The third preseason game is genuinely the most important game of the preseason, which is only saying so much. Ideally, you want to see your team humming along and looking ready for the regular season, and at the very least, you don’t want to see a bunch of injuries and an embarrassing performance.
Unfortunately, the Falcons gave us a lousy offensive performance, an up-and-down defensive performance, and suffered a few injuries along the way. I don’t think this should alter your season outlook, but for many of you, that will be unavoidable after this team bore too much of a resemblance to the zero pass rush, offensively inept team we saw in the second half of 2015. If you’re frustrated, mad, or even enraged, I can’t hold that against you.
The preseason does not predict the regular season, though, except in its broadest outlines. The Falcons’ middling 2015 preseason did not show us anything that would have predicted a 5-0 start, or anything that would have caused us to anticipate the 3-8 finish to follow. Thus far, Atlanta’s played two solid defensive games in the preseason and one poor one, while the offense has admittedly looked shaky in all three efforts, but the things that are likeliest to translate into the regular season are the known things, like the lack of a pass rush (a very real concern) and questions about the options in the passing game.
Ultimately, the Falcons aren’t likely to be more than a slightly above .500 team this year (and I have .500), because there are legitimate holes, they have a tough slate, and things rarely go as well as we’d hope and dream in the first place. Just remember, always, that preseason performances do not indicate doom or greatness. It may be some small comfort to you after a game that was, charitably, difficult to watch. We are now left to confront the upcoming roster cuts and even more meaningless fourth preseason game before the season begins, so bear with us and we’ll get you through it.
On to our breakdowns.
- Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman combined to tip passes and a field goal. You like to see the big guys up front getting their hands up and disrupting plays. Jarrett just looked good, full stop, and it’s not hard to imagine him being one of the best 3 or 4 players on this Falcons defense this year.
- Preseason is preseason and you shouldn’t read too far into it, which is why anyone seriously suggesting that Matt Schaub should start over Matt Ryan needs a quiet moment alone in a dark corner to think about what they’ve done. That said, Schaub has looked pretty sharp in this offense thus far in preseason, and maybe he’ll wind up being a better backup than I would have anticipated.
- Aldrick Robinson is making the team and may force his way into a semi-significant role. He had three receptions for 70 yards last night, and he’s got the speed to be legitimately dangerous.
- Austin Hooper has been a little slow to adapt, but he got a lot of run in this game and responded well, making several nice catches that were marred a bit by a fumble. He won’t be a major factor in this offense this season, but he will be soon.
- Courtney Upshaw had some nice moments after a relatively quiet summer, and while I have no idea how he fits on this defense in terms of playing time, he’ll likely be here.
- Nordly Capi with the first hit that caused a sack, and another big hit later. How can you not love Nordly Capi?
- Desmond Trufant pick! Woo!
- Shayne Graham is absolute nails. He hit two field goals against the Dolphins, one of them a 53 yarder, and this whole kicker position feels more unsettled than it probably is.
- Matt Ryan threw a goal line pick and nearly threw another one under pressure later in the game, which was enough to put any Falcons fan on high alert. Preseason’s preseason, but Ryan made a lot of poor split second decisions in 2016, so anything is bound to be scrutinized. Frankly, those kinds of decisions should be scrutinized, because the Falcons can’t afford them this year.
- Mike Person is going to have to make this team as a guard, because he has a severe case of the yips when it comes to snapping the football. His blocking is good enough to get him there, especially in the context of this team’s guard situation, but we all had unpleasant flashbacks last night.
- The ground game (and by extension, the line) just didn’t play well in the first half. That includes both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and it includes the entire starting line, including rookie Wes Schweitzer. The Miami defensive line is a tough matchup, of course, but it wasn’t what we wanted to see, especially because the backups finally couldn’t get anything going, either.
- The injuries will reverberate beyond tonight, unfortunately. Keanu Neal has now been hurt twice in preseason and faced questions before he was drafted about how his style would allow him to hold up, though it’s way too early to seriously entertain those questions, given that it did not appear to be a serious injury. Julio Jones left but appeared fine, and we’re not sure what’s going with Adrian Clayborn and Justin Hardy. We just have to hope all of those guys are healthy for the season opener.
- Pretty much everything besides what is listed in the good above was somewhere between lousy and a disaster. The passing game moved only in fits and starts, the ground game was inept, the penalties cropped up left and right, the defense had some truly cringeworthy moments, and none of us had a good time. File away everything that happened here in case it crops up again, but then put it out of your mind for sanity’s sake.
No one! Assign it to the quality player of your choice, but remember, your pickings are relatively slim.
Atlanta probably won’t be this bad in the regular season, so hopefully this is the Falcons “getting it out of their system,” as Matt Ryan suggested in an interview during the game. Your big takeaway is that doubts still linger.
The Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth preseason game, which is meaningless but should be fun. Check out Big Cat Country to learn more about Jacksonville.