The first game of the preseason was, as you would anticipate, a penalty-marred mess. We learned some stuff, but it wasn't necessarily fun to watch the whole way through. Yet it was the first preseason win since 2012, a 16-10 slugfest, and the Falcons look like they may actually have depth in 2014.
If you walk away from this game with one encouraging item on your mind, that should be it. The second team defense limited the Dolphins to a single field goal, while the second team offense managed some long drives, even if they fizzled out in familiar Falcons fashion short of the end zone. It was the kind of tenacious effort we're unused to seeing from this team in preseason, and it was a welcome sight.
If you're looking for reasons to worry, there are a few. The first team defense generated no pressure on Ryan Tannehill. None of the centers looked great. Special teams coverage units were kind of lousy. And, naturally, penalties were a persistent problem all night. None of this, with the possible exception of the pass rush, is going to completely doom this team. All are fixable, but we'll need to see the team hit the ground running in preseason Week 2 to erase those nagging doubts.
To the individual points we go.
- Matt Ryan capped off his usual efficient first drive, hitting 7/7 passes for 53 yards despite facing one sack (wiped out by a penalty) and a late hit (in the red zone). He had a mostly clean pocket and worked well within it, as per usual.
- I'm not sure T.J. Yates belongs under "good," but considering the line was hanging him out to dry at times, I thought he was reasonably productive. He really got rolling at the end of the second quarter and came very close to running in a touchdown that would have made this one a cakewalk.
- Jacquizz Rodgers didn't have a great YPC in this one, but he ran tough in short yardage and punched in a touchdown from two yards out.
- Antone Smith, meanwhile, looked spectacular. Made a nice catch and run up the middle and cruised for a 76 yard touchdown...except both were called back due to holding. The poor guy is cursed.
- Devonta Freeman was on against backups, but he ran well, showing the same excellent vision that I noticed on the first day of training cam. He's the real deal, a back with an intriguing, balanced set of skills that should make him valuable going forward. Don't expect him to sit in the fourth string for long.
- Roddy White looked completely over last year's lingering injury, and he was brilliant on the first drive, making his usual great catches in traffic. The man is excellent.
- Levine Toilolo warmed up as the game wore, while rookies Geraldo Boldejwin and Bernard Reedy each managed an impressive catch from T.J. Yates. It was encouraging to see the young guys get rolling, albeit against backups.
- Oh, and Reedy? I'm ready to eat my words. I figured he wouldn't be able to show enough to make the team outright, but he's done nothing but impress as a returner and receiver. Get used to Speedy.
- The rookies came in on defense and looked good against the second unit. Ra'Shede Hageman showed an uncanny ability to soak up double teams early on and made a key stop, Tyler Starr looked much better than he did throughout most of training camp, and the unit overall stymied the Dolphins again and again. I was impressed, particularly by Hageman.
- Prince Shembo picked up a nice sack by applying pressure over the middle of the Dolphins' offensive line. It was against backups, but it's the kind of play the Falcons fully expect Shembo to make this season.
- I was impressed early with Kemal Ishmael's instincts, and while he overpursued on a couple of plays, you can see the talent there. The Falcons appear committed to seeing if he can play, and if Dwight Lowery's out, he'll have a shot at the starting job at free safety.
- It's a shame Matt Bryant is entrenched, because Sergio Castillo looked pretty damn good, hitting a couple of short field goals and handling punts with aplomb. He's no Matt Bryant or Matt Bosher, but he had a nice night.
- The Dolphins committed quite a few penalties throughout the game. Thanks, Dolphins!
- The pass defense was anemic early, and they never got a second shot. Ryan Tannehill was perfect on the first drive, basically untouched behind a largely average offensive line.
- Center was a problem.
- Jake Matthews had not one but two offensive holding calls. He looked liked a rookie finding his way, albeit a talented one, and one of those holding calls cost Antone Smith a 76 yard touchdown. Chalk it up to the inevitable rookie scuffles, but keep an eye out that this doesn't become habit. Otherwise, he looked above average in his limited snaps.
William Moore apparently felt there were some communication issues in the first half. I think he was politely pointing to Ishmael and Robert Alford there:
- The special teams coverage unit is going to see Keith Armstrong doing his best impression of Dezmen Southward doing an impression of Keith Armstrong. They did not play well.
- The Falcons committed so many penalties. You expect sloppy football in Week 1 of the preseason, but it's clear the team will need to dedicate itself to cleaning that up in the weeks ahead. Can't afford to carry that over into the regular season, obviously, so expect the staff to make a real effort to get it cleaned up.
Game MVP: I'm giving it to Reedy. It's a preseason game, and at times he was just the most impressive guy on the field.
Theme Song of the Week: The Falcons are 3-0 against the Dolphins since 2010, per reader DnY. You could say the Falcons have their number.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons look deeper than they were in 2014, but they have considerable work left to do before the season opener against New Orleans.
Final Word: Winsarenice.