It’s only preseason. As fellow Cager Big Ray said, “say it out loud, listen to yourself very carefully, and repeat several times.” After all, the Patriots just got destroyed by the Lions 40-9. Mike Smith and Co. intentionally used vanilla gameplans to not show anything to our future opponents. OK, so now that we’ve gotten the rationalization out of the way, let’s look at the ugly fact: the Falcons stunk in almost every facet of the all-important 3rd game. The offensive line was atrocious, the offense was terrible in the redzone, the defense made Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Brady and Manning, and the young rookie corners were officially baptized to the NFL in a pretty ugly manner. Mike Smith and the Falcons obviously get the benefit of the doubt due to their immense record and winning records since he’s been coach, but that was one ugly display after the first quarter or so and fans now hitting the pause button, at least momentarily, on the hype that’s surrounded this team since the off-season. A look at the ugliness that was……….
The Falcons got off to a pretty hot start in Nashville on both sides of the ball. They established a running game with Steven Jackson early on and moved the ball pretty much as at will against a Titans team who seemed to be imploding early on with multiple penalties and seeming ineptness on offense and defense alike. The men from Flowery Branch moved down the field until they choked themselves in the redzone, but overall the offense looked decently good. The defense made a few stops out of the gate and even forced a fumble they recovered to hopefully set up a quick touchdown that could put them ahead quickly.
After three stalled drives in a row in the redzone, resulting in 2 out of 3 field goals and only 6 points, the wheels came flying off and as fellow Cager Greg Mendel appropriately said, “it appeared the Falcons heads just weren’t in the game.” The offense looked as anemic as they ever have. The offensive line couldn’t block a JV player and the defense opened looked as if they weren’t even there, allowing both Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick to drive and score at will. Maybe it was just execution, but it absolutely appeared as though the entire team checked out mentally after their initial good start. Penalties, blown coverages, failure to block anyone, and poor tackling were just a few of the crappy things on display the rest of the way. In fact, as fellow Cager JB Falcon mentioned, “the second string almost looked better than the first string for awhile.” If they come out like that in New Orleans, ugly won’t even come close.
The easiest target will of course be Lamar Holmes, due to both him essentially being a 2nd year rookie and of where he was taken in the draft, but the entire Falcons offensive line was beyond horrible Saturday night. After initially clearing holes for Steven Jackson and protecting Matt Ryan fairly well, they turned into paper tigers across the board. The aforementioned Holmes did get beat by pretty pedestrian pass rushers, but so did everyone else. Garrett Reynolds missed assignments and got beat. Sam Baker accrued penalties and got beat and there was plenty of pressure up the middle to signal Konz had issues as well, even if it wasn’t as obvious. But the worst of the night likely goes to the eldest vet in Justin Blalock. The longtime left guard was continually seen getting whipped by defensive tackles, defensive ends, and even linebackers. Again, everyone had a bad night, but Blalock seemed to be the culprit more than anyone.
Some of the pressure came from heavy blitz designs that the OL couldn’t pick up, but Matt Ryan couldn’t rid of the ball either, some of it being his fault and some of it being the Falcons receivers failing to get open. It’s possibly unfair to single out any single player because the entire offense seemed to have completely checked out of preseason after the 1st quarter, but the offensive line brought all those fears of the past 5+ years roaring back to the surface with the awful play. Here’s hoping they got their clunker out of the way, but they looked pretty bad against the Bengals as well. Most fans wouldn’t be upset if Thomas Dimitroff brought in some emergency reinforcements on the OL just in case.
Stop if you’ve heard this one before: the Falcons have some issues with creating a pass rush. It’s world shattering news for sure, but the men in the white jerseys couldn’t get any pressure hardly at all on the Titans. The only times they got to the QB was when the coverage was so good that the Titans offense simply ran out of options. Biermann had an overall good night, but as mentioned before, he’s no prototypical DE. Osi Umenyiora wasn’t seen very much and the younger DE’s didn’t see action until after halftime. Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi generated some pass rush, but nothing to write home about. Corey Peters was the only linemen that had much of a good night, even though Biermann ended up with an overall impressive night (7-8 tackles, 2 sacks), but fans want to see that in the real games before getting too amped.
Some fans, such as this author, have done anything in their power to rationalize and justify the Falcons failure to being anything but a failure to upgrade the offensive and defensive lines, but seeing a performance like last night makes that stance virtually indefensible. Whether it be draft picks, undrafted players, free agents, or anything else, it appears the Falcons just can not, and sometimes seems, and will not ever generate a pass rush. The men from Flowery Branch has their strength in their secondary, but with no pressure it doesn’t matter how talented the secondary is constructed. Most fans are praying that Dimitroff’s design (building outside-in) isn’t the fatal flaw and construct going forward. Amazing how more things change, the more they stay the same.
Two young men were given a lesson in the rough and tumble rigors of the National Football League, especially as a rookie cornerback. Asante Samuel came out early with a minor thigh injury and Robert Alford joined Desmond Trufant as the starting cornerback duo. It was not pretty at all, particularly for Alford. They were picked on, taken to school, and generally torched up and down the field. Alford was targeted even more than Trufant and he gave up some TD passes, committed pass interference penalties, and some deep passes. Trufant wasn’t without fault either and got his bitter taste of bullying.
