The Atlanta Falcons need to maintain their faith in Thomas Dimitroff as general manager and Mike Smith as the head coach. And Atlanta owner Arthur Blank has already given his vote of confidence that the Falcons' leadership combination is going to stick around for another season.
When asked about the confidence that he had in the current pairing, Blank responded with the following, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter:
I do. I absolutely, do. They’ve earned it over the last five years. This is a tough business. We’ve had a lot of injuries and there have been a lot of issues on top of the injuries and that is pretty obvious. The guys are proven leaders and proven by success. Their records speak for themselves. They’ll do the work that has to be done with my full support. We’ll get back to what we have to do. Right now, we have six more games that we have to play this year and we plan on competing hard in those games, winning if not all, as many as we can.
Now, this was said before the Falcons lost to the Saints on Thursday night. But the message is the same. Blank believes that Dimitroff and Smith are the right men for the job and deserve to keep their spots. Even if this team loses out, they still deserve to stick around.
Since the Falcons are arguably the worst team in the league right now, lower-level coaching would be hindering development instead of helping it. And the poor record is because of injuries and the preseason youth movement that left Atlanta without some excellent veterans.
Even if they lose out...
Yes, even if the Falcons go 2-14, they need to keep Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith running this team. They understand how to win games, and that's what their job is. Do we crucify them because they have one bad—albeit, really bad—season?
No, we shouldn't.
What's the worst record it would take for you to fire Smith and Dimitroff?
These guys have led the Falcons to a 58-33 record over the past five seasons and 11 games. Sure, they are only 1-4 in the playoffs, but isn't it more important that the Falcons can finally get there on a regular basis?
Before the Falcons hired Dimitroff and Smith, they were in the playoffs just eight times. That's in 42 seasons. They never had back-to-back winning seasons. They never had back-to-back playoff seasons.
But that all changed when the Falcons brought in the pair.
Not only did Dimitroff and Smith lead Atlanta to back-to-back winning seasons, they led them to five straight winning seasons. Not only did they lead Atlanta to back-to-back playoff seasons, they led them to three playoff seasons in a row and four in a five-year span.
That's nothing to scoff at.
These teams are the best the Falcons have ever put together. The sustained winning is the first time it's ever legitimately happened in Falcons history. And the only way for it to return is for Atlanta to keep the brain trust intact.
Lower-level coaching changes need to happen
Atlanta's biggest roster issues come from the lack of development of lower-level draft picks.
While yes, some of that comes from ridiculous expectations for all of these draft picks, better coaching would definitely help.
The offensive line in particular was held back by not having a competent coach when Paul Boudreau was with Atlanta from 2008 to 2011. The addition of Pat Hill has been pointless; the line has seemingly regressed all around.
Maybe the strength of the line was Harvey Dahl's toughness and attitude rubbing off to the rest of the group. Or maybe they just haven't started the best players because there's a spat between player and coach at the positional level.
However, when guys like Joe Hawley and Ryan Schraeder don't see any time all season, something is up. Either the coaching isn't giving the players a chance, or the players aren't progressing.
Unfortunately, it looks more like the former rather than the latter. Coaches need to stop playing politics and just play the best players.
The same seems to have been in effect on the defensive line with Ray Hamilton leading them.
However, it seems to be more about a lack of development with the defensive linemen than an actual issue with favoritism. And it's not even defensive tackles. Taking out the bust that was Peria Jerry, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux have developed into excellent players under Hamilton.
But at defensive end, the Falcons have been unable to develop a high-level pass-rusher across from John Abraham. Now that Abraham is gone, they have a complete lack of a non-schemed pass rush. That's inexcusable.
Atlanta needs to make Hamilton focus solely on defensive tackles. But even more than that, the Falcons need to bring in someone who understands how to teach pass-rushing skills to the defensive ends. Former longtime Falcon Chuck Smith is an ideal person for the job.
On the offensive line, they need to hire someone who can bring attitude to the line. While Hill does have the line playing better technique-wise, there needs to be some aggression. Also, a move to the zone run-blocking scheme would be extremely helpful.
If the Falcons were wise this offseason, they would let Paul Dunn—the assistant offensive line coach—go and bring in someone with Gibbs-style zone-blocking experience. Ideally, the Falcons would bring in Clancy Barone or Rick Dennison (if he gets fired from Houston).
But they need to do something.
Sitting stagnant with the coaching staff as a whole isn't going to yield better results. There needs to be change; otherwise there won't be improvement for the units that need it the most.
Injuries and a youth movement are reasons for the 2-9 record
Atlanta is 2-9, yes. However, a big reason for that is the youth movement and the injuries that the team has sustained throughout the year.
Take a look at the chart comparing 2012's starters to 2013's starters and you can see just how many spots have been affected:
|Position||2012 Starter||Age||2013 Starter||Age|
|LT||Sam Baker||27||Lamar Holmes||24|
|C||Todd McClure||35||Joe Hawley/Peter Konz||25/24|
|RT||Tyson Clabo||31||Jeremy Trueblood||30|
|LE||Kroy Biermann||27||Jonathan Massaquoi||25|
|RE||John Abraham||34||Osi Umenyiora||32|
|LB||Akeem Dent||25||Paul Worrilow||23|
|SLB||Stephen Nicholas||29||Joplo Bartu||24|
|RCB||Dunta Robinson||30||Desmond Trufant||23|
Pro Football Reference
The Falcons got 32 cumulative years younger over eight spots. And with a likely benching of Jeremy Trueblood, they'll get another five years younger if they switch to the project Ryan Schraeder.
Add in the losses of Julio Jones, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann and Bradie Ewing for the season. That's four starters who are key cogs in the offensive and defensive designs. And Sean Weatherspoon has been 100 percent healthy for just one game all year.
The Falcons are a different team from what is on the field right now. They are a young team. They are a team that is taking their lumps on both sides of the ball.
But they have talent and are a legitimate Super Bowl contender when healthy.
The only thing that really bites about this season is that Tony Gonzalez will never earn the Super Bowl ring he definitely deserves.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.