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Falcons vs. Ravens preseason 2015: Backups shine, falter, and now wait for the axe

The Falcons wrap up preseason with a mostly strong performance that is nearly overshadowed by off-field drama.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones went on the field for a single snap, and then the night belonged to the reserves, the roster hopefuls, and the longshots. As you might expect, it was a night filled with hiccups and the occasional eye-popping play, and it wrapped up the Falcons' first preseason under Dan Quinn with a narrow, kind of silly 20-19 win.

Primarily, this was a game of opportunities for backups, and a showcase for Tevin Coleman. This was his best chance to prove he belongs as a starter or at least back in the committee, and he didn't disappoint, mixing some strong short runs with a couple of huge breaks. Justin Hardy showed he belongs. Sean Renfree couldn't quite do the same, but he remains alive for a roster spot, or at least the practice squad.

Of course, the whole night was overshadowed by the drama surrounding Jon Asamoah, which started when he didn't dress for the game, continued when trade rumors swirled and ESPN's Vaughn McClure noted that and reached out to him directly, and died down after the team took to Twitter to deny the rumors outright. We'll see what ends up happening with Asamoah, but that was a weird note.

Everything that follows should be taken with a grain of salt, considering we are discussing backups playing against backups, for the most part. The less said about the last second drama where the Ravens almost came back and won a largely meaningless preseason game, the better.

The Good

  • It was a bright spot in an otherwise merely okay night for Sean Renfree, but a nice pass and a nice catch by Carlton Mitchell for a 25 yard touchdown in the third quarter. First real sign of life from a Falcons backup quarterback all preseason, honestly.
  • Tevin Coleman looked incredible early, albeit against that backup Ravens defense. He ripped off two long runs on the first drive and showed balance, speed, and good vision. We'll need to see him get 10-plus carries against an NFL caliber defense before we figure out what he's going to look like this year, but that was mighty encouraging.
  • Terron Ward has good power, but clearly needs work as a runner and blocker. He seems like a likely Falcons practice squad stash, and he got a ton of work last night to make his case.
  • Justin Hardy had a nice game all around, reeling in a couple of catches and nearly taking a punt to the house on a 70 yard return. He's obviously got a roster spot sewn up, but his role for 2015 is uncertain. He's shown me enough to believe he should be the #4 receiver, and should be in the conversation as a returner this year or next.
  • The defense was solid enough, albeit (and say it with me) against backups. I'm less concerned with the depth on defense than I am on offense, particularly the line, so this wasn't a revelation. Still nice to see roster hopefuls like Derek Akunne doing quality work out there.
  • Grady Jarrett is a monster in the making, and while there may not be a ton of snaps for him immediately, he showed why he could be a special player in this one. He absolutely annihilated the Ravens third-string quarterback for a 12 yard sack, and was in a couple of run stops along the way, as well. Bullish on him.
  • Tyler Starr was again lurking around a big play. This time it was Cliff Matthews powering through and sacking the Ravens quarterback, a big play for a player who is on the fringe of the roster. Both Starr and Matthews helped themselves tonight, though Starr's spot on the roster may depend more on Brooks Reed's health than anything he's done.
  • Dezmen Southward's fumble recovery on the third quarter punt was arguably his second sign of life all preseason, but he needs those kinds of plays if he's going to stick around as at least a practice squad option. He followed that up with another huge hit on another third quarter punt return, and it's clear if he makes the roster, it'll be mostly for special teams this year.

    He did get beat for two Ravens touchdowns, so it wasn't all roses. It'll come down to how much the team likes his developmental potential.

The Ugly

  • Renfree's numbers don't look awful, but make no mistake: He didn't sew up a job last night. Tentative in the pocket after the first series, settling for checkdowns and straight up missing on a couple of throws, Renfree couldn't show the coaching staff he belongs as the #2, and now it's fairly obvious Rex Grossman will step in as Ryan's backup. If Renfree is lucky, he'll hit the practice squad and develop for another year.
  • Renfree was probably helped by Rex Grossman's rusty, mediocre performance. He looked exactly like a quarterback who hadn't thrown a meaningful pass in nearly four years, and if Kyle Shanahan is hellbent on making him the backup, he's just going to chalk this one up to rust. That may well be fair, considering Rex did not get much help from the offensive line in this one. May Matt Ryan remain healthy all year, either way.
  • T.J. Yates not getting into this game either means he has a roster spot locked up or he's getting cut. I suspect the latter.
  • Collin Mooney showed good power on a touchdown run and continues to look like the superior blocking fullback, but he left the game on special teams with an injury. Let's hope it's minor, because I honestly think he should have the gig.
  • The offensive line wasn't stellar, again. Depth here will be a concern all season long unless the Falcons somehow make a couple of savvy pickups and trades that left the entire unit, so we have to hope for good health across the board. With Joe Hawley still getting second team reps, I'm increasingly concerned about a James Stone/Mike Person LG/C combo that just doesn't quite look ready for primetime.
  • I think the team knew that Jalen Collins would need some work in coverage before he could be a true asset, but I don't know if they expected the kind of struggles they've seen this preseason. Collins will be buried on the depth chart until guys like Marlon Brown stop beating him down the field.
  • Joe Hawley was in with the backups again, and he's looking a little bit shaky. I can't tell how much the injury is impacting him, of course, but it's discouraging that the team's best center is still A) running with the 2's and B) not looking fantastic doing so. Hopefully just some preseason rust and hiccups.
  • If the Falcons have to spend a lot of time playing their backup linebackers, coverage is going to be an issue. Kroy Biermann and Allen Bradford were the worst culprits, and though both are likely to make the rosters, they didn't jump off the tape the way I'm sure they would have liked to. That same problem reared its head near the end of the game, when the Ravens suddenly carved up the defense.
  • Matt Bryant missed a 52 yard field goal, which is the surest sign of the impending apocalypse.
  • Matt Bosher's late game punt was blocked primarily because Sean Baker allowed his man through. Baker was a borderline roster guy because of his special teams value, but that play might get him cut.
  • Ultimately, there was a lot of sloppy football last night. Fumbles (some that weren't fumbles), penalties, generally middling play, and everything else you'd expect. The Falcons are in big trouble if they lose a lot of starters, but that's true of most franchises in the NFL. The takeaway here is that the team can upgrade at a handful of spots if it keeps an eye out, and should, but I'm still pretty optimistic about the season ahead.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: In a game like this, it's usually a random player. Congratulations to Carlton Mitchell, who caught a touchdown and looked good with Sean Renfree and Rex Grossman throwing to him. Because he's unlikely to make the roster, this will have to be his consolation prize.

Game Theme Song: A huge sigh of relief that the Falcons managed not to lose any more players to major injuries, as far as we're aware.

One Takeaway: The Falcons need to be active on the waiver wire to address the offensive line depth, at the very least, but the defense looks like it's in the best shape we've seen in years.

Next Week: The regular season, at last! The Falcons face the crazy, dangerous Philadelphia Eagles, ably represented by Bleeding Green Nation.

Final Word: Bringontheseason.