Falcons' Starters vs. Titans' Starters

It's not funny, Justin Blalock. - Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

There's no way to sugarcoat it: the Falcons' starters definitely lost to the Titans' starters Saturday night.

For the first two weeks of preseason, we've been able to bring you a recap of the Falcons starters that suggests those particular units outplayed their competition. The starters' performances against the Titans lasted into the third quarter, and generally were a little bit of a mixed bag, and the Titans' starters actually beat the Falcons starters 20-6.

Matt Ryan had some shining moments, like a beautiful 20-yard pass to Julio Jones. Julio ran a crisp route along the right sideline, got good separation, and Ryan dropped the ball right into his hands. On the other hand, Ryan was sacked five times, and was under pressure nearly every time he dropped back to pass. Poor pass protection limited his effectiveness greatly. Ryan completed 11 of 19 passes for 138 yards and no touchdowns, but no interceptions, either.

Steven Jackson looked good, and run blocking was okay. Jackson managed 51 yards on 12 carries for an average of 4.2 yards per carry, as well as 15 yards on three receptions. Jackson really looks like he will be an impact player this season.

Roddy White was inactive against the Titans due to the ankle injury he suffered last week against the Ravens, and Julio Jones looked solid, as usual, finishing the day with 81 yards on four targets. Harry Douglas had a perfect catch for 16 yards in the first quarter, but a couple of plays later he wasn't able to finish a catch in the end zone. Drew Davis struggled with the first team, catching zero of three targets from Matt Ryan, and was flagged for an illegal formation penalty. It was nice to see Tony Gonzalez back on the field, and he didn't need training camp to prepare him to haul in two catches for 21 total yards.

On defense, let's start with the good, which was basically Kroy Biermann, Corey Peters and Joplo Bartu. Biermann looks very comfortable in his hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role, and finished the day with five solo tackles, two assists, and two sacks, while Peters had three solo tackles--two for loss--and one sack. Bartu, on the field with the first string, had three solo tackles, one assist, and forced a fumble that was recovered by Thomas DeCoud.

The defense was generally not great against the run, allowing Chris Johnson to rack up 65 yards on 11 carries. Shonn Greene managed 17 yards on five carries, and quarterback Jake Locker even totaled 22 yards on three carries.

The secondary looked a little rocky in pass coverage, too. Asante Samuel left the field early in the game with a thigh injury, and rookie Robert Alford had some struggles filling in for Samuel. Yes, Alford did have an interception with the second team, and looked more comfortable on the field with the backups, but as far as his performance with the first team, he looked to be a little out of his element. Desmond Trufant also looks like he's still adjusting to the speed of the game. Thomas DeCoud took a couple of bad angles, but did recover a fumble.

Matt Bryant didn't kick this evening due to back spasms--incidentally, the only games in which Bryant missed field goals last season, he was on the injury report with a back injury--so Jeremy Shelley had the first team's only scores of the evening, with two field goals made, and one missed.

The first team offense's third down efficiency was not good, at just 25%. The team converted two of eight third downs for first downs, and one of them was a pass interference penalty on Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner covering Julio Jones. The Falcons did come away with field goals on both of their trips to the red zone, but Atlanta's first team offense is too explosive to keep settling for field goals on most trips to the red zone.

The defense was pretty stingy about third downs, which is good, allowing Tennessee to convert 37.5% of them (one conversion was on a Peria Jerry unnecessary roughness penalty), but they also allowed Jake Locker, and backup Ryan Fitzgerald on one drive, to move the ball very effectively, as well as allowing Chris Johnson to break away for a couple of long gains. Corey Peters and Kroy Biermann were disruptive at times, which helped slow down Locker.

The long and short of it is, the starters really did lose this preseason game, and they looked fairly lackluster doing it. It's imperative that pass protection, and Matt Ryan's chemistry and timing with the offensive line, improves dramatically by the time week one rolls around. Allowing five sacks on the starting quarterback in just over one half of football is not acceptable. There's also plenty of room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball. That said, the schemes on both sides of the ball looked very generic, and who can blame Mike Smith for that? It's better to lose a meaningless preseason game than to give regular season opponents extra film to prepare for games that count.

What did you think of the starters' performance against Tennessee?

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