Before we dive into the specifics of what we saw last night, let's get this out of the way first: it is still only the preseason. Yes, it is the most important preseason game and it is the real first dress rehearsal for the team - but it is still only one game. Predicting the outcome of this season based on any of these preseason games is an exercise in futility, though there are definitely some things we can takeaway from this game.
The offensive line is not yet settled
From the first snap, it was clear that this offensive line competition was not settled - unless you're a fan of Matt Ryan being pummeled by the other team's front seven. James Stone struggled mightily in run blocking and pass blocking - enough so that I think he may have played his way onto the bench. Mike Person started at Center and looked like a backup. Granted, Miami boasts one of the more impressive defensive fronts in the league, so that should be taken into consideration. However, this team will need to block better than that if it expects to put points on the board.
Before any of us draw any firm conclusions about this line, keep in mind that preseason games - even the third one - are almost always about experimentation and evaluation. While coaches get ideas of who might excel/struggle by watching practices, it is ultimately game tape that tells the whole story. I believe the game last night will prove to be the most critical "tape" yet in the evaluation of this line.
However, if Stone and Person are our starters come week one, you have my permission to panic.
The defense is playing "fast and physical"
For the third straight game, the defense for the Falcons has impressed. While they did finally allow a touchdown drive, they continued to look like an improved unit across the board.
Going into this season, many fans were concerned about the situation at linebacker. Last night showed that those concerns may be for naught. Paul Worrilow has looked like a completely different player in this defense while Justin Durant has looked like a revelation. Brooks Reed has also looked solid so far.
When you consider that the secondary was missing two of it's best players in Trufant and Moore, you have to be somewhat encouraged by the depth we're developing in this unit. In particular, Ricardo Allen continues to impress in the free safety role. Despite the concerns over his size, he has shown a willingness to tackle and the range needed to play in this defense.
Finally, the defensive line continues to generate pressure. Players like Schofield, Beasley and Clayborn continued to show flashes of dominance while guys like Hageman and Tyson Jackson showed their ability to contribute as well. Even Tyler Starr got in on the action by beating the OT around the edge to tip the pass that was intercepted by Bartu.
While this defense is still a work in progress, it's easy to see how it can make the leap from "worse defense in the league" to "competent and trending up."
Above all else, the Falcons left this game with no significant injuries - which has become the theme of this NFL preseason. Considering that the preseason is really about player evaluation, last night's game accomplished just that. While the offense shined in limited opportunities in the first two preseason games, the struggles last night may actually help the team more as it showed weaknesses that need to be worked on in the running and passing game. It was painful to watch for us as fans, but much of what we saw was probably intentional - "setups" if you will - to see who would prosper and who would struggle. So, before we all bring out the pitchforks and head to Flowery Branch, remember that this is the time of year to make evaluations - not bring home victories.
What are your takeaways from the third preseason game agains the Dolphins?