Youth movement in full bloom in Atlanta

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With three games to play this season, the Atlanta Falcons are trying to find out if their 2013 draft class will be part of the solution moving into the offseason.
Against Green Bay, the Falcons played 10 rookies for a total of 416 snaps and all will likely get more action when they face the Washington Redskins at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
That could grow to 12 rookies if safety Kemal Ishamel, a seventh-round pick, or Terren Jones, an undrafted rookie offensive tackle, can get some action. Both were inactive for the game in Green Bay.
When a team decides to go "youth movement" route, it must be prepared to live with the mistakes.
On offense, rookies right tackle Ryan Schraeder (42 snaps, 71 percent), tight end Levine Toilolo (11, 19 percent) and wide receiver Darius Johnson (31, 53 percent) all played key roles against the Packers. Schraeder gave up the key strip-sack that led to the go-ahead touchdown.
On defense, linebackers Paul Worrilow (71 snaps, 100 percent) and Joplo Bartu (25, 35 percent), defensive ends Malliciah Goodman (25, 35 percent) and Stansly Maponga (15, 21 percent), cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (71, 100 percent) and Robert Alford (71, 100 percent) and safety Zeke Motta (53, 75 percent) were rookies who all played major snaps.
The Falcons, since being eliminated from the playoffs, have ramped up the play of the younger players on their roster. A combination of improved play from their younger players along with the returning veterans from injury should help them in 2014.
"I think the guys have worked hard and they deserve the opportunity to go out there and play," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They need to play in games where there is something on the line. You want to see how they respond to it."
The Falcons contend that they are not tanking games to improve their draft position.
"Our mission is to win the football games, no doubt about that," Smith said. "But we felt that those young guys had the opportunity to go out and participate in a game for an entire game or most of the game. That's what we were looking at (in Green Bay)."
Smith appears ready to live with plays by the rookies, like Schrader giving up the sack-strip to Green Bay linebacker Mike Neal.
"I believe that Ryan went out and had an opportunity to play his most significant snaps," Smith said. "He did not start the ball game, but he had his most significant snaps. I'm sure you guys have seen replays on the strip/fumble. That was a big play."
The rookies started out strong against the Packers in the frigid conditions of Lambeau Field and should be ready to go when they face Washington indoors.
"I felt like we started out fairly effectively running the ball efficiently early in the ball game," Smith said. "In the second half, we did not. I don't think we got a first down in the third quarter of the ball game. Three three-and-outs and a turnover, I believe. We did not move the football in the second half of the game."
The other two rookies on offense, Johnson and Toilolo, didn't make any significant contributions.
"I felt like in the first 30 minutes of the ball game we played well enough to win and in the second 30 minutes, we played poor football," Smith said. "We didn't play well enough to get the job done."
--Free safetyThomas DeCoud left the Packers game at the end of the first quarter with what was likely a concussion, but was announced as a "head" injury. Running back Antone Smith left the game with a knee injury, but was walking fine after the game in the locker room. The status of both players will be updated Wednesday.
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Matt Ryan was outplayed by Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who was cut by Oakland and Buffalo this season. Ryan completed 20 of 35 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had a passer rating of 81.4. Flynn finished with a passer rating of 95.6. Ryan was victimized by several drops. Before film review we had Tony Gonzalez with two, Steven Jackson with two, Jacquizz Rodgers with one and Harry Douglas with two. That's seven. Gonzalez and Drew Davis caught touchdown passes. Roddy White turned in a strong game with eight catches for 74 yards. But there were too many drops by the wide receivers, including Douglas' key late drop that would have put the Falcons on the fringe of Matt Bryant's field-goal range. White now has 18 catches for 217 yards over the past two games.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Steven Jackson rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries and Jacquizz Rodgers had 14 yards on seven carries. Antone Smith did not touch the ball from scrimmage and should be getting Rodgers' carries at this point. The running game started strong, but stalled during key drives in the fourth quarter. On second-and-10 from Green Bay's 32 with 7:28 left, Jason Snelling was stuffed by Johnny Jolly for a 2-yard loss. Two plays later Bryant missed a 52-yard field goal by about two yards. In the next drive, on first-and-10 from Green Bay's 38 with 2:57 to play, Rodgers was stuffed for a 1-yard gain with the Falcons trying to get into field goal range.
PASS DEFENSE: C - The Falcons had five sacks and five quarterback hits on Flynn. The five sacks tied a season-high that was also achieved against Miami during the Week 3 of the season. The Falcons lined up in their nickel package for 53 of the 71 defensive snaps (77 percent). Free safety Thomas DeCoud left the game against the Packers with a concussion that was announced as a "head" injury. He did not return to the action. DeCoud was replaced in the lineup by rookie Zeke Motta, who would later give up the go-ahead touchdown catch to Andrew Quarless. The Falcons played mostly nickel coverage against the Packers. Robert Alford started at left cornerback for veteran Asante Samuel, who has seemed disconnected all season. Alford had five tackles, but got beat by Jordy Nelson for a 46-yard gain.
RUSH DEFENSE: D - The line was stout against the run as it held the Packers running backs to 84 yards on 27 carries for a respectable 3.1 yards per attempt. Green Bay rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who battled through an ankle injury, rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries. John Starks was held to 19 yards on seven carries. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi continued his strong play, making five tackles to go with 1.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- Kicker Matt Bryant missed a potential game-winning 52-yard field goal. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 44.5 yards on four punts and placed two punts inside the Packers' 20-yard line. Rodgers had his busiest day of the season with six returns for 126 yards. The coverage units were strong.
COACHING: C-minus -- On a day when the defense registered five sacks, scored a touchdown and set up the offense for another short drive, the Falcons needed a little production from the offense. The defense got after the shaky Matt Flynn and came up with a big day. The offense went in the tank in the second half. The troublesome third quarter was a factor again. They went scoreless and have scored just 42 points in the third quarter all season, which supports those critics who contend that the coaching staff makes poor halftime adjustments.