ATLANTA – We took a long, hard look at the Falcons roster on Sept. 1, when they first pared it to 53, as media outlets are known to do.
The headline, and primary takeaway, from that exercise: "Falcons 53-man roster offers intriguing talent, little depth."
There are several reasons why that was what new head coach Arthur Smith had to work with. We don't delve into great detail here, but the core of this roster is a product of several draft hits, as well as recent misses from prior years that sapped depth, and salary-cap issues that prevented new general manager Terry Fontenot from making a high volume of quick, quality fixes during the offseason.
That's how the Falcons' roster arrived at talented, but thin.
There has been plenty of roster churn since then, but that's focused on the fringe. Those counted on heavily are central, decisive reasons for wins and losses. And, as we've seen, the Falcons were able to remain competitive and win some games even without some vital talent.
Attrition, however, is starting to negatively impact a Falcons roster than never had great injury protection at several important spots.
That was clear in 25-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday night, where the Falcons were missing several major players.
Do-it-all weapon Cordarrelle Patterson was ruled inactive just before Thursday's game due to an ankle injury. That's a big blow on several fronts, losing a versatile playmaker who is a running back, receiver and kickoff returner.
That's three of the top six Falcons targets unavailable. Patterson's also the team's leading rusher.
There was a point in the second half of Thursday night's game where the Falcons had multiple skill players promoted or elevated from the practice squad on Thursday afternoon playing at the same time.
Let's be honest, here: Parker Hesse, Marvin Hall and Qadree Ollison don't scare an opponent the way Ridley, Patterson and Hurst might.
This wasn't all second teamers in the lineup. At several spots, it was recent practice squad members versus the Patriots.
That's a lot of production power unavailable to quarterback Matt Ryan against a stout New England defense that has played excellent football of late. The results were not positive for the home team.
"The rest of the group, we didn't do enough to be as productive as we needed to be," Ryan said. "It's always tough when guys are out but it's never an excuse. You've got to find a way to get the job done. It wasn't a good enough effort on the offensive side of the ball."
Ryan's right. Not having top options available does not excuse poor play, especially the offensive showing put forth Thursday night against the New England Patriots.
It's a next man up mentality, as players and coaches often say, but the next men up weren't doing quite enough to score points. The Falcons haven't scored a touchdown since the Saints game. It's hard to imagine that would be the case with Ridley, Patterson and Hurst all available.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots during Week 11 of 2021.
Smith is right when he often says he's in the solutions business, but we can all admit they're harder to find when the volume of key players unavailable gets high. That creates a situation where an offense that has been humming at several points during this season grinds to a virtual halt.
While we haven't mentioned the defense yet, this Falcons team has missed Isaiah Oliver at slot cornerback. Like the others we've discussed in this story, losing Oliver is magnified by the team's difficulties finding a suitable replacement.
Those are issues a team built well over several quality drafts is better prepared to handle. That's not where this Falcons team stands at the moment, for all the reasons we've mentioned above. They can play at a high level missing a few key components, as we've seen. It just gets harder when the volume gets high, especially when a team MVP like Patterson gets sidelined.
"You have contingency plans," Smith said of playing without Patterson. "When you go in there, can't ever just be one for one. He's a special player. Tried everything we could. Clearly it wasn't good enough. Credit to New England."