Fast and physical. We've heard it from the moment Dan Quinn stepped in Atlanta. We've heard it through OTAs, mini camp, training camp and now that we've experienced our first preseason game. While it has been just a mantra up until this point, it truly seemed to come to fruition in the first exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans. Before I get to the three key takeaways, keep in mind that this is a bad Titans team with a rookie QB. So, while we will certainly celebrate much of what we saw, we should also temper our excitement just a bit - though I admit to smiling from ear to ear while watching much of the game.
Fast and Physical is Real
It's not just a mantra folks. What was impressive was that this phrase really did seem to permeate every single play on both offense and defense. The first team offense executed quickly and efficiently. The first team defense bodied the Titans offensive line and disrupted them on nearly every snap. Even as you got into the 2nd and 3rd string units, it was clear that the emphasis on a simplified defensive scheme to maximize player speed was working.
To be clear, there were many ugly plays that came out of the 2nd and 3rd string units, so fast and physical will only go so far. However, when it was applied properly it was often impressive. For a first showing under the new regime, it was a promising initial step.
Many Camp Impressions Held Up
Often, we get too excited about what we see in camp. We want to read too much into what guys look like in shorts and it can lead to disappointment by the time the first preseason game comes around.
This year, though, many of the impressions from camp have held up. Vic Beasley had an impressive debut and his initial speed and pass rushing prowess certainly flashed against the Titans. Leonard Hankerson earned first team reps and pulled in a key third down conversion. Tyson Jackson - a punching bag for most fans - had a great game at his new, lighter weight. Ra'shede Hageman displayed power and improved hand usage in his time with the first unit. Justin Hardy displayed solid route running and good hands. Justin Durant looked like a big difference maker, showing incredible instincts and fantastic playing speed. Ricardo Allen looked like a natural fit at the free safety position.
All of these were impressions that have consistently come up during training camp and amazingly, they all seemed to hold through into the first preseason game. Obviously, it's just one game so let's not bank on the 16-0 season yet - but seeing the promise of camp hold up in an actual game should give fans some optimism.
Battle for the backup QB
Here's the reality: if Matt Ryan goes down, this team goes down with him. However, this is a battle to watch since the preseason games are dominated by backup QB play. If last night was any indication, this "battle" may not be all that close.
Even going back to the 2014 preseason, many Falcons fans - myself included - thought that Sean Renfree looked better than TJ Yates. However, the team had traded away a useful special teams player (Akeem Dent) to secure Yates, so the investment of a trade made it hard for the Falcons to walk away from him. As such, they kept 3 QBs on the roster, with Renfree inactive on game days.
To be blunt, Yates looked inaccurate and rattled last night. While he is a veteran with playoff experience, it was Renfree that displayed poise in the pocket and overall competence in running the offense. If we're to believe Quinn - who said that the backup QB position is 100% still a competition - then Renfree may have played his way into the QB2 role. Given the needs elsewhere on the roster - if this continues to hold through the preseason - it's unlikely the Falcons will carry Yates on the 53-man roster. While it was just one game, this battle is one to keep an eye on over the next few games.
What are some of your takeaways from the first preseason game?