We're in the fanhood and analysis business, so we can't quite turn to the Panthers game next weekend without remarking on the game we just witnessed a little further.
I'm not going to touch on it in this post, but I want to acknowledge some of the good points about this team brought up yesterday in the recap. Those of you pointing to Thomas Dimitroff's handling of the lines, Mike Smith's coaching errors and the team's lackluster play are all correct in some fashion. This is a team with problems that are fixable in the long-term, but those problems do run deep. We're going to be talking about how to fix them for the rest of the year, so don't think I'm ignoring the questions around the FO and coaching staff.
- The playoff dream is over. I'm not writing this to be overly dramatic. There's virtually no scenario in which I can picture this team making a legitimate playoff push from here on out. They've got a challenging remaining schedule, only Roddy White and Sean Weatherspoon are coming back to act as cavalry and they would need to go, at minimum, 7-2 the rest of the way to have an outside shot. It's not strictly impossible, but it's so unlikely that I can't really entertain it at this point.
How you choose to live with this reality is up to you. I'm going to hope for drastic improvement and as many wins as possible, young guys delivering on promise and enough strong play to give us considerable hope for 2014. It's all I got.
- This team lacks discipline. One of the nice things you could always say about Mike Smith regardless of how you felt about him was that he ran a tight ship. This team has traditionally limited penalties under Smitty, which helped keep them in games even when they couldn't execute.
This year has been a mess. The Falcons can't seem to stop the unforced errors, which make an already ugly situation much, much worse.
Falcons coach Mike Smith was disgusted with the offensive penalties. Five false starts and a hold in the second half.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) October 28, 2013
- Teams have a blueprint for shutting down this offense. Roddy White coming back will help, certainly, but the Falcons are an utterly one-dimensional football team right now. If you have a good defense—the Seahawks, Bills and 49ers spring to mind—you can easily shut down the run and force Matt Ryan to throw all day long. If you can force the Falcons to throw all day long and take Tony Gonzalez out of the game, Ryan will have to force some throws to lesser receivers and that can lead right to mistakes. If you have good enough personnel, in other words, you can force the Falcons to pass and capitalize on mistakes. It sounds obvious, but teams were rarely able to do that when this team was at full strength.
Again, White coming back will make it harder for defenses to key in on Tony Gonzalez and brutalize the Falcons. It just may not be enough. They have to figure out how to run the football.
- Growing pains are here to stay. We have been spoiled at times this season, as odd as it sounds. The Falcons have gotten excellent performances out of Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Joplo Bartu, Darius Johnson and so on over the first several weeks. The growing pains were there, but they were relatively muted.
This game showed us what the flip side of that particular coin looks like. Alford got burned and was penalized. Trufant was burned and was penalized. Bartu had his struggles in coverage despite a quality all-around game. Paul Worrilow, Malliciah Goodman and Lamar Holmes all had their struggles.
When you put young, untested players on the field, growing pains will come. Given that the Falcons' best path forward is to try to better understand what they have in young players, get used to seeing mistakes and sloppy play from the rookies at times. The Falcons will have to try to impart more discipline, but that only goes so far until you have the experience under your belt.
- This roster is going to look a lot different a year from now. Kind of a big statement to come out of one game, but it's clear that the Falcons can't go ahead with the status quo. Lose Julio Jones or Roddy White a year from now and you can't mask the O-line issues. Steven Jackson can't run behind this line and isn't a great option in the passing game. Tony Gonzalez is going to be gone, multiple defensive linemen will see their contracts up and the Falcons can't stop anyone on defense.
No matter how hard the Falcons try to win the rest of they way, they'll be evaluating this roster at the same time. Given the struggles on the lines, you're going to see multiple new starters. We just have to hope some of them are coming from the young players on the roster.
Grim, I know. This is where we're at right now, though. Weigh in with what you learned from this game.