The Falcons' third string players let a lead slip away in preseason action against the Ravens, resulting in a 23-27 loss in Baltimore. Atlanta's starters, however, beat the Ravens' starters by a score of 10-3, and looked significantly better in the process than they did last week.
Matt Ryan looked generally excellent, finishing the day 8/15 for 97 yards and one touchdown. There were some miscommunications with receivers, and he was under pressure from Baltimore's aggressive pass rush at times, but all in all, he had a good day. When the receivers' timing was right, Ryan looked unstoppable. He had a beautiful completion to Kevin Cone--Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith maintained good coverage, but Ryan just dropped the ball right into Cone's hands for 17 yards. Ryan's chemistry with Julio Jones was a wonder to behold. All in all, Ryan had a very promising day, and Roddy White missed much of the starters' playing time due to a low ankle sprain, and Tony Gonzalez wasn't even there.
Steven Jackson put a lot of Falcons fans' minds at ease with his performance against the Ravens. Run blocking was much improved, and Jackson made it look easy, managing 42 yards on 8 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He also showed off his receiving skills with one catch for 13 yards.
Julio Jones is pretty good, you guys, and by "pretty good" I mean possibly superhuman. It's hard to argue with this stat line: three receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White didn't have the opportunity to make much of an impact. He very nearly had an impressive touchdown catch, but that was the play on which he suffered the ankle injury that ended the game for White. Harry Douglas didn't do much against Baltimore, but Steven Jackson was really the focus when the starters were on the field.
Chase Coffman looked absolutely Tony Gonzalez-like at times against Baltimore. He's not a great blocker, but he has very sure hands and has been running really crisp routes. He finished the game with three receptions for 30 yards.
We saw huge improvements from this unit last night. Pro Football Focus grades suggest that the performances weren't all that great from the starting offensive line (aside from Peter Konz, no starters were graded positively for run blocking; they fared slightly better with pass blocking, with Sam Baker, Justin Blalock and Konz grading positively) but what matters more than play-by-play performance grades is the end result. Steven Jackson was able to move the ball on the ground, and the starters allowed Baltimore's pass rush just three hurries and one hit on Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis also had the pleasure of playing behind the starting offensive line when he initially took the field, and they protected him effectively as well.
Jonathan Babineaux in particular looked phenomenal against the Ravens, consistently bringing pressure. If I had to single out the Falcons' most underrated defensive player, it would be Babs, hands down. He's disruptive to the quarterback, and he's consistent against the run.
The starting linebackers, Akeem Dent in the middle, Stephen Nicholas on the weak side, and Kroy Biermann on the strong side, didn't stand out particularly to me, which means they didn't really make any glaring mistakes. They were decent against the run and decent in coverage. Biermann looks really comfortable at outside linebacker.
Ravens receiver Torrey Smith made the entire Atlanta defense look like garbage with the touchdown play. Asante Samuel blew it in coverage, safety help wasn't where it needed to be, and everyone took bad angles in what I assume were supposed to be efforts to stop Smith on his way to the end zone. It happens. Samuel made up for it with what was very nearly a pick six against Joe Flacco, and that interception set up a Jacquizz Rodgers touchdown.
We saw really good punt coverage from special teams starters, and both Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher looked excellent, as one would expect.
Some side notes: officiating was some of the worst I've ever seen, including last season's catastrophic replacement ref situation. Even taking the abysmal officiating into consideration, the Falcons had way too many penalties. Mike Smith really hates penalties, as is evidenced by the Falcons' status as top ten in the league for the fewest penalties in each of Mike Smith's five seasons as head coach, and we can expect the coaching staff to work to correct these issues prior to the season. Also, Mike Smith's rage seems to be in midseason form.
Baltimore's head coach John Harbaugh, displeased with his team's performance, kept Ravens starters on the field for the entire first half, and Atlanta's second team managed to finish the half with a 20-10 lead over Baltimore's starters, which is also very encouraging.
How do you feel about Atlanta's starters after last night's performance? Discuss!