The first pre-season game was action packed and went right down to the wire. Given that it's a pre-season game, that's about the best you can ask for.
The Falcons will have a ton of tape to watch next week, with a dizzying array of standout performances, middling performances and a very small handful of abjectly terrible ones. By and large, it was a good pre-season game, and some guys who desperately needed one to have a shot at the team acquitted themselves well.
Before we get to the individual breakdowns, a quick note. Nothing that happened in this game is worth panicking over, though I'm a little concerned about the injuries to John Parker Wilson and Akeem Dent. Eric Weems didn't return punts because Mike Smith didn't want him to hurt himself.
Other than that, this was a game about individual performances against an average Dolphins team. For a full accounting of those performances, hit the jump.
- After starting the game off with four straight incomplete passes, Matt Ryan completed his next six. Once he got going, Ice looked like a guy ready to dismantle the NFL's pass defenses one at a time. He made smart reads, threw the ball with great zip and showed a nice rapport with Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. Dominance lies ahead.
- Michael Turner and Jason Snelling looked ready for the season. Turner had four carries for 21 yards and a touchdown and showed off his trademark battering ram running style on all four. Big Snell displayed mid-season form, piling up 27 yards on six carries and catching an eight yard pass. Very comfortable with our top two backs.
- Huge game for Julio Jones right off the back. He threw a nice block, showed off his crazy speed and drive on his two catches for 43 yards and even pulled off a 12 yard run on an end around. Jones will have his growing pains—every rookie receiver does—but he already looks incredibly dynamic.
- Douglas looked like he's finally healthy and ready to contribute. Ryan found him three times for 47 yards, including a 20 yard touchdown where he absolutely toasted a hapless Dolphins defender. He'll be a major factor out of the slot.
- Lot of quality games from the backups and potential backups. I was particularly impressed with Brandyn Harvey, who made a couple of highlight reel catches. Eric Weems flashed ability in dragging in three catches and Kerry Meier had one very nice one, as well. If he can continue to play well, Harvey's going to push hard to stick around.
- The starting offensive line opened holes and protected Ryan extremely well. Garrett Reynolds was my guy to watch and he didn't disappoint, absolutely mauling Dolphins at the line and keeping them away from the back. I know it's blasphemous to even say it, but I think he might be a better run blocker than Dahl right now. The pass blocking needs a little work, but that will hopefully come with time.
- John Abraham getting a pick right off the bat? That'll energize your defense in a hurry.
- Brent Grimes has crazy ups. That interception off Chad Henne was a thing of beauty, as his usually are. He and Abe made an immediate impact on the game.
- Dominique Franks looked decent-to-good in coverage, which was enough to distinguish him from Chris Owens. He also looked terrific returning punts, which can't hurt his value. This kid is going places.
- Props to Rafael Bush for making a nice interception. Even bigger props to Darrin Walls for knocking it right to him. Bush, as friend of the site @scar988 pointed out on Twitter last night, is the team's fifth best cornerback AND fourth best safety. Walls is a practice squad candidate with considerable upside, and based on the athleticism he showed last night, I have to root for him to make the roster.
- Even though it was against backups, I was impressed with both Emmanuel Stephens and Cliff Matthews, who each came up with a sack Stephens has the more refined moves at this point after spending last season on the team's practice squad, but Matthews arguably has more raw talent. Liked what I saw from both of them.
- Matt Bryant is basically a kicking robot. Nailed his field goals, nailed his extra kicks, casually went after Sarah Connor on the sidelines. Dude can do it all.
- Ken Parrish showed a huge leg on a pair of punts, and a willingness to hit. He faces long odds considering the Falcons actually expended a draft pick on Matt Bosher, but he definitely looked like the stronger punter tonight.
- That said, I actually thought Bosher showed good accuracy. He just couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Time will tell if that was jitters or something more sinister.
- Props to the coaching staff, who executed their gameplan perfectly with the starters. The Dolphins may not be that great in 2011, but they looked woefully overmatched against the Falcons. That goes back to Smitty & Co.
- John Parker Wilson flashed some ability, but he was inconsistent and seems utterly hellbent on proving that his arm isn't suited for the deep ball. He's probably a lock to make it as the third quarterback, as long as his injury isn't too serious, but I didn't come away all that impressed. Perhaps next pre-season game he'll bring it. Two turnovers in limited action doesn't cut it.
- Of course, Adam Froman wasn't considerably better. He looked tentative and a little jittery tonight, though I thought he did a nice job hooking up with Brandyn Harvey on one pass. When he threw for the end zone, it was a ballsy but ultimately unfortunate move, as he threw the pick that sealed the game. He didn't show enough tonight to knock off JPW, but he'll get another chance.
- Wasn't terribly impressed by our third-string and beyond backs. Antone Smith got few chances and did little, Jacquizz Rodgers flashed speed but not consistency and Gartrell Johnson looked like he was trying to run to the center of the earth. It's early, though, so no worries yet.
- Part of the reason Wilson and Froman struggled was because the offensive line didn't do a great job blocking for them. The backups had some real trouble controlling rushes, and Jose Valdez didn't look as studly as I had hoped he would. Again, it's early.
- It was partly Rafael Bush's fault, but Chris Owens got toasted again and likely reinforced thousands of fans' impressions of him. Owens is likely ticketed for dime duties in 2011, assuming the three corners above him stay healthy. The backup secondary had its moments, but it struggled mightily to contain a less-than-impressive Dolphins passing attack.
- Peria Jerry struggled to get penetration. He also apparently forgot he was on the field at one point. With Corey Peters looking rugged and stout against the run, Jerry's gonna have to do better to get a lot of snaps this season.
Game MVP: Julio Jones, in what will likely be the first of many such awards. We could argue about valuable, but for my money, identifying yourself as a humble hero in your first pre-season game as a rookie is worth a lot.
Game Theme Song: Sure, it was a loss. But it was a pre-season loss, and there were a lot of encouraging signs. In that spirit, I give you this.
One Thing To Take Away: The team's starters look ready for the season to begin. That's hugely encouraging, and it's what we should be most relieved by.
Next Week: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be trotting out an erratic rookie running back against the Falcons. That sound you hear is John Abraham cackling. Check out Big Cat Country before the game.
Final Word: JulioJones.