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Falcons vs. Browns recap: Atlanta cruises to a victory, looks good doing so

You can only read so much into preseason games, but the Falcons are looking relatively sharp early on.

Falcons-Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons traveled to Cleveland last night to play the Browns, and by gosh, it was a fun game. When it’s preseason, you can take the wild ones and actually enjoy them.

The Falcons looked good on offense early and often—there was only one turnover, on a play where Matt Simms was destroyed by a sack and coughed up the football-and the defense looked terrible early and settled in once the backups took the field for both teams. That meant plenty of opportunities to showcase young players fighting for roles, but not a ton of fans will be happy with what they saw from the likes of Keanu Neal and Deion Jones early. As we learned over the last two weeks with Matt Ryan’s weak Week 1 and subsequent quality Week 2, you really can’t read too much into all of this.

As a fan, happiness is a welcome feeling for the Falcons, especially with a tough schedule and genuine questions about the roster hanging over our heads. There’s two more weeks and plenty of roster cuts to go, but in the meantime, we’ll take that enjoyment (and those useful observations) and make hay of them.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • If you had doubts about Matt Ryan after that first preseason performance, he did a lot to erase them, completing several passes, looking crisp and efficient in the pocket, and rolling out effectively. The offense is certainly going to be a work in progress early on this year, but the better Ryan looks in preseason, the better we’re all going to feel heading into September.

Actually, every Falcons quarterback looked solid, and Matt Simms turned in a surprisingly effective performance as the third-string quarterback, completing most of his passes and tossing a touchdown. He’s essentially competing for a practice squad spot, but he didn’t hurt himself last night.
Of course, preseason and all that.

  • Brandon Wilds has now had impressive runs in two games now, and with Terron Ward hurt, he’s making a very strong roster push. No one should be surprised if he’s the third back, especially after an 8 rush, 49 yards performance that featured his second touchdown run of the preseason.
  • Actually, every Falcons running back looked solid (you’re sensing a theme). Devonta Freeman looked great, Tevin Coleman was good in very limited work, and both Gus Johnson and Cyrus Gray had strong moments, though Johnson’s were largely erased by penalty. It may not be an easy decision at #3.
  • Mohamed Sanu had a decidedly mixed evening, continuing mix the occasional poor play with some very impressive catches and physicality. I think he’ll likely be better than the common projections (including ours) indicate, though, and there were moments where he looked bigger and faster than I would’ve thought.
  • Devin Fuller continues to look more polished as a wide receiver than anticipated, and he hauled in four receptions for 49 yards a touchdown last night. If he can prove he belong as a returner, he’s in.
  • It wasn’t all roses for the offensive line—more on that later—but the run blocking was tremendous tonight, and the receivers chipped in quite a bit. Given that the Falcons are going to lean heavily on Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, and given that they have some legitimately intriguing options for the third roster spot at the position, this has to be viewed as a positive.
  • Defensively, the game started out pretty ugly and never really made it to pretty, despite Cleveland’s meager 13 points. The standouts were De’Vondre Campbell, who looked good in coverage yet again; Joey Mbu, who had a sack and continues to push for a reserve role on the interior; and Adrian Clayborn, who basically stopped the Browns by himself on one drive. The defense has a lot of youth and athleticism and talent, but it’s far from a finished product, and you got a glimpse of both the good and the bad inherent in that statement last night.

The Ugly

  • I don’t like calling out any one particular player when there’s a rash of penalties, and so I won’t, given that the Falcons were just generally sloppy and undisciplined in a way they can’t afford to be in the regular season. I’ll just say they were lucky to commit as many as they did and still win handily.
  • Bryce Harris should be virtually a lock for a reserve tackle role, given that there’s not a ton of competition and he was around a year ago in Kyle Shanahan’s system, but he didn’t look great on Thursday night. Something to monitor, at the very least.
  • Desmond Trufant getting roasted by Pryor was one of the ugliest plays you’re likely to see for Trufant all year, which is good. It’s still not fun to watch.
  • The pass rush just wasn’t there, again, especially for the first team defense. Not having Vic Beasley or Dwight Freeney on the field makes for an inaccurate picture, for sure, but I suspect this isn’t the last time this year we’ll wind up lamenting the state of the pass rush.
  • Nick Rose did well to handle kicking and punting duties with Matt Bosher hurt, but after missing two kicks in ugly fashion in two weeks, I think he’s got no shot of unseating Matt Bryant. Just a question of waiting for the cleat to drop.
  • Keanu Neal and Deion Jones are a big part of the Falcons’ future, and both are likely to play prominent roles in 2016. We’ve mentioned again and again that there are going to be growing pains for both with those major roles, and you saw some of that last night, with Neal looking downright lousy in coverage on more than one occasion, and with Jones straight up whiffing on a tackle opportunity early. I firmly believe both will be good players, if not great ones, but brace yourself for more moments like this going forward.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: It doesn’t really matter, does it? Let’s give it to Brandon Wilds, Matt Simms, and Adrian Clayborn, because all three stood out and more awards should be split three ways.

Theme Song: Something snappy and upbeat. You deserve it.

One Takeaway: Preseason results vary hugely from week-to-week, but Atlanta’s offense looked considerably better in Week 2.

Next Week: The mighty Miami Dolphins, with the Falcons on the road. To learn more about them, visit The Phinsider.

Final Word: Thatwasfun.