MIAMI — The Falcons’ dress rehearsal for the 2012 regular season was not a rousing success.
Facing a team with a struggling defense and a rookie quarterback not named Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, the Falcons stalled on offense and didn’t dominate on defense as they posted a 23-6 victory Friday night at Sun Life Stadium.
COACH MIKE SMITH’S OPENING STATEMENT: “I was really pleased with some of the things that we did tonight. The effort was good in all three phrases. I felt that we improved defensively, especially on third down. That was one of the things that we didn’t do very well in the last ball game. Offensively, I felt that we left some points out there. Not necessarily in the red zone all the time. Sometimes it was pre-red zone; just before you get into the red zone. I thought our special teams units played well. We had an opportunity to return a kickoff. I was very impressed with what Jacquizz Rodgers did. There are lot of things that we have to get fixed between now and next week as we go through the finish of the preseason. The toughest things is getting the roster in place over the next 14 days we’ll be doing that. Going to 75 and then to 53.“
Faced with a similar situation Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens destroyed Jacksonville 48-17 in their regular-season tune-up. The Falcons did manage to stop their seven-game exhibition season losing streak and helped coach Mike Smith improve his record to 4-1 in the important third exhibition-season games.
While Matt Ryan was sharp, the offense couldn’t convert their drives into touchdowns. The unit settled for three first-half field goals and some of the same problems from 2011 surfaced.
Ryan completed 18 of 26 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown. For the exhibition season, he’s completed 45 of 60 passes (75 percent) for 549 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and has a quarterback rating of 111.
On the team’s first offensive drive, the Falcons elected to go for a fourth-and-2 from Miami’s 33, but running back Jacquizz Rodgers was dropped for a 2-yard loss.
Last season, Smith had a high-profile fourth-down call backfired against New Orleans in overtime. Also, the Giants stopped the Falcons twice on short-yardage situations in the wild-card playoff loss.
Smith plans to continue to go for it fourth down, but doesn’t appear to have a line that can get enough push in those situations. Also, the Falcons appear to miss the lead-blocking of former Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli.
They tried to run behind Cox and right tackle Tyson Clabo, but Miami defensive end Cameron Wake broke through and tackled Rodgers in the backfield.
The team saved $3 million by releasing Mughelli in May, but it doesn’t appear that he has been adequately replaced unless Lousaka Polite is a better lead blocker than Cox. After being released, Mughelli signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent.
The team is taking a close look at the offensive line. Rookie right guard Peter Konz was inserted for Garrett Reynolds and played two series with the first unit.
Also, rookie left tackle Lamar Holmes entered the game when the second-team took over in the third quarter.
Konz and Holmes were the Falcons’ top two draft picks in 2012, but they don’t appear ready to contribute immediately. Holmes’ play was particularly important because backup left tackle Will Svitek, who started 11 games in 2011, was lost for the season with an upper right arm injury.
The Falcons’ rushing attack continued to struggle.
Running back Michael Turner, who’s accounted for at least 1,450 yards in three of the past four seasons, was held to 14 yards on eight careers in the two previous exhibition games.
The Falcons tried to unleash Turner against the Dolphins, but he finished with 35 yards on 10 carries for a paltry 3.5 average per carry. Rodgers had four carries for 4 yards.
The Falcons elected to keep most of the same personnel from last season and ordered up a major retooling by hiring new coordinators in Dirk Koetter (offense) and Mike Nolan (defense).
The reconfigured offensive staff, with Pat Hill as the new line coach for Paul Boudreau, came up with a mock game plan as they treated the third exhibition game as a warmup for the season opener at Kansas City on Sept. 9.
On the second drive, Matt Bryant kicked a 45-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 3-0.
Miami, with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the controls, answered with drive to the Falcons’ 4. Dan Carpenter kicked a 22-yard field goal to make the score 3-3.
Bryant added field goals for 44 and 51 yards to give the Falcons a 9-3 halftime lead.
The Falcons finally reached the end zone when Ryan connected with Roddy White for a 20-yard touchdown with 6:40 to play in the third quarter to give the Falcons a 16-3 lead.
On Miami’s next series, Carpenter added a 52-yard field goal to make the score 16-6.
Backup quarterback Dominique Davis continued to impress. He tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Tim Toone with 8:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Falcons revealed how they plan to play their cornerbacks.
Brent Grimes started on the left side and Dunta Robinson on the right side. When they went to their nickel package, Asante Samuel went to the left side and Grimes moved over to the right. Robinson went down inside to play in the slot.
The Falcons, who improved to 1-2, close out the exhibition season at Jacksonville on Thursday.
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