Falcons not making the grade at mid-term

The Falcons’ once-promising season is in tatters at the halfway point.

Some questionable decisions, a roster overhaul and a rash of major injuries have led to the Falcons’ 2-6 record.

Despite ending last season 10 yards shy of a trip to the Super Bowl, the Falcons changed 19 of 53 (35.8 percent) roster spots to start the season. Because of the overhaul and injuries, the team that was supposed to contend for the Super Bowl never took the field.

Twelve projected opening-day starters have missed games, and dynamic wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing are out for the season. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas, cornerback Asante Samuel, offensive tackle Sam Baker, wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson have missed significant amounts of time.

“You can’t make excuses in this league,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Nobody feels sorry for us. It’s all about production. The production this year has not been at the level that it needs to be through the first eight games of the season.”

Here’s a look at how the Falcons have performed, with a mid-term grade:

Quarterbacks: Even with the recent spike in interceptions, Matt Ryan is putting up another strong season. He's played all 533 offensive snaps and has completed 225 of 332 pass attempts for 2,442 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has a passer rating of 91.7, which ranks 10th in the league for quarterbacks with 230 attempts or more. The 10 interceptions rank fourth in the NFL behind the Giants' Eli Manning (15), the Cardinals' Carson Palmer (14) and the Jets' Geno Smith (13). He's on pace to break the records he set last season for attempts (615), completions (422) and yards (4,719). He's also on track to break his interception-high of 14, which he established in 2009 and repeated last season. Grade: C-plus

Running backs: The Falcons have averaged 64.4 yards per game rushing, which ranks last in the league. The plan was for the backs to serve more as check-down pass catchers and in the screen attack. Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have combined to catch 61 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns. The running game showed signs of life against Carolina on Sunday, when Jackson averaged 7.1 yards per carry on six runs outside the tackles, compared with 2 yards per carry inside, according to profootballfocus.com. Rodgers has played 285 snaps, Snelling 150 and Jackson 124. Grade: D-plus

Wide receivers/tight end: Jones was turning in a monster season before suffering a season-ending foot injury against the New York Jets on Oct. 7 that required surgery. White has been slowed by a high ankle sprain and a hamstring injury. His streak of 133 consecutive games played came to an end, and he missed the past three games. Harry Douglas has stepped in with 22 catches over the past three games. Tony Gonzalez (496 snaps) has been backed by rookie Levine Toilolo (94) and Chase Coffman (19). Joe Hawley has played 44 snaps as a jumbo tight end. He was in for run-blocking help 27 times and 17 times to help pass protection. Grade: C

Offensive line: The two-year scouting project to revamp the offensive line to become stronger and more athletic is off to a bumpy start. Peter Konz took over at center for Todd McClure. Garrett Reynolds reclaimed his job at right guard, and Lamar Holmes opened the season as the starting right tackle before losing his job and then re-capturing it from Jeremy Trueblood. Ironically, Trueblood is rated as the 37th-best tackle (one sack, two quarterback hits and 12 quarterback hurries) in the league by profootballfocus.com. Baker rated 70th, with one sack, seven hits and 12 hurries, while Holmes rates 75th with three sacks, seven hits and 30 quarterback hurries. Guard Justin Blalock rates 13th and Reynolds rates 16th. The group of starters have combined to give up nine sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 94 hurries. Grade: D

Defensive line: Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who rates as the 14th-best player at his position, has played 445 snaps and has five sacks, two hits and 16 quarterback hurries. Second-year player Jonathan Massaquoi rates 35th among defensive ends and has two sacks, four hits and 12 hurries while playing 230 snaps. Tackles Corey Peters (28th), Jonathan Babineaux (39th) and Peria Jerry (57th) are having solid seasons. Grade: C-minus

Linebackers: Undrafted rookies Joplo Bartu (441 snaps) and Paul Worrilow (238 snaps) are seeing a lot of action. The unit could get a lift in the second half of the season with the return of Weatherspoon, who may resume practicing Wednesday. Grade: C

Secondary: The play of rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford has been the bright spot of the season. Trufant is the 18th-highest graded cornerback in the league. Safety William Moore got off to a great start, not missing any tackles over the first three games, but has missed a tackle in every game since. Free safety Thomas DeCoud, whose play has dipped this season, is the 69th-rated safety. Grade: C

Special teams: Robert McClain appears to have stabilized the job of returning punts. Punter Matt Bosher is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He has averaged 42.8 net yards on his punts, which is tied for third in the league. He also has placed 11 punts inside the opponents' 20. On kickoffs, 29 of 40 (72.5 percent) have gone for touchbacks, and the opponents' average drive start is the 18.5-yard line, tops in the league. Matt Bryant has made 12 of 13 field-goal attempts. Grade: B

Coaching: The decision to let Gonzalez miss training camp really didn't make sense given that the offense was going to have a revamped offensive line and a new running back. Because of injuries to Jones and White, the receiving corps entered the season with a limited amount of work together, and the early efforts were disjointed. The decision to play White on one good ankle was dubious. He suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 15, which likely led to the hamstring injury he suffered against the Jets on Oct. 7. Based on the past three games, Douglas could have handled the work while White healed. Grade: D-plus