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Falcons vs. Titans 2015: The starters excel, Atlanta wins, and more notes from last night's game

The Atlanta Falcons walked away with a nice 31-24 victory in the first week of preseason.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Every Atlanta Falcons fan was hoping for a great start to the Dan Quinn era in Atlanta. We got one last night.

The Falcons dominated the Titans defense on their first drive, marching down the field for a quick score. The defense harried and harassed Marcus Mariota, forcing two turnovers. And in general, this looked like the kind of fast and physical team Quinn has promised, albeit in very limited opportunities. We couldn't have seen more encouraging signs from the first team, and now all we need to see is health and more quality performances going forward.

Things predictably deteriorated from there with the backups and third-stringers working, but the Falcons did walk out of this one with a win, so at the end of the day I'm guessing most Falcons fans are happy. There are some causes for concern, as we'll cover below, and this is a team that still is clearly thin at a handful of key positions, which may have major ramifications down the line. For one night, though, most of the negatives were nitpicking, and the positives were enough that you might dare to fantasize about a terrific season ahead. Just a little.

Let's dive right in.

The Good

  • Matt Ryan was only in for one series, but he completed all six of his passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, feeding Julio Jones the whole way. That's all we needed to see from him.
  • Ditto Julio Jones, who had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. He got open basically at will and put a nice move on the defender on his way to the end zone, so he looks like peak Julio.
  • Sean Renfree was rolling out against third-stringers, but he was also throwing to third-stringers. He handled his duties with aplomb, completing 6 of 7 passes for 68 yards, directing a touchdown drive, and generally looking like the Falcons' second-best quarterback. More on this later.
  • On a night where no one ran the ball particularly well, at least Jerome Smith, Antone Smith, and Michael Ford each busted off at least one nice carry. I'd really like to see Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman back in action, and soon.
  • Nick Williams was working against the second team, but T.J. Yates looked his way a couple of times, and Williams went high and then low a couple of times to come up with the ball. Impressive showing for him, and if he can keep it up and show some special teams value, he might sneak onto the practice squad.
  • Mike Person was in the game as the starting left guard and he did...well! Then he was the center for a while, and the good times ended. But still.
  • There were a little bit of yips with Vic Beasley to start the game, but he looked extremely explosive when called upon to rush the passer. Given more chances, he's going to absolutely ruin quarterbacks' days.
  • Jonathan Babineaux had a great hustle play, as he always does, forcing Mariota to fumble after nailing his arm. He may be a backup officially this year, but he'll be a great one.
  • Impressive night for Malliciah Goodman, who didn't fill up the stat sheet but did look strong and capable on nearly every snap he played. The Falcons are looking deeper along the defensive line than just about everywhere else on defense, and that's a weird sentence to type.
  • Justin Durant's pick was just a nice, heads-up play. I tend to agree with former Falcoholic writer Andrew Hirsh that if healthy, Durant is one hell of a linebacker, so let's hope he stays healthy.
  • Stansly Maponga was out there with the backups and third-stringers, so it's clear he'll need to impress to hold on to a roster spot. His sack and ensuing dance presented a strong case for that spot, at least.
  • Speaking of guys on the bubble who showed something, Tyler Starr had easily the best performance of his young career thus far, tracking the ball carrier aggressively and coming up with two tackles for loss. He's always had terrific athleticism, but he'll need at least one more of those performances to hold on.
  • Paul Worrilow made a heads-up play when he scooped up the forced fumble and scored, and he generally looked alert, quick, and powerful last night. Again, we're talking limited snaps, but genuine improvement from Worrilow would go a long way for the defense in general.
  • Robenson Therezie made a really impressive pick on a ball Jalen Collins impressively managed to punch into the air. The instincts he displayed on the play were really eye-opening, and I'll look forward to seeing if he can build on that going forward. He's a candidate for the practice squad.
  • Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher were special teams aces, as always, and Allen Bradford looked very fast and aggressive in coverage. Once again, Keith Armstrong looks like he has plenty to work with heading into the year.
  • Worth noting that the Titans' initial climb back into the game came in part because the first team offense was going against the Falcons' second team defense, so there's no real shame there.

The Ugly

  • I hate being overly harsh with players, and it's true that T.J. Yates victimized not once but twice by absolutely horrid snaps from his center, plus miscommunication with the otherwise impressive Justin Hardy on his interception. It's also true that Yates went 9 of 15, threw a pick, and only managed that many completions because both Justin Hardy and Nick Williams bailed him out on more than one occasion. Simply put, Yates looked mediocre, and he hasn't done anything this training camp or preseason thus far to prove he belongs as the backup. Given that he's a veteran familiar to Kyle Shanahan, though, there's still time for him to pick it up and hang on.
  • The ground game struggled behind the first and second team offensive lines. Given that the zone wide blocking scheme is designed, in part, to get that rush going, that was hardly encouraging. You do have to note that these are, starting with Antone Smith, the third-string back and beyond. One bright note: Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman were not the ones struggling.
  • The offensive line in general looks thinned out after the starters, which is both expected and nerve-wracking. The Falcons cannot afford injuries to the unit this year, or they're quickly going to go from competent to frightening. Again.
  • Jalen Collins is going to need some time and coaching to reach his potential. Aside from a heads up play on the Therezie interception where he managed to tip the ball, he was brutal in coverage, getting toasted more than once. I'm not at all worried about him yet, but it was not a great night for him.
  • Antone Smith scored, but he was also injured on the score, with a hamstring tweak that could knock him out for a little bit. The Falcons are running a little low on healthy running backs, and may need to use an open roster spot to grab one.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: Julio Jones, because he's amazing and I don't wish to offend him by nominating anyone else.

Theme Song: Dan Quinn approved.

One Takeaway: The starters and immediate backups are the group that matters, and for one night, the former looked great and the latter looked passable. I'll take that for the first preseason game, and as  a sign that things are spinning in the right direction.

Next Week: The New York Jets get to challenge the Falcons next, and host them in New Jersey. Check out Gang Green Nation for everything you need to know about the Geno Smithless Jets.

Final Word: Agoodstart.