We are left struggling to find out what went wrong and why in the aftermath of an egregiously bad start to a new Falcons regime. The Falcons have played so much terrible and infuriating football for so long, however, Sunday’s loss sticks out. The team can typically muster some level of competence and excitement for at least part of a bad game. That did not happen against the Eagles.
In a game where nothing went right, what went wrong? One of the biggest problems was Jalen Mayfield, the rookie lineman forced into starting at left guard. Arthur Smith said, when pointed towards the tough match-up against Philadelphia’s defensive line, “everyone has to get baptized.” Mayfield was baptized to the tune of multiple false starts, at least one clear sack, and multiple blown plays. The offensive line was close to 2014 bad where injuries and depth forced the likes of tight end Levine Toilolo to fill in at right tackle, thanks, in strong part, to Mayfield.
Mayfield, a former tackle selected in the third round, was called a “head scratcher” pick in our scouting report. The blocker started only 15 games at Michigan then was presumed to kick inside to guard. That was a move our draft analyst Everett Glaze liked, but notably, did not believe he could make an impact until at least 2022.
Mayfield was not the intended starting left guard. The Falcons signed Josh Andrews, a player who “looks like a reserve on paper but could push his way into a starting job if others falter.” Except, Andrews quickly became the favorite and that never changed, at least until he broke his hand early in September. Even if healthy, Andrews had been a career backup since 2014 before finally finding some starting time last year with the New York Jets.
Andrews could return by the end of the month and prove he is worthy of starting. Anything is possible, but Andrews did not look like a starter in preseason or in New York. Mayfield had an opportunity in preseason and looked rough, so his performance was not much of a surprise. Shockingly, Atlanta’s fourth-round selection, center Drew Dalman, was never in the competition for the left guard spot.
There is something frighteningly Thomas Dimitroff-esque when adding three additional players and together they fail to fix one single spot.
Mayfield is not ready. Starting him in a tough situation may not be the best scenario for his development. Andrews will return but his timeline to return is unclear, however, his best case scenario is the end of September. You would hope an interior lineman taken in the fourth round could spot in at guard for a few weeks. For Dalman, being almost immediately out of any competition, whether at center or left guard, is worrisome.
Criticism for Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith will continue to mount with performances like Week 1. The line should improve but that is not a guarantee. It looks like the team’s initial plan in Andrews was risky. The backup scenarios look nonexistent.
The offseason, admittedly with difficulties from the cap, is already looking very problematic. Bad decisions were made and there are no solutions on the roster, especially at left guard. Fontenot needs to make a move now and hope someone can fill in against Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea.
There are a handful of available players who could be signed and start at left guard. Nick Easton was an assumed favorite to land in Atlanta considering his connection with Fontenot, yet not even rumors materialized. Easton hopefully got a text from Fontenot around halftime. Former Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro has experience in a similar blocking scheme but the health of his ankle is unknown. J.R. Sweezy, who has struggled to stay healthy, could at least be a temporary band-aid for the spot. Even bringing back James Carpenter would be an improvement. Honorable mention to Senio Kelemete, Michael Schofield, and Kelechi Osemele as guys worthy of a workout.
There is no way to turn the left guard spot into a position of strength. There is a chance to at least make the problem manageable.