Falcons vs. Panthers: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Atlanta
For the second-straight week, the Atlanta Falcons lost a road game to an NFC opponent by double digits.
While the contest was closer than the 34-10 final score indicates, the Carolina Panthers controlled Sunday's game against the Falcons from the opening quarter.
As has been the case with all six of Atlanta's losses this season, there is plenty of blame to go around. Let's start the conversation by going over our full roster report card grades for the Falcons from Week 9 against Carolina.
ALL GAME STATS VIA ESPN.COM
Ryan forced his first two interceptions into tight coverage and didn't put enough arm into the throw that Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence picked off and returned for a touchdown.
Atlanta's depleted offense needed Matt Ryan more than ever, but he let the team down with his poor decisions.
The Falcons gave Steven Jackson a little more room to work this week, but the ground game still has a long way to go, as Atlanta only had 78 rushing yards as a team against Carolina.
Though the rushing attack was limited, Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers did combine for nine receptions to help Atlanta's anemic passing game on Sunday.
Drew Davis and Darius Johnson showed flashes of ability against the Bucs and Cardinals, but neither receiver did much to help Atlanta's cause against the Panthers because they couldn't create much separation on their routes.
Davis looked like he could have done a better job of coming back to the ball on Matt Ryan's third interception, too.
Harry Douglas saved this group from a failing grade with two long receptions.
Tony Gonzalez carried Atlanta's passing game in the first half, when he had five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, but the Panthers took him away in the second half, where Gonzalez only caught one pass.
Carolina has had its issues covering opposing tight ends, but the Falcons opted not to use Levine Toilolo or Chase Coffman much in the passing game.
Sam Baker returned to the starting lineup, and the offensive line rebounded from what may have been its worst showing of the year last week against Arizona.
Still, the Falcons offensive line didn't do enough to get the job done up front on Sunday.
A holding penalty on Garrett Reynolds nullified a red-zone touchdown in the second quarter, while Lamar Holmes drew an unnecessary illegal formation penalty on the next series. It should be noted that Reynolds did open up the hole for Jackson's longest gain of the day (13 yards).
The line opened a couple of nice creases for Steven Jackson, but the unit just didn't get enough push up front to allow the Falcons to sustain drives and dominate the clock. For example, Peter Konz was pushed into Steven Jackson's lap on a crucial 3rd-and-1 on Atlanta's first drive of the third quarter, when the Falcons were only down by a touchdown.
The blocking improved, but then again, it couldn't be much worse than it was last week.
The Falcons only sacked Cam Newton once, but holding the Panthers star to 237 yards passing and only 22 yards rushing is respectable, especially given the big day that Newton had against Atlanta in Charlotte last season.
Even still, the unit had some costly miscues. Corey Peters was flattened on Mike Tolbert's touchdown run in the first quarter, and Newton magically escaped a collapsed pocked and converted a 3rd-and-long to Steve Smith on Carolina's second touchdown drive.
The unit wore down after being on the field a lot in the second half. After the defensive line did a good job of keeping Newton in the pocket for the whole game, rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga got sealed off and lost contain on Newton's game-clinching eight-yard touchdown run.
Jonathan Massaquoi stood out at times by penetrating and getting into the Carolina backfield.
Paul Worrilow finished with 19 tackles and flew around the field along with Joplo Bartu and Akeem Dent. Moving forward, Worrilow and Bartu will need to continue to improve as a blitzers though.
At one point, Worrilow and Osi Umenyiora had Cam Newton in their grasps, but the Carolina quarterback was able to keep the Panthers' second touchdown drive alive on third down with a highlight-reel type escape.
William Moore appeared to get caught biting on the run fake when Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught a fourth-down touchdown pass from Cam Newton that put Carolina up 14-3 in the second quarter.
Desmond Trufant was called for a couple of penalties, but he also had a nice pass breakup and an open-field tackle against Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Also, Trufant's second-quarter interception may have been a touchdown if Cam Newton hadn't underthrown Ted Ginn, Jr.
Robert Alford made a great play before the half when he intercepted Cam Newton in the end zone, but he couldn't come up with a red-zone fumble by Brandon LaFell in the fourth quarter after Asante Samuel knocked the ball loose.
Matt Bryant connected on his only field-goal attempt, and Matt Bosher averaged 45 yards on five punts.
While the kickers were solid, Atlanta's punt coverage unit gave up too many yards to Ted Ginn, Jr. when he set up the Panthers offense in Atlanta territory with a 24-yard return before Carolina's second touchdown drive.
The team still looks like its playing hard for Mike Smith, but the seven penalties on Sunday were uncharacteristic of the teams that Smith had in his first four seasons in Atlanta.
Atlanta's defensive gameplan against Cam Newton looked much better than it did last season, and the defense didn't allow a play of over 40 yards for the first time this year.
Still, Smith and his staff look like they've struggled to come up with a plan for this offense without Julio Jones and Roddy White. Sure, young receivers need to step up, but the players the Falcons currently have at receiver need to be put in the right position to make that happen, because they aren't going to win solely on their physicality and athleticism like Jones and White did.
Most importantly, it really doesn't matter who the Falcons have at receiver if they can't run the ball. The stud first-round lineman that many Falcons fans may be clamoring for isn't coming through the door in the next eight weeks.
Smith has to find a way to get the most out of the linemen that he has now if the Falcons are going to be respectable over their last eight games.