The Falcons could charitably be described as the rotting husk of a once-quality football team. You know, if you were so inclined.
I'm not here to bury the Falcons—though certainly there's very few signs of life, if any—but to learn from their failures. It's becoming increasingly clear that there are problems here that might well be tough to fix in a single off-season, and thus there's plenty of learning to do. The Falcons themselves acknowledged that on Sunday, shuffling the offensive line and mercifully benching at least one player who has been unbelievably ineffective all year long.
So here's what we learned from Week 11. Hold your nose, friends. It gets stinky.
- This team may not win another game. I've found that you rarely lose friends by having measured opinions. I have snap reactions just like everyone else, but I try to avoid coming to any sweeping conclusions until the evidence is in. Sometimes I wait too long.
So here we are. The Falcons aren't just a bad football team right now, which is something I've acknowledged. They're a bad football team without the capability to win football games. They're reduced to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titantic to try to find solutions, and however much I may like Ryan Schraeder and Zeke Motta, you're conceding a lot by playing them in Week 11. They might be long-term solutions, but it's far from certain they're going to be great players right now.
With the coaching being what it is, the team playing the way it is and the lack of relief on the horizon, I've finally come to the same conclusion many of you arrived at weeks ago: The Falcons may not win another game this season. Heck, I don't think you can reasonably expect them to, though stranger things have happened. Unless some of these young players catch fire and things improve across the board, they're going to be right there with the Jaguars and Buccaneers for the first pick.
Thomas DeCoud may be done in Atlanta. It's one thing to bench DeCoud in favor of a veteran safety like James Sanders to send a message and improve the play of the secondary. It's another thing entirely to bench him in favor of a seventh-round rookie whose first name is Ezekiel.
This may mark the end of DeCoud's tenure in Atlanta. Whatever you thought of him, he was a full-time starter for five seasons and mixed big plays with some boneheaded ones over that time. You can live with a safety who takes questionable angles if he's forcing turnovers and deflecting passes. This season, through eleven games, he's allowed several big plays, hasn't grabbed a pick and has deflected just one pass. The big plays have evaporated, and his coverage is actively getting worse.
If it's a half-game benching that serves as a wakeup call, good. I think we'd all like to see DeCoud succeed. I can't help but think that the coaching staff has finally seen enough abhorrent coverage from last year's Pro Bowl alternate, though, and it won't be particularly costly to cut ties. If Motta's a player or there's a quality player available in free agency, this might mark the end of DeCoud's tenure in Atlanta.
If you're a young lineman, this is your time. The Falcons are going to shuffle to try to find players who can get the job done. That means the Ryan Schraeders and Malliciah Goodmans of the world have a real opportunity.
Schraeder may actually start at right tackle going forward. I've long said it would be irresponsible to throw a UDFA right tackle out there, but Schraeder was fine in his limited snaps Sunday. Jeremy Trueblood is gone after this season, so if the Falcons believe Schraeder can hold his own, they're going to give him all he can handle. Peter Konz will get some snaps somewhere. Joe Hawley is still pretty young and looked solid at center, so he may well get a chance to finally run with the starting job.
On the other side of the ball, guys like Goodman are going to get all they can handle. The collapse of the run defense sans Goodman is probably mostly a coincidence, but there's no denying that the big rookie has been a force against the run in his rookie season. I say let the guy develop. Heck, give Stansly Maponga plenty of snaps, as well.
It's all about 2014 now. If Schraeder can defy the odds and become a quality starting tackle, the Falcons suddenly have options in the weakest unit on the team. Develop, develop, develop.
Timing explains some of Matt Ryan's issues. Reader Grimetime had a great point in the recap earlier today. Matt Ryan has always been a quarterback who is heavily reliant on timed passes, expecting his wide receivers to be where he's throwing the football. Tom Brady is the same way. The fact that both have struggled this season with inferior receiving options is not a coincidence.
We've talked before about Roddy White's remarkable ability to get open, Tony Gonzalez's ability to make tough catches in traffic and Julio Jones' ability, full stop. When you have a rusty White, an injured Gonzalez and Harry Douglas and Darius Johnson to throw to, things change dramatically. Douglas has never been the crispest route runner, and DJ is still picking up the NFL game. Ryan is sailing some throws, sure, and he's taking a ton of hits. But some of the accuracy issues we're seeing are a result of Ryan throwing the ball to exactly where the receiver is supposed to be. The receivers just aren't there.
- Antone Smith should be the starting running back. No, seriously. Why the hell not?