loss, that stings.

It also increases confidence in a turnaround if this bye week is used correctly to triage and remedy what ails them.

"If all of a sudden it was hopeless or morale was low, then yeah, that's a completely different animal," Smith said. "You see that and you're like, there's no hope. That's not the case here. As frustrated as you feel, you have to look at it. The results are what they are, but there's true evidence that we can right this thing."

If playing below potential is the root cause, what can provide frustration relief? It's not as simple as choosing the right quarterback.

Smith will name one for the foreseeable future coming out of the bye and, after hearing his Monday press conference, jaws would drop if Desmond Ridder's not the guy.

Though the Falcons need more consistent quarterback play, all three phases must improve to turn this thing around. Those loyal to this column have read several times the long list of issues yet to be fixed – aren't we all tired of the term "critical mistakes?" – but let's boil it down to one thing.


This defense is at its best when making opponents grind and strain for every yard. Ryan Nielsen's unit is good at that, but those efforts can go up in a flash, as we saw against Tennessee, Minnesota and Arizona, with a major lapse and an explosive play that decides an outcome. Giving up ill-timed yards in massive chunks is too common and must be remedied.

"It's been our Achilles heel in the last two weeks," Smith said after the loss to the Cardinals.

There has been an issue in the punt game as well, with the Falcons allowing two massive returns that led to touchdowns and, against Tennessee, made some mistakes that put their offense in terrible spots.

The offense has been put in a good place more than once by takeaways but hasn't capitalized well enough with touchdowns due to red-zone inefficiencies that hinder them in tight games.

The way the Falcons play, most every game is tight. They've lost three straight games by a combined 10 points, putting every mistake, every coaching decision under scrutiny.

Those are the problems. The Falcons must act fast in finding solutions. Smith and his staff will do a deep dive into them. And yes, that includes how the Falcons can coach better.

"One, you're looking offensively, but two, you're looking at yourself as a head coach," Smith said. "Whether there are things that I could do better to manage the game better because that's the other side that gets lost in it sometimes. When the games play out and we like our process of how you want to manage that.

"I think you can take a step back and say, alright, there are other things you can do logistically to help manage it. Ultimately, I need to be a better head coach, too. Right? So, it all goes into it. It will be a time to look at everything – things that we switch year-to-year, things that we've done before that I think may help us – so, we'll have a look at it all."

Smith spent most of his Monday press conference talking about finding solutions over the bye and trying to turn things around in Atlanta. About halfway through this exchange he dropped the Latin phrase, "Amor fati," which translates to "love of one's fate," in response to whether he's feeling the pressure after mounting losses.

Smith understands the nature of his job and the task in front of him. He embraces the challenge ahead to get the Falcons going again.

"That's kind of how you approach life," Smith said. "That's why you love this game. I love the opportunity that I get to do this, and I get to work with the guys that we've got. If you lose that perspective, shame on you. You embrace it – the good, the bad, the pressure. That's what you want. That's what you sign up for. The good news is we're not dead. We have a chance, too, as you said, to salvage the season or do something about it. Whatever the odds are, we can use this time to get away, try to find solutions and come back in here and do everything we can to beat New Orleans."

Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals during Week 10.

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