The Falcons have scheduled coach Mike Smith’s weekly news conference for 2:30 p.m. So that should answer the immediate question: Is Mike Smith getting fired today?
Owner Arthur Blank is not a man who takes either defeat or public scorn or mocking well. My guess is he’s torn on this decision, and within the Falcons’ organization some people are advising him against making a change right now, primarily for two reasons: 1) Smith had a strong resume in his first five seasons, going 56-24 (playoff failures, notwithstanding); 2) The Falcons, despite having lost five straight and sitting at 2-6 at the bye week, are only 1½ games out of first place in the horrible NFC South, with the next two games coming against division opponents (at Tampa Bay, at Carolina).
But there are some things about the Falcons’ slide that Blank can’t ignore.
Here are a few:
• The team is 2-6 this season and 6-18 since going to the NFC title game in 2012 (blowing a 17-point lead to San Francisco). No matter how many injuries the Falcons have had the last two seasons, a 6-18 record signals problems. That’s significant underachievement relative to the talent that's on the field. That’s coaching. That shouldn’t be taken as a defense of general manager Thomas Dimitroff because there obviously have been some mistakes in personnel decisions as well, but that’s no excuse for this team losing 75 percent of its games in a long stretch.
• The, “But we’re still in it because the division stinks,” excuse is thin, at best. If Blank truly believes that Smith is still the coach that can lead him to a Super Bowl, that’s one thing. But nobody should make decisions based on the fact that other teams are losing. By that logic, Smith would be in more trouble if New Orleans was 6-1 instead of 3-4? What do the Saints have to do with the direction of the Falcons?
• The Falcons blew a 21-0 halftime lead over Detroit in London. They have been outscored 70-7 in the fourth quarter of the last six games and 85-38 in the second half during the losing streak. The most plausible reasons for those trends: coaching adjustments, or lack thereof; one team being physically better and simply taking over; one team lacking confidence and/or going soft in crucial moments. Two of those three are on coaching.
• Not everything that happened in the collapse against Detroit was Smith’s fault. Obviously, when Matt Prater’s initial missed field goal was nullified by a Lions’ delay-of-game penalty, Smith was helpless. But there were some decisions worthy of second-guessing.
1.) The decision to shut down the offense in the first half when the Falcons had the ball with two time-outs and 1:14 left. This team needs a more aggressive mindset; 2.) The lack of an attacking mindset with the offense was evident in the second half; 3) The Falcons only had to run down the clock in the fourth quarter when they were clinging to a 21-19 lead. But they had a holding penalty on a running play that stopped the clock, then threw an incomplete pass play (Julio Jones drop) that burned only four seconds. Even on third and long, they should've run the ball. The Lions got the ball back with 1:38. After a Detroit run to the Falcons’ 30, Smith for some reason stopped the clock with the Falcons’ last timeout with 25 seconds left, presumably with the thought that they might need to get the ball back. But why give the Lions that advantage? The Lions were out of time-outs and they were scrambling. Did I mention the Lions were out of time-outs?
In the end, Prater kicked a 48-yard field goal and the Falcons were left with one of their worst collapses in franchise history.
What happens next is up to Blank. Do you believe he should make a move? The cyber-floor is now yours.
I’ve also put up a poll question: Do you believe the Falcons can turn this season around under Mike Smith?