It should be noted, at least, that the corners got absolutely ZERO help from their safeties who, as our longtime Cager Seminole Warrior noted, “evidently went to the concession stands during the game.” Thomas Dimitroff was interviewed during the 3rd quarter and said that it was good for them and they had to go through it and it should be said that both Trufant and Alford stayed with it and kept battling. Alford even got a pick later in the game. It happens to all rookies, chiefly to cornerbacks, and it can be a great learning experience. Better for it to happen now in preseason than in Week 1, Week 5, or Week 15. Unfortunatetly, we can have it both ways in wanting to get younger and develop our own players while also not tolerating any growing pains. Trufant and Alford will get there, but it will take some time.
They may be undrafted free agents and aren’t “supposed” to make an NFL roster, especially this many in one season on a Super Bowl hopeful team, but if fans and coaches are truly objective as they say they are, these 3 guys must make the roster. Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow have lit this linebacker competition on fire. Worrilow was definitely the game MVP of the first preseason game vs. the Bengals and had a darn fine follow-up in Baltimore. Bartu also had some good games in that span, but he really took another step on Saturday night. Bartu was a man possesed last night making huge tackles and looking superb in coverage. He quickly was inserted with the first team, possibly even on the first drive. There’s should be no question in keeping Bartu. At times, he even looked better than Sean Weatherspoon.
Worrilow didn’t have quite as good of a night as he did the last two, but he still showed great versatility and an unbelievable nose for the football. There’s not a whole lot more that Worrilow needs to do to show he should be kept and honestly, along with Bartu, it’s going to start getting harder and harder to even keep the two off the field. The final UDFA that has proved his worth is receiver Darius Johnson. He has caught almost everything thrown to him during preseason, but saved his best for the all-important 3rd game. With the Falcons withering away and getting a beatdown from the Titans, Johnson stepped up with a truly beautiful play. He caught about a 15-20 yard pass or so and was amazing the rest of the way. He juked two defenders, easily switched ball hands and raced another 25 yards or so for a touchdown.
The playmaking ability he showed on that one play has been what Falcons fans have been craving from any receiver not name Roddy or Julio. The quickness and overall hands should give him the nod for the 5th receiver spot. All credit due to Kevin Cone, but as mentioned before training camp started, if the guys are even, you have to go with the younger and seemingly more gifted talent.
Even counting the good showing from the Falcons in the first quarter, they still were beyond terrible in the red zone. They found themselves in the redzone on the edge of the endzone 3 times early on and only came away with 6 points. Kicker Jeremy Shelley came on 3 times and made 2 of them. Smith’s team could have easily been up 21-0, pulled all the starters, and been as happy as could be if the Falcons converted their chances, or at least any of them. They looked amazing between the 20 yard lines, but froze when they got close to scoring a TD. There was pressure on Ryan, but as fellow Cager tyler mentioned, there were chances to be had. Harry Douglas was wide open on a 3rd and short, as was Julio Jones on another. The play-calling seemed to be abysmal in the redzone as well. A fade in the endzone to Harry Douglas instead of Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez? And wasn’t the 6’8 tight end that was taken fairly early in the draft supposed to make his presence felt in the redzone? That’s not to mention having Steven Jackson’s insane versatility out of the backfield. Yes, it’s preseason, but even in their “positive parts,” the redzone was ugly and that comes off the back of ranking 6th in the NFC in that area in 2013, which is pretty weak.
The less painful of the cuts came down on Sunday and there weren’t any real surprises. Tight end Tim Biere, fullback Devonte Campbell, linebacker Nick Clancy, tight end Colin Cloherty, quarterback Seth Doege, defensive end Cam Henderson, tackle Jeff Nady, running back Donald Russell, safety Troy Sanders, center Matt Smith, WR Rashad Evans, WR Marcus Jackson, and WR Marcus Sales and defensive end Brandon Thurmond were all waived. It’s always tough letting guys go who came in and worked their tails off trying to at least earn a practice squad spot, but it’s a business and since they were cut in the first wave, that likely means that even a shot at the practice squad is highly unlikely.
Most of the players were major longshots even to make the practice squad, much less the final 53 man roster. Nick Clancy and Matt Smith maybe had the best shot of making the practice squad due to their high productivity at a bigger school (Boston College and Kentucky, respectively) and them being at a position of very thin depth (LB, OL), Although it’s not a surprise, Marcus Jackson probably officially ends his time as a Falcon after being on the practice squad for a year. This wasn’t the difficult one. Some may describe it “low hanging fruit,” but the next will force some tough decisions as the Falcons must cut another 22 players (not including what they can get back or keep on the practice squad).
(Hit the links to listen to the bi-weekly podcast from our very own Cage Members. Click on the “Open a New Window” Tab or “Play in Default Player.”You can listen live or download it and listen on your favorite device: i-tunes, i-pod, i-pad, tablet, or android