While the Falcons under Mike Smith have never been great during the preseason, but with all the changes along the offense, defense and coaching, these games are pretty important in determining where the team is. Check out a few things I was looking for during the game, followed by some important takeaways from the game.
Julio Jones is Back?
All hope in 2013 was abandoned when Julio went down and tonight was his first game action. The team had kept him on a day on, day off schedule at practice and he did not play against the Dolphins. Obviously, all eyes were on Julio tonight.
Julio's first series was pretty forgettable. Most notable is a deep ball where Julio beat coverage, but the ball was just a bit high for him. Julio looked like early career Julio where he was clearly an athletic freak but still needed some work to play up to his abilities. On the positive side, Jones looked healthy and did not appear to suffer any setbacks. He may only be a few weeks from being the early 2013 season Julio we all loved.
Who was better: Clowney or Matthews?
Don't lie. You must have wondered the same thing. With Jadeveon Clowney popularly linked to the Falcons since.... actually, since Julio went down, the Falcons staying put at 6 overall and taking Jake Matthews was a bit surprising. Who played better early in preseason?
Quentin Groves, who is somehow still in the league, outran Matthews on the outside and got to Sean Renfree for a sack. Matthews was decent but struggled a bit with the speed rush. Overall, I was impressed with his play but I was disappointed that Baker was replaced Lamar Holmes while Matthews stuck at right tackle.
Clowney, on the other hand, made some ridiculous plays you would only expect from someone taken first overall. On the second offensive drive, Baker may as well have not even played after getting beaten outside on back to back plays, once crushing Antone Smith in the backfield and another on third down, sacking Matt Ryan. Then a bit later he got carted off because why wouldn't he? I would not be surprised if Sam Baker was actually a ghost, if he ever actually existed at all.
Atlanta OL vs. Houston DL
OK, this is a bit like the Clowney and Matthews discussion. Atlanta defense vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick was terrible, as he carved us up and our defense is awful against even terrible offenses. Regardless, the Texans have perhaps the most talented defensive line in the league, and Atlanta has rebuilt perhaps the least talented offensive line in the league. If the changes worked, tonight will be our biggest indicator.
Sam Baker one-on-one against Clowney is not right. It is like mixing the awesome power of dynamite with Sam Baker who will struggle to so much as get his hands on dynamite. That analogy sounded better in my head.
The offensive line was not bad, but with the Baker injury, looks to be an average group. The team likely needs Dirk Koetter to develop a short pass game to deal with the average offensive line and lack of Tony Gonzalez or other short pass catchers.
I think Devin Hester had better blocking in Chicago. He has absolutely been aggressive, but he has struggled to get past the 20 yard line. However, he had some great speed on a split screen for a touchdown.
Where is Harry Douglas? With Tony Gonzalez gone, the word was plenty of three wide receiver sets. Maybe it was my terrible NFL.com Preseason Live connection, that randomly stopped and disconnected, but I did not see it. I did not see Douglas or any third wide receiver with the first team offense. Not sure if this is playing it conservative in preseason or if the team is not making the expected leap to de-emphasize the tight end position.
Jonathan Massaquoi got great pressure on Fitzmagic on the inside in the first quarter, forcing an incompletion. Massaquoi will be relied upon to make a couple of those plays every week.
Run defense got absolutely trashed early on. The Texans scored on a 69-yard drive. The Houston Texans with Ryan Fitzpatrick and no Andre Johnson or Arian Foster. The defense seems unlikely to be a strength this year, even in the run game.
Hardest part of any preseason game is having any kind of perspective when things are going poorly. 30 years in, haven't mastered it.— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) August 17, 2014
The starting offense was terrible and it only received a small bit of pressure. While the offensive line as a whole looked much improved, the pass game looked rusty. The Falcons struggled to get into a groove early on. Roddy White and Julio Jones struggled to be either in position to catch the football or to, well... catch the football when they had the opportunity. Things never got going and the Falcons never managed to turn the wide receivers into threats before dropping into the 2nd string offense. Antone Smith looked good. The line was not bad.
Missed tackles are still a big problem. The defense has fits where they cannot tackle a wet paper bag.
Malliciah Goodman had a few nice plays. Got nice pressure, resulting in a hold, then followed it up by staying stout at the line and tackling the running back. On the next drive he had a great pass deflection on third down.
Osi Umenyiora got nice pressure and tipped a ball on third down. I may take back some negative things I said about him if he can get snaps and make things happen. Watching him at the end of the second quarter, this guy is actually a pretty nice asset. His jump off the snap is probably the best on this team, and while he is not a great scheme fit, Osi may very well be the best pass rusher on this team.
Jeremy Ebert is working with the second string offense and seems ready to secure a roster spot.
Second string defense looked reasonably stout against the run and with Dezmen Southward showing some speed outside. Not great but Atlanta seems to have a reasonably deep, if unimpressive, defense.
Kemal Ishmael with an interception*! He is playing with the third string defense but seems to be a decent player.
T.J. Yates is running with the third string, and based on what Sean Renfree did, it makes sense. Mobile, nice arm, but Renfree looked to be the better quarterback.
For all the players that are supposed to be good on special teams, our special teams has been terrible.
Summary: Everything is Awful
I can deal with losing in preseason. Preseason is nearly meaningless. Coaches play vanilla scheme and keep any good tape away from their competitors. Well, Atlanta has succeeded fantastically, because there is no good tape from this game. It is nearly all failure. Opposing coordinators have an unending number of ways to slow down and stop the Falcons offense.
How to attack the defense? Try running the ball. Then passing. Alternate as you wish.
Tonight was pretty bad. Hopefully this is only preseason, because the Falcons struggled to do much of anything against a poor Texans team. Yates was picked off for six points by some late round selection after an underthrown football. Yates followed that up by another interception. I have suddenly figured out why they would rather have Akeem Dent.