What would you do if your best wide receiver suddenly became one of your offense's biggest liabilities?
The Falcons find themselves confronting that brutal reality this season with Roddy White. Whatever you think of his tendency to trash talk, White has been one the team's best players for years now, starting in a breakout year in 2007 with guys like Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich throwing to him.
There's no reason to believe that White's skills are simply atrophying. It's never been purely about physical ability with White. He's fast, yes, and he's strong, yes, but he's not Calvin Johnson or DeSean Jackson. He gets by on guile, on quickness and instinct and good hands and the thousand little intangibles that define great wide receivers.
He has been a ghost, really. A ghost with an 84 jersey who is blanketed by a cornerback and suddenly isn't, a guy who seems to phase out of existence five yards from the line of scrimmage and re-appear ten yards downfield. Roddy White may be better at getting open than any receiver not named Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, and that's allowed him to reel in nearly 400 catches in four years. It's made him one of the NFL's best.
Until this year.
On the surface, White's numbers haven't looked much different than 2010. He's caught 47 balls for 563 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 12 yards a catch, just a tick under last year's 12.1. You would never know, looking at the numbers, that the fanbase has begun to turn on Roddy.
They have, and with reason. White's dropped passes. He's dealt with nagging injuries. He's been the author of some boneheaded penalties. That amazing ability to get open has faded somewhat, and it seemed to culminate yesterday in the awful interception that went through his hands and right to the defensive back glued to him.
What's causing it? I'd be lying if I said I knew. I can guess, of course: Roddy's getting older and dealing with injuries, his attitude stinks and he's reverting to old habits, his mind's not on the game, he's just going through a bad stretch. All of those guesses might be right in part, or they may all be wrong. I'm not inside the man's head.
What I do know is that White's mistakes are costing the team. He's got a huge contract and a reputation, but more than that, he's always been Matt Ryan's go-to receiver. When he's dropping passes and not getting open, the Falcons are down a quality receiving option. Considering that Julio Jones has been banged up all season, that basically leaves Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as options Ryan's comfortable throwing to. Eric Weems makes the occasional guest appearance, but Kerry Meier has been a non-entity.
That leaves a void in the offense. Worse, Roddy is hurting the team just by being out there at times. The Falcons are unlikely to bench him and seem equally unwilling to cut into his snaps, so White is just going to have to get better while playing. If that doesn't happen, both he and the Falcons are in a lot of trouble.
If this weird decline continues, the Falcons are going to look prescient for going out and getting Julio Jones, as injury-prone as he's been.
Obviously there's a lot of unknowns here. What do you think is going on with Roddy, and can he right the ship this season?