The Atlanta Falcons struggled to defend the pass in their Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, that much is very clear.
Russell Wilson looked like the best quarterback in the league while completing 31-of-35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. His passer rating of 143.1 was second behind only reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson in Week 1.
Yet, despite the rough day for the Falcons' pass coverage, which defensive coordinator Raheem Morris pinned on himself, he was pleased with the performance of rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell.
"I thought the guy played pretty well," Morris said. "We're talking about a rookie, we're talking about a guy who was out there and he's playing hard, he's playing fast, he's playing physical. He went out throughout the day and played some sticky coverage on some really good wideouts. He stood up in some really big moments."
Terrell played every single snap on defense for the Falcons in his debut. Although Morris saw promise in the first-round pick, the stats don't paint as rosy a picture.
According to Pro Football Reference, Terrell was targeted five times in Week 1 and allowed five completions for 70 yards and one touchdown. Wilson had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeting Terrell.
The most notable mistake made by Terrell occurred on a double move by D.K. Metcalf late in the game. The second-year Seattle receiver feigned a slant route before turning back upfield for a 37-yard gain. Terrell jumped the expected slant, leaving Metcalf wide open down the right sideline. In that mistake, however, Morris saw a young player trying to make a game-changing play, something the Falcons defense will need more of.
"He played sticky coverage all day," Morris said. "He got beat on a double move in a 4-minute [situation]. I can't blame him, we're in a game, we're trying to come back, we're trying to make a push for something; I'm trying to make that play too."
Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to step into right away in the NFL, and Seattle's receivers provided a tough matchup in Week 1 for Terrell. Throughout training camp, Terrell had plenty of positive moments while matching up against Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, but those moments didn't translate to the field in Atlanta's season opener.
Still, the Falcons have high hopes for Terrell, who coaches say is ultra-competitive and has played in some of the biggest collegiate games of the past three years. Although he made mistakes on Sunday, Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes that won't be a recurring problem with Terrell.
"I think what you guys probably saw and what we've known now throughout training camp, this is a very good competitor," Quinn said. "The corner and the support of tackling in the run game, the ability to stay down and challenge guys – there will be some growing as he's going to go – but he's the type of person that doesn't repeat a lot of mistakes. That's the sign of a guy who is really turning the corner when the same mistake doesn't show up twice. There will be some on-the-job training."
Echoing his coach's sentiments, Terrell says he puts a lot of pride in never making the same mistake twice. While film study is the best way for a player to improve on a week-to-week basis, Terrell relies on his muscle memory to help him pick up on things during games, themselves.
For his part, Terrell believes he fared well in his first NFL action. Now having the opportunity to review the tape with the coaching staff and his teammates, Terrell can show just how quick a learner he is when he takes the field in Week 2 against the Cowboys.
"Just watching film, overall, I feel like I had a decent game for the first time stepping out there," Terrell said. "Of course there's things to always get better on. Anything in technique, tackling, just little keys and details of the defense. Just watching more film, the little things like that."
Terrell will have a big hand in whether the 2020 season is a success or a failure for Atlanta, and despite what the numbers say, his defensive coordinator is optimistic about his future after seeing him in live action for the first time as a Falcon.
"For a rookie to go out there and play that well, I was fired up … The guy was poised," Morris said. "He's been there before, he's been in the big moments before. And he felt really comfortable in that environment, which wasn't comfortable at all. It was really weird at first. It got awkward and then it got fun. It was competitive for him, and I like the way he played. I think he's going to be a good player for us."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks with top photos from the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 1.