The Falcons find themselves at the funky football intersection of “where are we going for vacation” and “who’s going to be on the bus next season.”
At 2-8, they are one loss away from being eliminated from the postseason and about to host New Orleans (8-2) at 8:25 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
Over the final six games of the season, the Falcons plan several personnel changes with an eye toward the future as coach Mike Smith promised to “turn over every stone.”
Some of the experimentation started against Tampa Bay when they inserted Joe Hawley at center, shifted Peter Konz to right guard and benched Garrett Reynolds.
As the game got out of hand, undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder went in for Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle, strong safety Zeke Motta went in at free safety for Thomas DeCoud and running back Antone Smith finally got some carries and averaged 44 yards on two carries.
Also, backup quarterback Dominique Davis made his NFL debut, but didn’t last long as he was knocked out of the game by a Tampa Bay defender. He played 12 snaps and completed 5 of 7 passes for 34 yards.
“The moves helped us in some areas and hindered us in others,” Smith said. “We will continue to tweak the playtime of our players as we move through this last part of the season. We have to get a combination where we give ourselves the best opportunity to win.”
Konz, a second-round draft pick in 2012, started 10 games at right guard last season as a rookie. Against Tampa Bay, he appeared lost and was abused by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who registered three sacks in 17 snaps against Konz.
Reynolds was re-inserted and played 54 snaps.
“We didn’t get the production that we’d like,” Smith said. “Our quarterback got hit three times. He got hit early in the ball game after a fairly fast start.”
Hawley, who started 12 games in 2011, held his own over 71 snaps against Tampa Bay.
“I thought Joe did a nice job,” said Smith, who noted that he watched the tape on the flight back.
The Falcons signed veteran tackle Sean Locklear last week and he could be line for some action.
The offense has not functioned well because quarterback Matt Ryan has been under relentless pressure. On 428 dropbacks, he’s been pressured on 40.4 percent of the plays with 19 sacks, 59 quarterback hits and 95 hurries.
Continuity has been the main issue.
“That is a factor, but it is not an excuse or a reason,” Smith said. “We’ve had a number of guys playing at different positions.”
Smith said the line is the one unit that needs to work in unison the most.
“You’d like to see continuous guys playing because they have to work together,” Smith said. “We haven’t had that. We’ve had a different lineup quite often.”
DeCoud, after going to the Pro Bowl last season as an alternate, has struggled in run support and in coverage. Last season, he had a career-high six interceptions. He doesn’t have any this season.
“We wanted to get (Motta) in there and get him some snaps at the free safety position,” Smith said. “I thought he did a pretty good job. Again, it was his first time playing any significant play time the regular season.”
With the Falcons having trouble running the football, Antone Smith has earned some more playing time.
“It’s going to be imperative that we try to get (Antone) incorporated into our offense,” Smith said. “You saw his speed and his ability to make people miss. He’s a guy who should (get) and deserves some touches (based on) what he did on Sunday afternoon.”
Also, defensive tackle Travian Robertson may be in line for some more action. The team’s top three defensive tackles, Corey Peters, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux, are all in the final year of their contracts.
“We have a limited number of players,” Smith said. “We have to evaluate that and we will. We also have to look at things schematically in what we are asking our players to do.”