FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons wore their throwback uniforms last Sunday against New Orleans, and some unfortunate symmetry that day was we witnessed a throwback version of Roddy White.
Until two catches in the team’s next to-last possession of the fourth quarter, White had two catches, two drops and two 15-yard penalties. It was a reminder of the young and immature White who looked like a draft mistake for two seasons, not the player who evolved into a three-time Pro Bowler and a difference-maker who commanded a $48 million contract.
White has not had a great season. He openly admits it. There’s something to be said for that, especially given he plays a position that breeds prima donnas. But if the Falcons’ wide receiver doesn’t start resembling something closer to the player who caught 28 touchdown passes in his previous three seasons and had a career-high 115 receptions last year, there is little chance this Falcons’ season will turn into anything special.
When asked if he needs to perform better, White didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely. I have to make significant plays and game-changing plays for us to win.”
It’s a really nice story that Harry Douglas was targeted 14 times and made eight catches against the Saints. But if Douglas is leaving White (seven targets, four catches) in the dust on the stat sheet, something is wrong.
There are several theories about why White’s production is down. One involves Julio Jones. There is this theory espoused by White’s critics that when the Falcons invested heavily to draft the Alabama wide receiver, it was a shot to White’s ego and he has been pouting ever since. Honestly, I haven’t seen any evidence to support this, but I felt obliged to ask White, anyway. This all goes back to the wide receivers-can-be-high-maintenance theory.
“I’ve never pouted or cried about the situation,” White said. “Julio makes us more explosive. He’s a great player and he’s going to be a great player for a long time. But I look at my stats and it’s not where I want them to be. I’ve had chances to makes plays. I’ve dropped too many balls this year. I just have to get better. I have to find ways to help our team.”
White has 15 catches in the last four games (3.75 per). He had 32 in the first five (6.4). His nine-game totals — 47 catches for 563 yards and three touchdowns – project to 84 catches, 1001 yards and 5 TDs. The reception total, while down from last year, is right at his career average. But the projected yardage and touchdowns would be his worst since his second season in 2006.
There are several potential reasons for the decline. One is obvious: White just needs to be better. He can’t lose his temper every time something goes wrong. Last Sunday, he jumped a New Orleans player who he felt was “mushing [Douglas's] head into the ground after a play” and was flagged for a personal foul.
White gets into trouble when he lets his lack of production lead to a blown fuse. Quoting: “Sometimes you get frustrated when you’ve had success in this league and suddenly things aren’t going your way.”
The other issue is more big picture: design and play-calling. An offense with White, Jones, Douglas, Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers should rank higher than 12th in yardage and 16th in scoring.
That’s on offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who seemingly is struggling to blend Jones and Rodgers into the offense. White said the offense lacks “chemistry.”
“I feel like we’re really far away from where we need to be,” he said. “We have to figure this thing out. … Last year everything went right for us. We could do no wrong. This year it’s been a whole lot different. Defensive coordinators have found ways to know some of the things we’re doing and they’re dialing up the right coverages for it. … We have to do a better job mixing things up, maybe spread guys out and going to four- and five-wide receiver sets and see what we can do.”
But White knows every scheme requires a playmaker. That’s where he comes in.
By Jeff Schultz