The Atlanta Falcons debuted in their first preseason game and looked really good against a team that was a field goal away from going to the Super Bowl last season. The new coordinators inspired fans with hope implementing new schemes and showing some much needed innovation and creativity. Of course not everything went perfect, but overall the first team looked superb on both sides of the ball. The second and third team players, however, is a major cause for concern, or even panic if you prefer. The Falcons stormed out to a 14-0 lead, and ended up losing 31-17. That’s what preseason is for and they surely have a lot to correct, but there’s still a lot of good to take away. A review from the game……..
The offense was innovative and creative. The defense was aggressive and completely shut out Joe Flacco and company when the first team was on the field. As longtime Cage Member Seminole Warrior noted, Matt Ryan seemed as comfortable as he ever has in the pocket on Thursday night. Is this really our Falcons? It can’t be stated enough that it’s still very, very early, but early signs are good. The 3 wide receiver set was used a ton on offense and the defense ran some exotic looks and blitz schemes. Yeah, it’s early, but the future seems bright.
A big complaint from fans towards the Mularkey Era was his inability or unwillingness to include multiple wide receiver sets, especially last year when he had Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Harry Douglas, and they were almost never seen on the field together in 2012. Even though those three weren’t seen together, new OC Koetter used 3 and 4 wide receiver sets often throughout the entire game. Julio Jones was a beast as expected, Roddy White still got his catches, and Kerry Meier, Drew Davis, and Kevin Cone were in on the mix as well. And all this without Harry Douglas. Surely a good feeling.
All fans heard about in the 2011 off-season was “the trade” for Julio Jones where the Falcons gave up 5 draft picks to Cleveland to move up and grab the Alabama superstar. Many football purists panned the trade and that no good teams give up that much for one player, especially a wide receiver. Many of us, this author included, loved the Jones pick, but surely would have liked those draft picks as well. All of that is becoming an afterthought as Jones appears ready to take off into NFL stardom. Some writers say that he’s simply uncoverable in practice and we saw first hand that he is a beast. Falcons liked what they saw in his rookie year, where he hauled in almost 1,000 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns all the while missing 3 games (essentially 4 because he went out early in the Green Bay game). It appears that fans have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Those draft picks aren’t being missed right about now.
This is surely no slight to Harry Douglas, but Dominique Franks should be the starting punt returner. To be sure, the former Oklahoma Sooner had good blocking, but he looked superb when he fielded the punt and took it 45 yards to the Ravens 15 yard line. Fans are hoping that Harry Douglas can be considered a starter with the advent of Koetter’s multiple sets and don’t really want to risk him getting hurt, especially since he tore his ACL a few years ago and seeing both Bradie Ewing and Akeem Dent getting injured on special teams, sadly losing Ewing for the year. Franks will likely be a starting cornerback sooner than later, but until then, a starting spot as punt returner would be perfect.
The defense looked fantastic, having multiple blitz schemes and using players in many different ways. Sure, they only notched 3 sacks, but they looked downright outstanding against the first team defense. It was a joy as a fan trying to figure out where the defensive players were lined up and what formation it was. There was a play where the Ravens had the secondary toast, when they were all by themselves in the endzone, but Flacco overthrew him. That’s a reminder that they’ll be some rust and some pitfalls on both sides of the ball installing brand new schemes.
Throwing out that really awful interception, Ryan looked as comfortable as he’s ever looked in the pocket. It’s insanely early, and maybe we’re overreacting to one game, but he really did seem more calm. Perhaps it was him bulking up over the off-season. Or maybe it was the improved play of the offensive line. Or it could have been a better scheme fit from Dirk Koetter. Maybe it was some combination of all three, but he looked good. As mentioned above, there will be some rough spots as that dreadful interception proved. Ryan played for Mularkey for 4 years so it’s to be expected that a change in philosophy won’t come overnight. That pass seemed typical Mularkey where an order for a timed throw was given, regardless of the situation. Still, it was nice to see Ryan play so good against a top-notch defense.
No, but he definitely didn’t seem to fit as well in the new offensive approach as Jacquizz Rodgers does. That’s probably way over-simplifying it and it was only one preseason game, but Rodgers looked excellent and Turner not so much. Turner only got five carries, so it’s not really fair to judge him on that performance alone, but if Rodgers continues to look like he did on Thursday night, it’s going to be harder and harder to keep him off the field.
It’s been a debate for a long time at all levels of football: should coaches play starters on special teams. Some believe that they must to ensure that special teams don’t take a back seat and play as big a role as offense or defense. Others believe that it simply puts valuable starters at too much risk. There’s no definitive answer one way or another, because guys like Desean Jackson and Percy Harvin play special teams and excel on them, but when you have injuries as the Falcons did on Thursday night, it hurts. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, and most fans understand Bradie Ewing working on special teams, but did they really not have enough players out of 90 (45 during the season) to keep starters off special teams? Hopefully, Akeem Dent will return healthy and ready to go before the season starts.
The time has passed. It is beyond time for the Falcons to go with talent and upside over veteran leadership. Both Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson looked downright terrible against the Ravens. The Falcons have brought back Chris Redman for a long time and it appears that it’s finally time to move on. It’s understandable that you want some veteran experience just in case something goes wrong, but very rarely do backups take teams to ultimate success. Look no farther than the Houston Texans having 3rd string QB TJ Yates take them to the playoffs and even win the first round. John Parker Wilson displaced DJ Shockley many years ago, but it appears his Falcons days are coming to an end. Dominique Davis has talent and upside. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but it’s time to develop a legitimate QB behind Matt Ryan. Redman and Wilson looked downright pitiful.
A big question regarding the Falcons has been their inability to develop quality depth. Fans have wondered why many of these players that have been drafted never see the field of play, even in blowout wins. It’s preseason and that’s what’s important to remember, but the backups on both offense and defense looked pretty bad. The secondary, in particular, looked weak and lost at times. Robert James was a nice bright spot at linebacker, but other than that a lot of players didn’t help themselves at all in the first game. The same goes for offense. The backup QB’s have already been mentioned, but the tight ends looking to earn a job didn’t do themselves any favors and the same goes for the offensive line backups. Hopefully, it was just the first game kinks, but if it wasn’t than either Dimitroff hasn’t drafted very well or Smith and Co. haven’t developed well.
The offensive line has been the biggest target of criticism going on two years now. They have been shredded by almost everyone writing about the Falcons (this author included) for their inability to pass protect and last year unable to run block. For all the criticism they’ve endured, they surely deserve praise when it’s due. The offensive line kept Ryan clean and comfortable in the pocket. Sam Baker moved well and Garrett Reynolds looked like a different player. As with everything else, it’s very early, but the offensive line may have some hope and the scheme surely has to help them out. It will be interesting if Peter Konz starts on the bench this year, as it stands now.
1) Simple Leadoff: What’s your take on the Falcons-Ravens game?
2) Hopeful about the new coordinators or too early?
3) How did you like the new offense?
4) How good can Julio Jones be? Still thinking about those draft picks?
5) Should Franks start at punt returner or is too early?
6) Your thoughts on the new defense?
7) What’s your thoughts on the Turner / Rodgers debate?
8.) Should the Falcons be playing starters on special teams?
9) Just rust or major panic about depth?
10) What should the Birds do about backup QB?
11) Did Ryan look more comfortable to you?
12) Who about that offensive line?