The Festival Of Punts And Antone Smith: A Falcons-Ravens Recap

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 01: Kroy Biermann #71 of the Atlanta Falcons sacks Tyrod Taylor #2 of the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on September 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons have played some tremendously exciting football games in recent years. Last night was not one of them.

From the first snap, when the bulk of the offensive starters sat to begin the game, this game promised to be something less than titillating. That promise was kept, and the first half ended up basically being terrible drives and Matt Bosher and Steve Koch punting. 

The second half was more exciting, if only because both offenses stirred and the game got incredibly sloppy. When the dust settled, a motley crew of Ravens third-stringers had triumphed over a ragged crew of Falcons third-stringers. If that result worries you, consider that there is no way in hell that all these reserves would ever end up on the field at the same time. 

The starters who did play did well, with a couple of exceptions. A lot of reserves put together nice performances and pushed hard to make the team. And in the end, the fact that most of the team's best players were riding the pine made the final score all but moot. 

So once more, don't panic. The last cuts are coming soon and the Falcons will emerge as a lean, angry steam-powered team ready to crush the NFL. That's what matters.

After the jump, I'm putting on my boots and wading into this one. Hold your nose and join me.

HIGHLIGHTS

 

  • As it turns out, Chris Redman throws a mean block. He certainly did on Julio Jones' end-around, anyways. 

    That is the nicest thing I'm going to say about our quarterbacks today.
  • Antone Smith was an absolute revelation. After a dumb fumble a couple of weeks back, I opined that Smith might have cost himself a roster spot.

    Well, any damage Smith did then to his chances was undone Thursday night, and then some. Looking fast, fluid and alert, Antone atoned by piling up 114 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown, and hauling in two passes for 44 yards. He was almost half the offense by himself.

    If I'm the Falcons coaching staff, I have to be tempted to carry Smith. He won't do that well against the first-stringers, admittedly, but reserve backs with that kind of potential aren't easy to find. 
  • Jason Snelling got five carries and banged out 21 yards. He's workmanlike, and in a good way.
  • Jacquizz Rodgers didn't do a ton on the ground, but he caught a 10 yard pass and handled a 19 yard kick return. Not a great game, but he showed a little of that speed and vision that I like so much. 
  • Julio Jones looks brilliant even when he only gets a few snaps. He hauled in a sweet 25 yard pass from Chris Redman and ran for 14 on an end-around. A seven nation army couldn't hold him back.
  • Some reserves had nice little games. Drew Davis looked sharp, catching three passes for 23 yards from an erratic John Parker Wilson. Kerry Meier and Kevin Cone each caught two for close to 20 yards. Eric Weems hauled in three catches for 22 yards. And finally, lumbering fullback Lucas Cox caught one for 11 yards and looked good enough to get a second glance for the practice squad, in this blogger's humble opinion.
  • Matt Bosher had a decent night tonight. His 37.7 yards per punt average was driven down by short fields, and he did an admirable job of pinning the Ravens inside their own 20. His leg faltered a couple of times, but this was more of the Bosher I was hoping to see, especially when he managed to get a couple touchbacks on kickoffs.
  • I'm not the world's biggest Robert James fan, but he had a nice game when he needed to. Five total tackles and half a sack—shared with defensive tackle rotation hopeful Carlton Powell—is enough to get props from me.
  • Spencer Adkins looked surprisingly good in coverage on the couple of plays where I was able to track him. With his athleticism, he could be a factor against the pass, assuming he can hold off the axe this weekend.
  • Speaking of linebackers, Bear Woods once again showed great field awareness and solid tackling. He should at least return to the practice squad.
  • Kamaal McIlwain made his case last night. He looked smooth in coverage and snatched an interception that he then returned more than 40 yards. I'm not saying he made the roster, but I would love to see him stick on the practice squad. Darrin Walls and Rafael Bush were both fine against the Ravens, but McIlwain came up with the big play.
  • Brent Grimes got another pick? You could knock me over with a feather!
  • Kroy Biermann and Ray Edwards looked like an elite tandem, however briefly. Gives you a lot of hope for the future if John Abraham leaves after 2011, eh? 

    Biermann was the only one with a sack—he absolutely blew up Tyrod Taylor—but Edwards applied constant pressure off the edge and deserves credit for the assist. Very encouraging performances. 
  • Trey Lewis ate Hunter Cantwell. Someone should've given him a napkin.

LOWLIGHTS

 

  • Chris Redman wasn't very good. There's a caveat there, but aside from his nice block and a couple of on-target passes, Rojohombre failed to impress. Given his track record in the regular season, I'm willing to let that slide.
  • John Parker Wilson has no such excuses, and he turned a horrible performance last night. Looking indecisive and noodle-armed throughout, he only managed to connect on 16 of his 33 passes for 146 yards. He also tossed two picks, nearly threw another one and fumbled the ball away once....against mostly third-stringers. Ye gods.

    The Falcons clearly see something in JPW that I do not, and their judgment is both better and more important than mine. And yeah, he was playing with third-string wide receivers and a third-string offensive line in front of him. Maybe he'll magically blossom into a competent backup quarterback by next season. I will say that if he sets foot on the field in the regular season, we are in big trouble.
  • The offensive line wasn't great. Run blocking was decent, but they struggled to protect Rojohombre and JPW. Redman memorably got blown up by Paul Kruger early in the game, which might not have been noteworthy if he hadn't badly beaten Justin Blalock and (a little bit) Sam Baker to get to him. I want to chalk this up to pre-season....and heck, I will.

    I have to admit this is a slight concern going into the season.
  • Matt Bryant missed a field goal. Why do I have Don McLean's American Pie stuck in my head?
  • Not a lot of standouts on defense, other than who I mentioned. Chris Owens and Dominique Franks didn't do anything egregious, but they didn't do anything spectacular either. With Kelvin Hayden coming to town and the UDFAs impressing, that could be bad news for Owens, even though it probably shouldn't be.
  • The pre-season in general. It's a good thing the games don't count and have almost no bearing on regular season results, because those four games were ugly.

THE WRAPUP

Game MVP: It has to be Antone Smith. Not only was he almost half the offense, but he basically kept the Falcons in and grabbed Mike Smith by the lapel and stared in his eyes with a look that said "Yes, Mike Smith, I am your fourth running back."  This one's richly deserved.

Game Theme Song: This one's for Antone Smith. 

One Thing To Take Away: Cuts are coming, and a handful of guys may have sewn up roster spots.

Next Week: The Falcons take on a familiar foe in the Chicago Bears, who they've edged twice in the last three seasons. Visit Windy City Gridiron for more. 

Final Word: Pre-seasondoesn'tmatter.

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