Let's get this out of the way first: that was one of the ugliest football games I've watched in a long time. At one point, I could hear the Benny Hill theme song flare up in my head while watching the comedy of errors (or fumbles as it were). If you were looking for an encouraging team performance, it wasn't there. If you were hoping for a quality game, but a loss for draft position purposes, it wasn't there.
In fact, if you walked away from that game feeling like it was a loss, I can't say I blame you. There weren't a lot of positives to take away from this game and I'm not going to pretend there were - from a team standpoint.
But I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water either. These games - as painful as they are to watch - have been serving as auditions for some of our bench players. It's also valuable game experience for a bunch of rookies who will always learn better from the lessons on the gridiron versus the ones in the film room. Each snap that one of our rookies take is a valuable experience that lets them learn what NFL speed and intensity is about. Each time they're beat - whether as an offensive tackle or a cornerback - is a piece of actual game film they can study intently and learn from.
On offense, the Falcons turned over the right tackle position completely to Ryan Schraeder. While he did allow a sack that ended up as a Matt Ryan fumble and turnover, it was the only one he allowed all game - against a formidable set of rushers in Orakpo and Kerrigan. In fact, he had a good PFF score in both pass protection and run blocking, though it was clear the Falcons were giving him some help on the right side.
Likewise, fans finally got to see Harland Gunn take real game snaps at right guard - and he did ok. In 19 snaps, he registered an overall positive PFF grade which was bolstered by his run blocking. It's my hope that both Schraeder and Gunn get the opportunity to play more over the final two games. We really need to see if these guys are potential cuts, good depth or even potential starters.
On defense, the Falcons gave the majority of snaps to our young players - mostly rookies and 2nd year players. In total, we had 7 players on defense that were either rookies or in their 2nd year. I can't restate how insane that is. Most teams try to limit the number of rookies to 2 or 3 at most - but due to injuries and regression of key players - the Falcons are now fielding a D that features a majority of rookies/2nd year players. And the end result shows it.
However, guys like Bartu and Trufant had very good days. And while Worrilow and Alford both had a rough day, the game is still serving as a valuable teacher with lessons that will echo into the off-season. While it's no guarantee that these guys will continue to play well or improve next year, it is a guarantee that we won't know until they're given a chance.
As we head into the final 8 quarters of Falcons football for 2013, rather than focusing solely on wins, losses and draft position, let's look at the one area where our team could benefit the most: young player development. It may be all that we have to look forward to as we round out this difficult year.