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5 Things We Learned From The Falcons' Loss to the Panthers

Five lessons that leave us wiser, if sadder.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons dropped to 2-6. You don't need me to painfully rehash the loss and connect it to the time your mother wouldn't let you have chocolate cake for your half-birthday, because we've talked about the game and whoa, hey, I'm not your therapist.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from this loss, even now. Let's run through five of them really quickly before you start screaming for cake. Positives ahoy!

  1. Matt Ryan isn't running through his progressions. When you've spent weeks battling through injuries, suffering tough losses and carrying your teams, sometimes there are a few cracks in the veneer. Even the best quarterbacks—okay, maybe not Aaron Rodgers, he's ridiculous—suffer from poor stretches like Ryan's going through. There's no one reason why Matt Ryan has thrown seven picks in the last two games, but there's one culprit that stands out: Locking in.

    Watch this play, because it's instructive. Ryan spares a quick look at the back after receiving the snap, and then he barely scans the field before deciding he's going to Harry Douglas. There are two guys in the vicinity and a third not that far off the ball, and he's got other options who have one-on-one coverage. The fact that he throws a (not-so-great) pass to HD is inexcusable, particularly since he actually had a little time to throw.

    This has been a consistent knock on Ryan since he's arrived in the league, and unfortunately it's a problem that still rears its ugly head at times. He's a great quarterback with a bad habit, but it's incumbent on Ryan and the Falcons to ensure he's not overlooking the open man because of his trust in HD or Tony Gonzalez.

    Just don't worry about Ryan for the long haul. He's still one of the best in the game.
  2. The offensive line is improving. Based on the way this year started, there was zero chance of Falcons fans getting on board with this line unless they played such dominant football that it couldn't be ignored. Yet there's progress here.

    It's not just the Pro Football Focus grades showing improvement, but the fact that Ryan clearly had more time than usual against a terrific Panthers pass rush. It's the fact that the running backs had their best performance in weeks—albeit still not a great one—against a stout front seven. Putting Sam Baker back in the lineup and kicking an improved Lamar Holmes over to right tackle made a difference, and Peter Konz may have played his best game of the season. There's reason to believe this unit is heading in the right direction, and given the factor it's been in some of the ugliest losses leading up to last weekend, that's very encouraging.
  3. Against all odds, the Falcons have unearthed two quality UDFA linebackers. The Falcons starting two UDFA linebackers should make for an unmitigated disaster, and somehow it hasn't. That's a brilliant stroke of luck and some good ol' fashioned quality scouting.

    Joplo Bartu has a ton of potential, but has had an up-and-down season. Pro Football Focus has him as a below-average linebacker thus far, and his coverage chops aren't anything special. He's shown flashes against the run and rushing the passer, and he's a rookie UDFA linebacker. He'll develop into a solid rotational guy, at worst.

    The same is true of Paul Worrilow. He's a sure tackler and a true asset against the run game, and his 19 tackles against the Panthers tell you how active and capable he is. Again, he isn't grading out as one of the league's most effective linebackers, but he's growing into a player.

    Next year, the Falcons could roll with Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann, Akeem Dent and/or a rookie, Bartu, and Worrilow. That's a stronger corps of linebackers than they've had in years, and it's one positive to come out of this rough season.
  4. Desmond Trufant is fantastic. With apologies to Robert Alford, whose serious potential and quality play make him an obvious favorite to start in 2014, Trufant has been the true standout in this secondary.

    No matter which metric you're using to evaluate him, Trufant has been an above average cornerback in 2013. As a rookie. Playing on a defense with a middling pass rush up front and an offense that keeps finding ways to get him back on the field. It's not like he's been facing slouches at receiver, either.

    The interceptions will come with time. He'll need to be more consistent, and he's gotten nailed with a handful of PI penalties that he'll have to avoid, even if some were borderline calls. There's just no denying that Trufant has been the best corner of the 2013 class thus far, and he's a guy I feel comfortable entrusting with a starting job for years to come.
  5. The Falcons sure are going to lose several more games! After that run of positive thoughts, the sledgehammer of reality.

    The Falcons aren't suddenly going to drastically improve. By the end of the season, with Weatherspoon and Roddy White hopefully back and delivering results alongside the young guys, this team could be competitive and dangerous in a way they aren't now. They're just not going to get there in the next few weeks, and so we're going to be in for some ugly football with a few potential surprises along the way.

    At best, I think the Falcons wind up at 6-10. As long as they continue their growth and Matt Bosher continues to make his case for being a three-way player on this Falcons team, we'll live with it. There's good ahead.
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