First Teams Look Good….Mostly
The Falcons fell short against the Titans in their big tune-up game before the regular season gets underway. They came storming out of the gates with an explosion of offense. Matt Ryan was sharp as ever, going 18 for 23 and 224 yards with 2 touchdowns. He also netted a 136.2 QB Rating. The running game never got going at all, but the passing game sure did. Julio Jones had 2 catches for 63 yards, including a beautiful TD play for 52 yards that reminded of us how explosive he can be. Devin Hester really made fans feel good after catching 4 passes for 56 yards that saw him take a short pass for a 31 yard score. Roddy White caught 3 balls for 34 yards and even Devonta Freeman got in the mix with 4 catches for 33 yards as well.
Pass protection held up pretty well with Jake Matthews moving over to left tackle and Lamar Holmes moving to right. He suffered one sack, but overall it was a great improvement and it was nice to see Ryan operate with such skill having time to throw. The defense will continue to be the weak link on this team, even though they had a few good series early on. After hoping that the Falcons had created more depth on the roster, that didn’t bare out in this game, as the 2nd and 3rd string let the Titans march up and down the field and ultimately gave away the lead without getting any points of their own.
Hester Shows Up
This one’s kind of tough, because there were several standout performances early in the game at least. Matt Ryan had a great night with his efficiency, throwing two TD’s with over 200 yards passing and a 136 QB Rating. Julio Jones only had a handful of catches, but made the most of them with his dazzling 52 yards TD pass. Paul Worrilow had a sack and finally added some stability to an underwhelming LB corps.
A handful of other guys looked good as well, but the game ball for this week has to go to Devin Hester. After a woeful first two games, Hester was heavily involved in the offense (delighting all Falcons fans) which included 4 catches for 56 yards and a 31 yard touchdown catch and run. Not only that, but Hester also returned kickoffs for 73 yards with one of them being a 47 yarder that setup the Jones TD. It was great to see for Hester and the front office alike, because it wasn’t looking like a very good signing up to this point.
Initial Cuts Come Down
The Falcons just cut down to 75 players and there were no shocks involved. The only one that may potentially have raised a few eyebrows is them releasing QB Jeff Matthews. He was always a long shot to make the practice squad and almost no chance of the 53 man roster. But with how terribly backup TJ Yates is struggling, it was surprising that they wouldn’t at least give Matthews this last preseason game to make a move.
The Falcons will play their last preseason game in Jacksonville on Thursday and there’s no expectation for any of the main starters to play at all. This is the final chance for players to make a good impression and make it onto the final 53 man roster. There will be some tough choices to make because there’s been some really good battles up and down the roster. The Falcons could use a good showing from their 2nd and 3rd strings on Thursday because it’s not been that great most of preseason.
Johnson Experiment Over, Concern on Southward
Most of the team came out pretty healthy from the third preseason game except for a few. OL Mike Johnson suffered an ankle injury and that pretty much does it for his time in Atlanta as he’s now been injured in some form or fashion for 3 straight seasons. Safety Dezmen Southward left the game as well, and that’s starting to be a concern as he’s racking up several injuries early in his career.
Matthews Does Well, Shembo Pushing to Start
Tackle Jake Matthews made a pretty seamless transition to left tackle with only a few hiccups. Ra’Shede Hageman continues to impress and recorded his first sack as an NFL player. Devonta Freeman keeps showing that he’s going to be hard to keep off the field, and while he didn’t gain a lot traction in the run game (4 runs, 11 yards), he’s showing more and more of his threat in the pass game (4 catches, 33 yards). The problem is that’s it’s unclear how many touches he will lose with veteran Steven Jackson due back week one. Prince Shembo is really making a run at being the day one starter at inside linebacker.
Front Office Report
The Falcons trimmed to 75 players on Sunday and there’s really no surprises at all in this cutdown. They have waived defensive end Theo Agnew, linebacker Brendan Daley, linebacker Darin Drakeford, safety Devonta Glover-Wright, wide receiver Julian Jones, quarterback Jeff Mathews, linebacker Walker May, running back Jerome Smith, wide receiver Tramaine Thompson, and tight end Brian Wozniak. The club also placed offensive lineman Mike Johnson and linebacker Marquis Spruill on injured reserve, in addition to placing wide receiver Drew Davis and safety Zeke Motta on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and released safety Tyrell Johnson. The Falcons are razor thin at free safety and really need some help after the final cuts come around the league.
Pass Rush Continues Woes
While it’s true that the Falcons came away with 3 sacks (which is good), the overall pash rush just still isn’t developing. Both Paul Worrilow and Robert Alford notched their sacks from blitzes (which were well-timed and executed well) and perhaps that’s the only way the Falcons can muster pressure. Ra’Shede Hageman got the 3rd sack and it was great to see the push coming from the defensive line for a change. Jonathan Massaquoi, Stansly Maponga, and Osi Umenyiora seem capable of getting after the passer, but Kroy Biermann just ain’t got it. Maybe it’s his Achilles injury from last year or he just isn’t there, but as much as every Falcons fan has wanted him to turn the corner, it appears that it just isn’t likely as time wears on.
Safety a Major Concern
This was called a long time ago and still looks bad. The communication issues still remain and the pass defense is getting carved up left and right. And the worst thing is…….it’s been by Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jake Locker. Fans are having nightmares about what Drew Brees will do if this doesn’t get fixed in a hurry. The Falcons need an immediate upgrade and better hope there’s something significantly available when final cuts come down because they’ve really boxed themselves in on this one.
Make the 4 Receiver Set the Base Offense
That 4 wide receiver with Julio, Roddy, HD, and Hester was a thing of beauty and it verged on being unstoppable. This is what many fans have been clamoring for a long time. When Ryan has time as he did and all the weapons at his disposal he dominates. There’s no reason that this set shouldn’t be the base going forward with a single back in the backfield. This isn’t to say that they should run this all the time, but why go away from something that works so well? The problem that many assume with Coach Smith is that after something works so well, he will go away from it almost for spite.