Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks to pass during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers win 34-10. Ryan has to find a way to turn his game around having thrown seven interceptions in the last two games. (USA TODAY Sports: Sam Sharpe)
The Atlanta Falcons have had 12 starters or projected opening-day starters miss games because of injuries.
Before Week 9 games, those players had missed 39 games, the second-most in the league. Only the New York Giants had more games missed (47) by projected opening-day starters.
However, Falcons coach Mike Smith will not trot out injuries as an excuse for why the Falcons, once considered Super Bowl contenders, are fighting to stay out of the NFC South basement as they are set to face Seattle (8-1) in a rematch of one of last season’s NFC divisional playoff round games.
“You can’t turn the ball over four times and one of them being a pick-six,” Smith said about the 34-10 loss to Carolina. “It’s very hard to win football games when you have four turnovers. That’s probably the most glaring thing that stood out from the ball game.”
The Falcons also had four turnovers the previous week against Arizona. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown seven interceptions over the past two games.
The penalties are starting to mount, too.
“The penalties were critical penalties,” Smith said. “Especially on third downs. We had some third-down penalties that kept us exposed out there on the defensive side in terms of having to play more plays. We can’t do that. We’ve got to get off the field and we had opportunities to get off the field on those third downs. That was very critical.”
While posting five straight winning seasons, Smith’s teams have played smart football. They haven’t made a habit of turning the ball over and have been one of the least penalized teams in the league.
Also, they are usually assignment sure and rarely out of position.
But, in recent games, players are leaking out of position while trying to make plays. The Falcons were roasted by the Panthers on a play-action pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a touchdown. Safety William Moore went for the ball carrier and left Olsen wide open.
“There were instances in the game yesterday on a fourth down and 1, you’re not going to leave a receiver uncovered,” Smith said. “That was an example of not playing within the scheme.”
Moore was pulled aside.
“It’s it a concern? Yes, it is a concern,” Smith said. “When you’re playing good football people are doing what they are coached to do. They are executing at a high level. Right now, we’re not executing at a high level.”
The Falcons have posted back-to-back losing quarters for the first time under Smith. They went 1-3 over the first four games of the season and matched it at 1-3 over the second quarter.
“I think there are times we have physically have not played up to the level that we are capable of playing, but I do believe that we have not been on the same page consistently and that has led to a number of breakdowns on the offensive side, the defensive side and special teams and coaching,” Smith said. “We have collectively earned what we have earned in the first half of the season.”
He still believes that his team is playing hard.
“I don’t believe that the effort is ever questioned,” Smith said. “This is a group of guys that have played hard in every football game. There is no quit in them. We have some things that are not clicking and it is a fine line in terms of being successful and unsuccessful in the National Football League.”
—WR Roddy White (hamstring, ankle) was declared inactive for the game after he returned to practice on Friday and was questionable for the game. White suffered a high right ankle sprain in the exhibition season against Baltimore on Aug. 15. He played in the first five games this season, but had trouble cutting and has now missed three games. “I’m not going to speculate with our injured players like Roddy,” Smith said. “We did work Roddy out before the game. We made a decision that we felt was in the best interest for Roddy and our football team long term.” A first-round pick in 2005, White had played in 133 consecutive games before missing the Tampa Bay game on Oct. 20.