Now I want to bring five things I learned—all things you likely learned, too—as we head into the long week before the Bills game. The Falcons are just going to be evaluating players and attempting to coax some quality play out of this team going forward, as I've noted numerous times. Anything that they can take away from this game to help them get to a better 2014 is worth learning.
Leaning on rookies has its price. Think about how remarkable it is that Matt Ryan's top target in the first half was Darius Johnson. He caught six passes for 67 yards against the Saints, which is way more production than anyone has a right to expect from a UDFA wide receiver.
Playing young players and getting them involved in the offense is a worthy goal. Asking DJ to carry such a major load comes with a downside: He's going to make rookie mistakes, like that fumble. A lot of people griped about his hands after that and the drop, but let's put that in its proper perspective: He's six games into his rookie season and he was, again, a UDFA. Expecting him to carry that load without the occasional error is asking too much.
We have to keep this in mind with all the rookies. They're learning on the job.
The Falcons aren't done shuffling the offensive line. Plugging in Joe Hawley had a very positive effect. Hawley has been quite good at center these last two games, adding stability to a position that has featured a distinctly mediocre Peter Konz.
That means the left side of the line and center are okay, but the Falcons aren't done shuffling. Garrett Reynolds was awful at right guard, and Jeremy Trueblood was even worse at right tackle. Peter Konz got back in at right guard, but with Harland Gunn and Ryan Schraeder lurking in the wings, there's a chance things will change further. The Falcons have to find out if they have anything useful on that right side.
Antone Smith isn't getting more playing time. The Falcons promised more touches for Antone Smith, but all he got was a single carry for 11 yards. Mike Smith can't say the flow of the game dictated that, given that it remained close throughout.
Whether it's Antone Smith's fumbling history in his limited chances in the past, his special teams value or sheer stubbornness, the touches aren't coming. No matter how many snaps they're willing to give rookies and young players elsewhere, they're not going to take that many carries away from Steven Jackson. Dirk Koetter was as good as his word.
This team's mistakes are not going away. Whether it was missed tackles, penalties or William Moore nearly killing Desmond Trufant, this team just continues to make mistakes. At this point it hardly matters, I suppose, but I'd like to see them rounding into form as a fairly disciplined squad by the end of the season. I mean, it's one thing when a rookie does it, but some of these guys have been playing for years. It's an issue.
Winning one more game isn't out of the question, but it's going to be an uphill battle. You saw about the best the Falcons can reasonably offer this season on Sunday. Given that the only remotely "easy" game left on the slate is Washington, it's not out of the question that the Falcons go 2-14. One or two more wins would keep them in the hunt for the Top 3 picks and make the following Sundays a little easier to take, but I'm no longer anticipating it.
More from The Falcoholic:
- Falcons vs. Saints Recap: It Got Better, It Got Worse
- Falcons-Saints Post-Game Injury Update: Desmond Trufant Suffers Leg Concussion
- Falcons 13-Saints 17 Recap: Just Another Joke Added To This Routine
- Falcons vs. Saints Second Half Open Thread
- Desmond Trufant Injury: Cornerback Exits Saints Game With Thigh Injury