It was a tale of two halves again for the Atlanta Falcons.
The first half featured dominant performances from the offense, a pretty excellent showing from the defense and an overall encouraging look at the team. The second half had a decent offensive showing, but a pretty weak effort by the defense, with a couple of players potentially undercutting their cases for a roster spot. We'll get to that shortly.
Considering what really matters is the performance of the first team, this has to be considered an encouraging game. Matt Ryan was truly excellent, and the team didn't make it easy for Andy Dalton in the pocket. I'm more excited by the week about how this team's going to look come the season.
The depth, however, remains a legitimate concern. The backups are simply going to have to play better, because there will be situations in the regular season where by injury or fatigue the reserves are going to come in. If they're getting scorched by third string wide receivers and quarterbacks, that's not just alarming. It's a friggin' klaxon going off three inches from our collective ears.
For now, though, it's worth celebrating the starters. After the jump, I'll break it all down.
- Matt Ryan is going to be a monster this season. With the offensive line barely protecting him, he nonetheless threw lasers all over the field, completing 18 of 21 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. His supporting cast is going to get a lot of justifiable hype, but it's Ryan who makes the whole thing tick.
- Dominique Davis looks like the best backup option more or less by default. The kid has a nice arm and the kind of field vision that's difficult to teach, and he was a couple of badly dropped passes away from leading the Falcons to a game-winning drive. I really hope he wins the job, and I could see him coming in to relieve Matt Ryan next week.
- Jacquizz Rodgers is going to challenge for carries this season. Four for 24 yards today and three passes caught. He looks fast and powerful in a way that Michael Turner certainly did not last night.
- First team receivers and tight ends looked nice. Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones each grabbed at least three passes and each put up at least 40 yards. Things were humming along nicely.
- Antone Smith made a strong case for a roster spot last night. He looked great running the ball and showed shiftiness on a dumpoff pass from Chris Redman that he turned into 18 yards. Very impressive evening for the perennial roster bubble back.
- Dmitri Nance had a few nice runs. I mention this solely so I can call him the Rushin' Russian.
- I was impressed with Michael Palmer in this one. A couple of nice blocks, a couple of good catches. Lamark Brown certainly didn't hurt his cause by showing an excellent rapport with Dominique Davis.
- The defensive front seven is doing an excellent job of getting into the backfield. The sacks should follow in the regular season.
- Dost my eyes deceive me, or did Robert James play well again? He may actually earn his roster spot this season!
- William Moore is beastly, and Mike Nolan knows it. You could see some of the ways C4 will be utilized this season, from pass rusher to cover safety to guy who drills players hard enough to knock a fumble loose.
- Thomas DeCoud both recovered a fumble and forced a fumble last night. Consistency is always the question with DeCoud, but he's looked sharp so far.
- Peria Jerry is pushing hard for snaps in the rotation. He came up with a sack on a terrified Andy Dalton and was so eager to crush the quarterback again that he actually got a penalty for it. The fire's nice to see.
- Lawrence Sidbury looks extremely fast, strong and smart out there. The fact that it's against backups makes me a little cautious, but the Falcons have themselves a player.
- Ditto Travian Robertson. He's still raw, but he's showing an uncanny ability to collapse the pocket and tipped a pair of passes last night. I'm enjoying the early part of his career.
- The rest only get a quick bar: Schillinger, Schiller and Walls.
- The backup quarterback situation can't possibly be as bad as it looked last night, but this is the second straight week where Redman and John Parker Wilson have airmailed throws, panicked in the pocket and failed to see open receivers. I don't think the Falcons can take the fact that they're one injury away from a guy who can barely throw the ball over his own linemen lightly.
- Not hanging much on a pre-season game, but Michael Turner looked like he couldn't run away from a stone snail.
- Kevin Cone and Drew Davis desperately need to distinguish themselves, vying as they are for the fifth receiver slot. Instead, neither stood out, with Cone catching one ball for nine yards and Davis getting zero. Part of that is the abysmal quarterback play, but the position remains unsettled. Marcus Jackson made a nice push last night, too, showing good chemistry with Dominique Davis.
- It's pre-season, but man did A.J. Green burn Asante Samuel. Scorch marks.
- Dominique Franks is a guy I like a lot, but he could not have possibly done more damage to his cause. He was poor in coverage, mediocre in punt returns and generally looking lost out there. With Walls looking pretty decent, Franks might find himself in trouble soon.
- The offensive line remains a sore spot for this team. It's just pre-season, but everyone from the starters down to the third string has struggled somewhat. We'll break down the line in a little more detail soon, so stay tuned for that.
- Seriously, replacement refs. I'm not sure they even know what a facemask is.
Game MVP: Matt Ryan. Almost perfect, led the team to a touchdown drive and flashed impressive power and finesse on that arm. He still can't interview worth a damn, but oh well.
One Thing To Take Away: The starters are great, the backups need work, by and large. Deja vu?
Next Week: The mighty Miami Dolphins are next. Stay tuned.
Final Word: Yaystarters.