FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Whether the New Orleans Saints defense rushed the Falcons with three, four, five or six players, the Falcons gave up "entirely too much pressure" on quarterback Matt Ryan, said Atlanta head coach on Monday.
One day after the Falcons' 23-17 loss in the season opener, in which Ryan was sacked three times and hit officially six times, the Falcons were trying to find solutions to protect their franchise quarterback
Without being able to do so, all of the Falcons' offensive weapons Steven Jackson, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, Roddy White will struggle to produce on the field. Only six teams scored fewer points in Week 1 than Atlanta, which finished seventh in overall scoring last season.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Falcons got beat for pressure on 21 of 42 dropbacks, the worst performance from any club this past weekend. By comparison, the Bengals' offensive line, was beaten on only three of 34 passing plays.
During the 2011 season, when the Falcons surrendered 13 sacks in the first three games, Smith promised an open competition at several positions along the line.
Asked if he would do the same following Sunday's showing, Smith hinted the unit would remain intact for the home opener against the Rams (1-0), which tied for the league lead in sacks last season (52).
"As you watch the tape and get an opportunity to evaluate it, you look at individuals but you have to work under the assumption that you want your unit to try to work together as much as possible," Smith said, "and you also watch the tape to look at whether other factors were involved in terms of the pressure on the quarterback.
He added: "We saw that there were some opportunities for us to get the ball out on breakout routes. So wide receivers are involved in the protections as well as running backs. So it wasnt just the offensive line. It was the entire offense that contributes when we dont have in the success in protecting the quarterback."
Last Tuesday, the Falcons signed veteran right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has 84 career NFL starts and was a college teammate of Ryan's at Boston College. The Falcons did not have enough time to indoctrinate Trueblood into their offense last week. On Monday, Smith was asked how long it would take to get Trueblood up to speed.
"I dont know the answer to that," Smith said. "I know Jeremy was a guy we added last week and he got an opportunity to practice with us, two good days of practice, but well get an opportunity for him to work a little bit more with us ... And, again, we're always going to make the decisions that will give us the chance to win. Competition is what drives this team. I think that's what drives this league.
Second-year lineman Peter Konz, who started at right guard as a rookie but now occupies the center spot, doesn't get the sense from the team's Monday meeting that starting jobs are on the line.
"Before you said anything, I didnt think about it, he said to a questioner. "I think the overall sense in the O-line room is, 'How can we get better so that we are a strength of this offense and we can help win games?'"
Smith remains confident the Falcons possess the players to get the job done.
"I am absolutely confident that we've got the right guys," Smith said. "I think we will see a large improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 in terms of not only our offensive line but our football team. I think its the biggest jump you have during the season from Week 1 to Week 2. We were playing a lot of younger guys that have not played as much and its a great learning experience for them."
One of the lightning rods for criticism has been right tackle Lamar Holmes, a third-round pick last year, who struggled at times in the preseason and again in his NFL debut on Sunday. On one particular play, the Falcons took the unusual step of bringing in reserve center Joe Hawley on the right side to play tight end and help pass block.
"There was too many hits on the quarterback," said Holmes, marking something of a change in tune from his public comments after Sunday's game. "As a whole, as a unit, we have to get better. Just get better. We watched the film, saw what our mistakes were. In the end, they just really outplayed us."
Konz discussed the shortcomings that coaches pointed out in their Monday meeting.
"A lot of it is technical," he said. "A small step here, understanding the situation a little bit better, so you dont have to reach as hard. You see just little different things that come with time, a little maturity. So I think technique is always something we should improve on."
Three O-line starters have 14 or less starts in the NFL. That inexperience appears to be a factor..
"In general in the NFL on the offensive line, it's difficult as a young person to make big contributions," Konz said, "just because a lot of it is maturity, seeing defenses, being comfortable in your technique that's it's going to work out day in and day out because its easy as a young person to get worried and to say, 'I have to abandon this technique. I have to do something outside my own body to try to win this game.'
"But that's where the maturity steps in for a lot of guys and say, 'Ive done this before. I can understand if I've made a mistake, I can rely on the things I've done in practice.'"
That maturity will have to come quickly. The Rams await.