The Falcons dropped their third straight game. They're at 1-4, and it's going to be an uphill battle to get back to a winning record, much less the playoffs. As always, though, we're in the business of learning from Atlanta's mistakes, as the Falcons should be.
Here's five things we learned from that hideous, hideously close game. I would have posted this yesterday, but you know...Julio Jones and all that.
- Close games just aren't going their way. The Falcons a year ago went 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. This year, they've gone 1-4. Some of that is just the inevitable turning of the tides of luck, but much of it is just the Falcons playing some lousy football for entire quarters or halves of games, which puts them in holes they can't fully dig back out of.
The fact that all these games are close despite the way the Falcons are playing remains encouraging. At the same time, it's troubling that the Falcons aren't being more aggressive knowing how these close games go, particularly in the first half.
- The right side of the line needs help. Justin Blalock has quietly put together a very solid season. Lamar Holmes has quietly improved at left tackle. Neither is a world beater, but the pressure on Ryan off the left side is fading a little bit.
The right side, though? Woof, Buzz, your linemen. Peter Konz has struggled all season, Garrett Reynolds was lousy in this one and Jeremy Trueblood is every bit as good in pass protection as advertised, which is to say he's not at all. The Jets were doing the most damage on the right side and up the middle, particularly on the Ryan fumble that proved to be so costly.
What's the answer? I don't think it's "continue to trot the same three guys out there," so expect to see some kind of change. I think the team will be inclined to stick with Konz at center and let him grow, but certainly Joe Hawley and Harland Gunn are considerations at right guard and the Falcons will mull how they're going to use Sam Baker and Holmes going forward at tackle. The status quo is a killer.
- Time to turn to Levine Toilolo. I don't think Toilolo is the answer in the passing game, per se. He's still learning the NFL game, particularly as a blocker. He's made his mistakes. After watching that impressive touchdown catch, though, you can see the raw potential here.
The Falcons aren't getting Harry Douglas very involved. Roddy White is limited. Julio Jones is gone for stretches as he battles his leg maladies. The Falcons need to start using other weapons to take pressure off Jones and Tony Gonzalez, and Toilolo fits the bills in a lot of ways. He runs well for a big guy, his size makes him a matchup problem and teams must account for him in the red zone. He's going to have his growing pains, but he should be seeing more than one or two targets a game for this offense until Roddy's back at 100%. Someone has to step up.
- The pass rush exists! Sort of. The frustrating thing about this game was seeing how easily the Falcons got after Geno Smith when they decided to really blitz. When they set up a nice little gap blitz, Osi came around the corner untouched and threw Smith to the ground. He, Corey Peters and Joplo Bartu combined for four sacks in this one, and when the Falcons were sending four or more guys they were generally at least putting a little pressure on Smith.
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- This season is probably over. If the loss didn't do it, the injury to Julio Jones will. At 1-4, missing key starters all over the place, these Falcons will have to go on a miracle run just to make the playoffs. They've played some tough, close games, but they haven't won them. Time to come to terms with this new reality and hope 2014 brings brighter days.
What did you learn from this game?