FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If Arthur Smith said it one time, he said it 10 times in recent days: The Falcons have "to play smarter than (they) have the last two weeks."
But what does Smith mean by this?
At first, it seemed like a very simple answer: The Falcons can't shoot themselves in the foot. The self-inflicted wounds of false start penalties and illegal formation calls, limiting those is the most obvious answer to "playing smarter football."
"Those kind of things," Matt Ryan said about procedural penalties, "are hard to overcome. They make it really difficult for you to be consistent and efficient."
Take it a step further, though, and you see it's about finding production in the short yardage scenarios, too. It's in those situational football moments. For an offense, it's out-scheming and out-playing a defense on third-and-short.
However, Smith said what he means by this "playing smarter" mantra goes a bit deeper than that.
We hear players talking all the time about the difference being in the details. It's something Smith echoed in his clarification of what he means.
"It's the game within the game that you don't realize," Smith said.
He used the example of receivers' depth on certain routes, noting the timing, spacing and trust in the route is a minute detail, but it's one that if thrown off in any capacity can be - in certain situations - catastrophic to an offensive attack.
Smith also added a note on protection. He said for the Falcons to be smarter on the field, it comes down to understanding the call the offense needs to make from a protection standpoint.
"(It's) getting on the same page and making it so you can have better protection so you don't give the defense advantage in certain situations," he explained.
Those are things, Smith said, the Falcons can be "smarter about."
But all of this is through the lens of the offense because, well, Smith is the play caller. There's defensive perspective to be had here, too, even though the defense played quite well against the Patriots on Thursday.
Outside linebacker Brandon Copeland actually had an interesting analogy to share when asked the question about how the defense could contribute to the "playing smarter" conversation. He thought back to last year, when he was playing with Stephon Gilmore in New England. Gilmore is the player he is because of how fast he dissects an offense, Copeland said. And that's something every defender can work to emulate.
"Not only does he have his preparation during the week but also when the huddle is broken based on certain things like the way the receiver lines up, the splits, the formations, he's eliminating three quarters of the playbook right there," Copeland explained. "Then, off the line of scrimmage, based on the stem of the wide receiver, he's narrowed it down to two different routes that the person could be running. He's playing those two routes."
As a unit, Copeland continued, those are the things every level of the defense "has to do to play better football together."
It's something the Falcons - as a whole - need to get back to. When the Falcons had a six-game stretch where they went 4-2, the team was playing smart football, per Smith. They got away from doing so against Dallas and New England. The consequence of which were evident by the scores of said games.
"It's making sure that each position, each guy in whatever play is being called, that you're operating how we're coached to," Ryan said.
Doing so is sometimes easier said than done, but these are actionable ways in which the Falcons can play smarter than they have the last two weeks. They'll need to in order to get back to where they want to be from a production standpoint.
It's like a multiple choice question on an elementary school test. How do the Falcons recover from the last two games? Smith lists the options.
A. "We have to play smarter."
B. "We have to execute better."
C. "We have to coach smarter."
But some times it's...
D: "All of the above."
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