The NFL preseason kicked off this week and on Friday evening, Falcons fans got their first taste of what this years team has to offer. The promise of training camp reports was finally put to the test. How did it turn out? Let's take a look.
On the plus side
The first team offensive line looked improved over last year. In particular, they were very effective running the ball and mostly did a good job of protecting Ryan on the first scoring drive. They weren't perfect and there are kinks to be worked out, but it was an encouraging first showing.
Antone Smith continues to demand more and more snaps. Every time he touched the ball he was off to the races. Unfortunately, most of his big runs were negated by offensive penalties (more on that below).
In limited snaps, Bernard Reedy continued to show why he has the most buzz at camp. He's absolutely killer in crossing routes and he caught both passes that went his way, and showed some good chops on special teams as well.
Matt Ryan was 7/7 on the first drive and looked like he was already in mid-season form. The same can be said for Roddy, who Ryan connected with repeatedly for third down conversions on the drive.
The entire second team defense looked very good, holding the Dolphins second team completely scoreless for the remainder of the game. They did a good job of generating pressure - and we saw some flashes from Rashede Hageman. Even if he wasn't making plays, he was easily demanding double-teams and allowing other players to break free. It was a very strong showing for this group and bodes well for our depth.
On the down side
While the offensive line seemed to do better overall, rookie RT Jake Matthews struggled. While his pass blocking seemed fine, he was pushed back on a couple of occasions and was also called for two separate penalties. It wasn't a great start for the first round draft pick, but he'll be fine. Hopefully, the out of this world hype surrounding him can come back to reality now.
The first team defense looked pretty bad. They did a better job of run stopping, but allowed several long completions that kept the opening drive by the Dolphins alive. Keep in mind, the defensive scheme was very vanilla, but several players - including camp standout Kemal Ishmael - looked lost in the lights. It will be something to pay attention to next week to see if Nolan and his staff can make the proper corrections.
On the "Dear God make it stop" side
Keith Armstrong is going to have a field day at practices this week. The overall performance of his special teams units varied from "somewhat competent" to "dumpster fire bad." Many of these guys only have a shot at the 53-man roster based on their special teams play. If yesterday was any indication, those spots are still clearly up for grabs.
* Geraldo Boldewijn was targeted often, but dropped several balls.
* Prince Shembo got a sack going through the A-gap - something to watch for.
* Sean Baker looked decent-to-good in coverage at free safety.
* Sean Renfree looked better than TJ Yates for much of the night
* The 2nd team OL looked solid after settling in. Included Holmes, Konz and Schraeder.
* Devonta Freeman looked excellent and caught a beautiful wheel route pass from Renfree.
* Javier Arenas and Ricardo Allen both looked good on defense.
So, what are your thoughts on the first preseason game of the 2014 season?