If our starting offense made moving down the field look effortless, a few timely plays and some struggles showed why those players lower on the depth chart will be critical to the Falcons' success this season.
In the first quarter, when Matt Ryan was completing seemingly everything to seemingly everyone and Michael Turner continued to pretend he's a human being and not a sentient tank, the Falcons looked like juggernauts. In the third quarter, when D.J. Shockley was having trouble connecting with his passes and the defense struggled to stop a quarterback who is likely slated for the practice squad, the team looked pretty average.
It raises the critical question of whether the Falcons have the depth they'll need to get through a full season intact. There's no doubt that our starters on both sides of the ball have looked pretty good through the off-season and the first half of pre-season, but teams who can spell those kinds of starters with capable, adaptable backups are the ones who make deep runs into the playoffs every year. I'm not prepared to say that we're woefully thin or anything, but with so many guys riding high on the depth chart who are known quantities, you can bet I'll be keeping a very close eye on the guys behind them who show a lot.
Join me after the jump as we examine the Rams game and give recognition where recognition is due.
- Matt Ryan and Michael Turner make it look absurdly easy out there. Ryan completed 7 of his 8 passes and caught Tony Gonzalez on a beautiful touchdown strike, something I hope to see early and often in 2009. Meanwhile, Turner just about ran over everybody. Those pundits who think last season was a function of a good offensive line or a weak schedule for The Burner are going to be surprised when he runs through their televisions and shoulders them through their living room walls, I'd wager. I couldn't be less concerned about how ready for the season the two of them are, and it was nice to see Jason Snelling motoring his way to 60+ yards on 12 carries as well. Factor in Jerious Norwood and possibly Thomas Brown and you've got three or four very good reasons for the rest of the NFL to worry about the run.
- Speaking of Gonzo, he had three nice grabs in this one and showed why he's likely to be an enormous factor in the passing game. It's rare to see a tight end who has such a finely honed sixth sense about where the ball is, and we're mighty blessed to have him this season.
- Roddy White got it done as usual, too. No surprises here, as he looks to be in game shape and ready to go. A lot of receivers got in on the action tonight, but to no one's shock he looked like the best of the lot.
- Chris Owens' fumble recovery gave us a glimpse of the awareness he brings to the table. Owens will likely not get much higher on the depth chart in his rookie season than nickel and dime packages, but he's got enormous big play potential in the defensive backfield and is going to be pushing hard for playing time all year long. Still could use a little work on those cover skills, though.
- While we're talking rookie depth, how about that Lawrence Sidbury kid? El-Sid picked up the team's only two sacks and looked athletic and aggressive against the Rams. With pressure on the passer still topping my wish list for major changes in 2009, Sidbury has shown that he could be an extremely effective situational rusher from Week 1. Let's hope he gets a chance to show it in the regular season.
- Eric Brock isn't the world's finest cover safety, but his pick off of Rams' QB Keith Null was a nice one, and simply by playing two solid games of football he's become a frontrunner for a roster spot in my mind. The team could use anyone who might author a few big plays in the secondary this season.
- After whiffing on an extra point last week, Jason Elam returned to form by nailing both XPs and a pair of field goals this week. Ho-hum.
- Big credit for the coaching staff this week. In a game that has no lasting impact on the standings, it's good to see Mike Smith & Co. going for the jugular just to see if it works. For the most part it did, and the starters got a chance to really put up some big plays, so kudos. There's a fine line between being aggressive and being reckless, but if anybody can walk it this season, it's our own talented group of playcallers.
- Shock, buddy, you gotta help me out. I've been defending your inclusion on this roster and championing your ascension to the #2 spot for the better part of the last three years, and this was probably the worst game I've ever seen from you. Those two picks were bad, the fumble was atrocious and some of the throws out there were just plain errant. With John Parker Wilson turning in a workmanlike performance late in the game, we could be talking about your roster spot in a couple of weeks. Here's hoping things turn around.
- This isn't directed at a particular player, but the way Brock Berlin and to a lesser extent Keith Null were able to pass the ball on our backups is a huge indictment of the strength of our second-and-third stringers. Last week I fretted about the way Matthew Stafford was able to pick his way through our secondary, and it's sadder by several degrees when two guys fighting for the third string job on the St. Louis Rams can make you look mediocre. It's the pre-season, I know, but with our cornerbacking corps in flux and safeties and linebackers still finding their way in this defense, stuff is going to have to start clicking soon or I'm really going to be worried when we have to face off against a team like the New England Patriots. I'd expect that to be a focus at practice this week.
Game MVP: We'll split this one between Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, who played the Rams like a cheap harpischord. Many guys worthy of being in the running for this, but I just can't ignore how utterly dominant both looked. With such high praise from The Falcoholic, congrats on your least meaningful award ever, guys!
Game Theme Song: "The Last Line of Defense" by Dilated Peoples. Just because.
One Thing To Take Away: With the likelihood of at least some injuries and the need to not have our starters log enormous minutes every game, the Falcons' backups will be a big piece of our success this year. Hopefully that's a positive thing.
Next Week: We'll be taking on the mighty (?) San Diego Chargers, who are ably represented by Bolts From The Blue. Give the site a visit, as I'll be popping by to answer the questions of curious (?) Chargers fans this week.
Final Word: Twenty-thirteen.