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What Arthur Smith, Dave Ragone said about Falcons vs. man coverage

Arthur Smith said the players who figure out how to beat man coverage quick "are the guys who last." 

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage #14 warms up during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday October 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage #14 warms up during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday October 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When someone repeats themselves, it's probably worth noting what it is they said. Directly following the Falcons loss to Dallas, Arthur Smith said a factor in the offense's performance came from a lack of separation in man coverage.

"You've got to win versus man coverage," he said.

Less than 24 hours later, Smith said the same thing.

"We've got to get open versus man coverage," Smith reiterated when asked what jumped out to him when cutting on the Dallas tape.


Throughout the week, Falcons players and coaches were asked about this, and everyone seemed to have a little different perspective. Some talked about experience, others talked about preparation, but all pointed the finger at themselves as to why the Falcons receiving weapons just weren't getting the separation needed to be successful against Dallas last Sunday. And this is an important topic of conversation for the Falcons as they are set to face a humming Patriots defense on Thursday.

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone spoke on the importance of receivers having the ability "to win versus certain coverages." He explained there's a lot that goes into teaching the mechanics of facing man coverage. There's understanding leverage and the different tactics used to defeat a press-man look. But mainly, Ragone said a lot of the success is based in the routes receivers are given in a specific moment.

"Some routes are just better versus man," Ragone noted. "... We - as coaches, pointing at myself first - (have to) make sure we put the players in the best position to win vs. those coverages."

Ragone, like Smith, said to give Dallas credit for what they did to make Sunday hard on the Falcons offense. It was a sentiment Russell Gage echoed during the week, too.

"They did a lot of good things in disguising coverages, disguising looks before the plays," Gage said. "They had a lot of things set up in good ways that kind of countered what we were trying to do."

However, as a player, Gage said he personally has to do more in prep work.

"I have to do a better job of understanding what I am going into, what they like to play and then attacking it from there," he said.

So, with coaches pointing back at themselves a bit, and players doing the same, which is it? From Smith's perspective, it's a little bit of both.

To be successful against man coverage, it all boils down to training, per Smith.

You're going to face defensive backs who are "savvy," he said. You're going to see guys who have "seen all the tricks" in man coverage. It's against these players that Smith said you find out "if your moves really work or not." If they don't, it takes time to figure out what does work.

"Those are habits that are formed over a lot of training," Smith explained. "I think a lot of times when young guys get into the NFL they may have just been faster than everybody. Now, everything tightens down."

It's not necessarily young guys that this could be a growing pain for. It can be something players in a new system face, too, or even players getting an extended role for the first time.

With the Falcons, the receivers they are relying on right now in the absence of Calvin Ridley do not have the live reps that Ridley does. Gage is up there, but with Ridley out for the time being, defenses can match up with Gage much easier. That leaves players like Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe and Christian Blake who pick up the rest of the room.

For Falcons receivers to be more successful against man coverage, it's everything: preparation, training and play call. But at the foundation of it, Smith said experience can go a long way, too.

"It comes down to these fine details that you may not know unless you're watching them over and over and training them over and over again," Smith said. "The guys who figure it out quick are the guys who last."


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