The Falcons' third preseason game was an important one, because it promised to give us our first extended look at the starters against a quality Miami Dolphins team. What we saw was simultaneously encouraging and extremely discouraging, and it depended entirely on which side of the ball you happened to be watching.
First, the offense. Matt Ryan and the ground game had little time to work with, given the performance of the overmatched offensive line against the Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and others, and it resulted in easily the worst performance by the starters yet. Having Julio Jones and Roddy White out of the game was grim, sure, but there just wasn't much going. It didn't get better with T.J. Yates in the game, really, and after nothing but good vibes for months, we have a reason for pause. Unless the offensive line is at least decent, the offense is obviously limited, and this team is in real trouble against quality defenses.
We won't know, unfortunately, until Week 1 whether this was just an unfortunate blip or a sign of things to come. I'll hope for the former, and with the firepower the Falcons have, I feel pretty confident it will be. Less confident about the line holding up, of course.
The defense, on the other hand, continued to maul their opponents. Ryan Tannehill to Jarvis Landry looked good at times, and Lamar Miller's speed and pass catching ability makes him dangerous. For all that, the Dolphins managed just one touchdown on the night, with the D putting up two sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and plenty of three and outs. Tannehill's surface level numbers look impressive, but the Falcons were able to stymie the team nonetheless, and they've proven to me at this point that they can take on a decent offense (not a great one, a decent one) and have a stout showing. That's a huge, huge milestone for a team that "boasted" one of the worst defenses in the NFL over the last two seasons.
Ultimately, this game shouldn't shake the foundations of your expectations for the season. We knew the offensive line might be a concern, and it's hard to know how concerned we should be when Joe Hawley is not in with the starters, and the team is down a pair of receivers, a potential starting running back, and is facing the Dolphins. Similarly, we haven't seen the defense tee off on a truly great offense just yet, so you should be encouraged but not ecstatic over their progress. The offensively terrific, defensively alright Eagles are perhaps the best first week test the Falcons could have hoped for, so we can start looking ahead to that.
First, though, there's one more preseason game and two rounds of cuts ahead. Let's take a look at highlights and lowlights before we move into roster discussions.
- Given the myriad challenges facing him, I thought Tevin Coleman looked solid. He broke a tackle, showed some speed and pop, and managed not to look incredibly rusty despite getting his first game action in Week 3 of preseason. Not really his fault that he got leveled in the backfield twice before he had the chance to do much, though we're admittedly not any closer to figuring out what he's got for the regular season.
- Leonard Hankerson continues to show well. He finished this one with three catches for 50 yards and looked like easily the best receiving option on the field for Atlanta with Julio Jones and Roddy White out, even if he didn't reel in every one of his six targets. Don't be surprised to see him get a ton of looks in 2015.
- On a night where run blocking and pass blocking from anyone was scarce, Patrick DiMarco did his best work in the passing game, bringing in a couple of nice catches for 25 yards. That fullback battle may come down the wire, so that pass catching ability will be key for Dimarco, especially after Mooney's 59 yard Week 2 rumble.
- Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley look like the best pass rushing duo the Falcons have managed in years. Clayborn forced a fumble and looked good doing so, Beasley popped the punter, and both of them are legitimately competent at getting after the quarterback. Man, is that refreshing.
- Kudos to O'Brien Schofield for destroying Matt Moore and forcing the fumble simultaneously. Good man.
- I had sort of written Joplo Bartu off this offseason because he's an incumbent and there's a numbers crunch at linebacker, but he's making me look like a fool for doing so. His interception (hat tip to Tyler Starr for the...well, tip) and return were impressive, and he's done enough to get a lengthy audition next week against the Ravens.
- Paul Worrilow has always been a tackling machine, but he was absolutely drilling running backs last night, and his third down ankle tackle behind the line early in the game was an especially nice one. He's shutting up the idiots who said he wouldn't even make the team a year ago, whoever those losers were.
- The defense allowed plenty of completions from Ryan Tannehill and company, but with a couple of exceptions, they forced short throws by applying pressure and covering well downfield. It was a stout effort all around.
- Matt Bryant always makes it look too easy. Three field goals in this one, including a 50 yarder.
- Finally, let's give it up for Matt Bosher, who had to punt six times and averaged over 46 yards per boot. He's as reliable as they come.
- The coaching staff clearly wanted to give T.J. Yates a lengthy audition, given that Sean Renfree can be socked away on the practice squad and Rex Grossman is looming over everything like an enormous Sex Cannon. The line and his receivers did him few favors, as I noted last night, but Yates looked mediocre-to-okay passing the ball and fumbled twice. He's cooked.
- Jerome Smith ran hard again and looked like a compelling power back for the Falcons...and then he fumbled to officially lose the game for the Falcons. It was a BS fumble, in my humble opinion, but that's devastating when you're trying to make a case for a roster spot. He should get one more go at it in Week 4.
- The offensive line struggled mightily all night, but never moreso than when the starting unit was in. Mike Person and James Stone were bad, Jake Matthews had a roller coaster night, and generally speaking the line just couldn't handle the talent up front for Miami. Even if you accept the premise that this is a preseason game, the Falcons are mixing and matching personnel, and they're down a few players, the O-line is the major concern heading into the season for a good reason. Hell, Tyler Polumbus even got hurt, Joe Hawley didn't get in until later in the game, and Lamar Holmes is still on the shelf.
Look for the team to watch other teams' cuts along the line very closely.
- Generally not a stellar night for the secondary. Robert Alford, Jalen Collins, and Phillip Adams were all burned at least once, and you can see that the unit is a little strained without Desmond Trufant and William Moore around. Largely a solid effort, however.
- I'm utterly baffled by the mere thought that that final fumble was upheld, given that there was no angle that clearly showed the ball popping out before Jerome Smith's knee hit the ground. Preseason ref crews, I guess.
- Generally speaking, this team will have to play less sloppy football to beat the Eagles in Week 1. It's too bad, really, that our last preseason impressions of most of the starters on offense in particular is a mixed-to-negative one.
Game MVP: In a game as dismal as this one, you give it to the defense for hanging in there, playing tough, and other cliches.
Theme Song: The sound of thousands of fans helplessly shrugging.
One Takeaway: The offensive line must be better in the regular season for this Falcons team to be as good as we all hope it will be, i.e. a winning record and a chance at the playoffs.
Next Week: Short week! First round of cuts are coming, then it's the Baltimore Ravens, ably represented by Baltimore Beatdown.
Final Word: Let'sgetotheseasonalready.