According to Mike Smith’s postgame comments following the final preseason game of the 2011 season against the Baltimore Ravens at the Georgia Dome, the main objectives were to ensure that our key players would enter week one of the regular season without injuries, which is why guys like Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and John Abraham did not play, and also to evaluate players in a game situation as the 53-man roster deadline grew nearer. In the words of Smith, "We obviously saw some guys step up. We saw some guys that didn’t necessarily take care of business." Join me after the jump, and we will look at some of the performances last night as they relate to the cuts that were made this afternoon.
We saw some really encouraging things from the Falcons last night. The offense was able to establish, though not really maintain, momentum early in the game. Julio Jones showed flashes of brilliance, particularly on an end-around play assisted by an impressive block by Chris Redman. Redman also connected with Jacquizz Rodgers on a pretty screen pass, which worked out nicely.
The real offensive star of the evening, however, was Antone Smith. Smith, who desperately needed to show up in last night's game after inconsistencies in previous games, certainly made a compelling case for a spot on the 53 man roster. Smith broke the monotony of Matt Bosher and his Ravens punter counterpart Sam Koch taking turns practicing their craft for a truly spectacular 46 yard touchdown run, which ended up being a good chunk of his 158 all purpose yards over the course of the game. Gartrell Johnson, by comparison, failed to impress, which led to his name being included in the first round of cuts this afternoon.
The defense, particularly the starters, gave us quite a bit about which to be excited. Ray Edwards did an excellent job of illustrating why he is an outstanding acquisition. He exerted serious pressure off the line of scrimmage, paving the way for a sack by Kroy Biermann. John Abraham is an exceptional pass rusher, and with Edwards' help coming off of the line, I believe the Predator may literally destroy some quarterbacks this season. Our defensive line in general is looking pretty formidable, and we have decent depth across the entire line, leaving no space for roster cut casualties DE Chauncey Davis, DT Trey Lewis, DT Kiante Tripp and DE Tom McCarthy.
The defense stopped Baltimore's offense several times, forcing what seemed like billions of punts. Several linebackers did some impressive things last night. Sean Weatherspoon is playing with a lot of energy. Spoon, Curtis Lofton and Stephen Nicholas are a solid presence on the field. Some of the young guys really stepped up as well, with Bear Woods posting three tackles for the evening despite limited playing time. Robert James and Spencer Adkins also both put in impressive performances. Bear Woods was among the cuts today, despite generally impressive preseason game performances. I am hopeful that Woods will be a practice squad candidate.
Brent Grimes was ballhawking, as per usual, coming away with his third interception of the preseason. Kamaal McIlwain had a great game and snagged an interception of his own, which may be enough for consideration for a practice squad spot, as McIlwain was also cut this afternoon.
There were a number of things that occurred during the game last night that made me pepper my notes with abbreviated profanity. Aside from Redman's block assistance for Julio, I was less than impressed with his performance. I am generally a Rojohombre fan, and in recent years have felt confident in his abilities as one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, but his performance last night, coupled with what we also observed from John Parker Wilson, make me really, really hope that Matt Ryan never has to miss a single snap in the coming season.
And speaking of John Parker Wilson, he failed to impress last night. Wilson is hesitant and tap dances like Ben Vereen instead of doing anything productive as the pocket collapses. He is inaccurate and slow to react to the defense. JPW’s game experience is limited solely to preseason efforts, but considering the time he has spent in the Falcons’ system, I would expect him to be more prepared than he appeared last night.
The Falcons were still in preseason form in other ways. The offensive line had too many false start penalties, and our special teams coverage was not effective against Baltimore. With two new guys on the offensive line, and a host of young, inexperienced players handling special teams responsibilities during preseason, this is not that surprising. Last season, our offensive line was the least penalized in the entire league, and when we showed weaknesses on special teams during the season, the coaching staff made personnel changes to resolve the areas of concern. I feel confident that these issues will be addressed and corrected.
Knowing the quality of our coaching staff and front office, the Falcons got what they needed to out of the last four exhibition games, and the lessons learned will be reflected in regular season play. Although we are all sorry to see the list of roster cuts, especially guys like veteran LB Coy Wire, nobody is sorry to see this preseason come to an end. The next time our Falcons take the field, it will count. I am eager to see what Matt Ryan will do with his various and sundry offensive weapons, as well as the abject fear in Jay Cutler’s eyes with John Abraham and Ray Edwards gunning for him. I believe we are on the verge of a very exciting season for the Atlanta Falcons.