One Fan’s Impression of Falcons vs. Titans
by Rick Woolbright (The Time is Now)
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any live Falcons football. The anticipation has been building since the Falcons replaced Mike Smith with new Head Coach Dan Quinn, and then followed that up with what has generally been viewed as their best draft class in years. As many have noted, there are plenty of question marks about the new version of our Atlanta Falcons. Will a new ZBS based offense add a legitimate rushing threat to the Falcons attack? Will another defensive minded Head Coach be able to turn around our moribund defense? Do the Falcons have enough talent in the trenches, and at places like LB, FS, and TE, to win what is perceived as a weak NFC South this year?
While Friday night’s game mostly gave us a look at how our rookies and potential backups compare to those of the Titans, we still have been given an opportunity to see the potential of our new schemes (in their vanilla version). Surely we shouldn’t read too much into one preseason game, especially one against a team that finished near the bottom of the league in both offense and defense last year (as Cage member Arno pointed out). Nonetheless, we had a chance to see how our guys played. So without further ado, let’s take a look at what we observed in preseason game #1.
Offense: The first team offense moved right down the field for a TD on its only possession. For the most part it was the MR2 to JJ11 show, as that combination accounted for 61 of the 91 yards on the drive. The pass protection was adequate. Hankerson made a nice read of the zone defense for a catch. DiMarco, who started at FB, had a nice catch on a swing pass. Unfortunately, the first 4 runs were underwhelming 2 yard (+/-) gains, with the ZBS producing no holes for Ward. With the exception of Antone, and a couple of runs by Ford in the 4th qtr., the lack of a running game was one of the themes for the game. DQ showed some guts/confidence by going for it on 4th and 1 (a complete Yates bootleg pass for a 1st down). The offense did manage to score two TD’s on one yard runs, but both were very close calls.
Yates looked awful at QB on his first 2 possessions. Yates finally settled in somewhat when he completed a couple of bootleg passes on his lone TD drive in 5 possessions. Yates also “led” the team to one FG (which was actually a gift from the Falcons D) and threw one INT. Renfree looked good in the 4th qtr., with one scoring drive in 2 possessions (the second possession was exclusively running plays, as the Birds were trying to run out the clock). He threw accurate passes and displayed good decision making.
The OL backups looked terrible at run blocking (except for the right side of the line in the 4th qtr.), but decent in pass protection. Backup centers Person and Konz both had one terrible snap in the shotgun formation.
WR’s Hardy, N. Williams, and M. Clark all had some good moments. Hardy had a number of catches, a good downfield block on the final possession, but was called for holding and juggled a low throw from Yates leading to an INT. TE Toilolo caught everything thrown his way.
Defense: The defense looked fairly stout against the run. Unfortunately, I can only remember 5 times during the whole game that the defense got any pressure on the QB on a passing down. Those 5 times resulted in 2 sacks, a fumble returned for a TD, and an INT (tipped by Collins, picked by Therezie). Durant had a 1st qtr. INT that was not caused by pressure, just a great read on a screen pass. Beyond those plays, the Titans QB seemed to have all the time he needed in the pocket. Beasley was made pretty much invisible by Lewan. Soliai and Babs both set up big plays with inside pressure. Worrilow scooped up the Babs strip for a score and looked decent in coverage on one pass play. The defense seemed to get better penetration on running plays than on pass plays. Ishmael, Collins, Starr, Therezie, Bradford, Magponga, and K. White all had some good moments against backups, but most of them had some not so good moments, as well. Sean Baker got beat in coverage at least twice, and also had at least one missed tackle. Southward got schooled on one play in the 2nd qtr.
Special Teams: Matt Bryant was automatic. Bosher had a good punt from backline of the end zone. Kick coverage was mostly solid. Bradford, Therezie, Weems, Josh Harris, R. Allen, and Bartu all caught my eye at least once in special teams coverage. The return game was uninspiring, though N. Williams did throw a good block on one kick return to the 22. Stupar was called for holding on the opening kickoff.
Overall Impression: A win is a win. The running game needs work, though maybe Freeman and Collins will be quick enough to find the tiny creases like Antone did. The defense is improved and working hard at takeaways, but we must find a way to put more pressure on the QB on passing downs. Even though we were playing guys late in the game who weren’t even listed on the roster I printed out from Falcons.com, the scrubs found a way to score the winning TD, stop the Titans, and then run the clock down under a minute and pin the Titans deep. Yates better start looking over his shoulder, Renfree looked good in the 4th qtr.
Questions for the Cage:
Now it’s time for the collective expert analysis and eagle eye insight of the Cage to weigh in on the first preseason game. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the following questions.
1) Which players caught your eye (including pleasant surprises and concerns)?
2) What are your thoughts on Shanahan’s ZBS scheme, based on the Titans game?
3) What are your thoughts on the new 4/3 under defensive scheme?
4) How do you feel about the new look Falcons now that you have seen them in live action?
5) Based on what you saw against the Titans, what will you be looking at most closely in the remainder of the preseason games?