Arthur Smith credits defense as Falcons eye three-game win streak

After a three-game losing streak, the Atlanta Falcons are in position to piece together a three-game winning streak Sunday when they host the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Following a 13-8 road win over the New York Jets, Atlanta is 6-6 overall and 3-0 in the NFC South. If the season were to end this week, Atlanta would earn the fourth seed in the NFC playoff bracket. The rival Bucs and New Orleans Saints are each one game back in the division race.

“You are going to hit adversity in some seasons. There have been some really great teams that have had a three-game skid,” Smith said.

“In the NFL, very rarely has anybody had a perfect season. Everybody strives for it, but what you’re seeing is, everybody is going to have adversity. But if you don’t have the right people, it can go sideways in a hurry.”

Smith praised his defense for helping to right the ship. The Falcons haven’t allowed a touchdown in two weeks — the Saints made five field goals in Atlanta’s 24-15 two games ago before the Jets were limited to two field goals and a safety Sunday.

In the win over New York, the Falcons recorded four sacks, forced four fumbles (two of which were recovered) and had one interception.

The Jets had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead, but Trevor Siemian was sacked by Arnold Ebiketie, which put New York in a fourth-and-17 situation on its 37-yard line.

On the next play, Bud Dupree nailed Siemian, which forced an errant throw and ended the game.

“This is the NFL, people are going to make plays, but don’t give up (and) turn those into disasters and let them get momentum,” Smith said. “That’s a credit to mindset, but a lot of things we’ve been trying to work on week to week, certainly coming out of the bye, and we’ll continue to try to do that.”

Ebiketie leads Atlanta in sacks with 5.5, while Dupree has five. Despite the losses of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, starting defensive linemen Calais Campbell, David Onyemata and Kentavius Street have joined Ebiketie and Dupree in making it tough on opposing offenses.

“When those guys are rolling, you can have the best scheme but it’s going to come down to the fundamentals,” Smith said about his team’s defense. “We have some guys that are heavy-handed and play with good technique and leverage.

“You may think you have Calais Campbell doubled, but Calais is a grown man out there. He makes it hard to run close-sided on him, and David is as good as anybody. His stats may not show up in the stat sheet, but if you ask any player or coach in this league they’ll tell you he’s a real dude inside.”

Atlanta ranks 10th in the league in total defense (315.9 yards per game) and seventh in scoring defense (20.0 points per game).

Tampa Bay (5-7, 2-1 NFC South) is coming off a 21-18 win over Carolina. Star wide receiver Mike Evans has scored five touchdowns in the past four games, so Atlanta’s secondary could have its hands full, especially if top cornerback A.J. Terrell is sidelined. Terrell left the game against the Jets and is in concussion protocol.

Regardless, Smith wants his team to keep stacking wins.

“It’s a big game. But we’re looking forward to it,” Smith said.

–Smith said the injuries to Terrell, right tackle Kaleb McGary and linebacker Nate Landman were “not long-term” and he would know more about their status Wednesday.

McGary and Landman are dealing with knee injuries.

“It may be a week or two weeks, but luckily it’s not season-ending for Kaleb or Nate,” Smith said.