New year, same troubling outcome last Thursday night. The Falcons looked overwhelmed at times against the Miami Dolphins. Although it wasn't quite as bad as last year, the offensive line struggled against Miami's front four, with Ryan Schraeder, who is considered as one of the best right tackles in the league, struggling and getting beat off the edge on numerous occasions. Miami won inside the trenches on both sides of the ball under most categories.
Miami has a quality total effort, with a lack of effectiveness running the ball as their only major weakness. Miami gained only 78 yards on 31 carries. Eliminating the scrambles from Ryan Tannehill and Zac Dysert leaves them with 38 yards on 25 carries. Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster, and Damien Williams were all held under 3.5 yards per carry. A big reason for their lack of success was Grady Jarrett's monstrous performance.
It was surprising to see Quinn play Jarrett at nose tackle, considering how scouts viewed him as undersized. Many believe that he fell to the fifth round based on his short frame. That didn't hinder him from making an impact in limited snaps last season and carrying it over into 2016.
Jarrett's explosiveness, hand usage, and awareness are attributes to behold. Watch him navigate this running play and easily jolt past Gosder Cherilus. His ability to gain leverage has always been a huge part to his success. Combining explosiveness and instincts makes him a handful for many opposing guards. He won't get quite as many one-on-one opportunities this year without Paul Soliai commanding double teams, but it's still important for all defensive linemen to have strong instincts.
His speed is another asset for Quinn's scheme. Anthony Steen had problems trying to contain him. The converted center couldn't pull here, as Jarrett explodes off the line of scrimmage and forces Isaiah Pead to the outside. The former Clemson Tiger's relentless pursuit is also extremely impressive. He doesn't give up on a play, regardless if his teammates appear to have the opposing running back wrapped up. Look no further than the previous play above or this one against Tampa Bay. Ali Marpet can't keep his hands on Jarrett.
Jarrett manhandled Steen for the majority of the game. Now, it's well documented that Steen isn't a natural center and played for the injured Mike Pouncey. It was still impressive to see Jarrett use common techniques such as the rip move to his advantage. There has been some discussion about Ra'Shede Hageman's lack of progression compared to Jarrett. Despite having two different body frames, the obvious difference between them is that Hageman doesn't use his hands well. It's rare that he makes a play without using sheer power. Jarrett's rapid emergence into a potential impact player should be attributed to many things, but his hand usage is certainly one of the main reasons.
Unlike Hageman, Jarrett has excelled at taking double teams in small instances. There were far too many occasions last year when Hageman would get double-teamed and taken five yards back. The embarrassing defeat to Tampa Bay is a prime example. The jury is still out on Jarrett at nose tackle, but this play was a promising moment against Cleveland. He stays low and uses excellent flexibility to get involved on the run stop. When Hageman was drafted in 2014, many expected him to be Soliai's replacement, as the nose tackle's age and contract made him a three-year investment at best. Hageman's inability to evolve from being simply a massive athletic freak has forced the coaching staff to try him at other positions.
The former Gopher deserves credit for being one of the few standout players from Thursday's game. He nearly bull rushed Steen into Dysert, before deflecting the intended pass. It was one of those plays, where the coaching staff has to wonder if Hageman can turn these flash moments into sustained efficiency. They have used him all across the defensive line during preseason. Despite not featuring in the first-team defensive packages very often, Hageman should be considered as a valuable utility player. At some point, an injury will likely occur on the defensive line. The position is too physically demanding for every lineman to play 16 games. Don't write off the third-year player just yet.
Hageman aside, though, Jarrett could be Atlanta's next defensive star. Pete Prisco implied that Vic Beasley wasn't even Clemson's best defensive lineman when the Falcons selected him in the first round. That should be considered as significant praise for Jarrett. As Beasley is still trying to find his niche, Jarrett is causing havoc on a frequent basis. Most draft analysts couldn't understand how Jarrett fell into the fifth round. With an array of skills and forming a unique partnership with Tyson Jackson, who has looked good at the three-technique spot, the defense may not miss Soliai as much as some (including myself) anticipated.
Ricardo Allen shines
Besides Jarrett and Hageman, Ricardo Allen was the other lone standout for Miami, which we wanted to note. Quinn views him as the best tackler in the secondary, according to my colleague Jeanna Thomas. The converted free safety made an excellent open-field tackle, as Damien Williams managed to escape Brooks Reed and Deion Jones. Allen prevented him from reaching the first down marker and further embarrassment on a play that should have been stopped at the line of scrimmage.
He also bailed out C.J Goodwin, who managed to run step for step with DeVante Parker, before falling down. Allen laid a crushing hit to force the incompletion. The Falcons haven't had a physical presence at free safety for years. Dwight Lowery was too undersized and injury prone, while Thomas DeCoud missed far too many open field tackles. To go along with possessing good range, Allen is a capable hitter as well.
The rebuilding process may be longer than expected, but the Falcons are slowly putting together a defense full of potential. Desmond Trufant is clearly their best player. Allen and Neal could be one of the better safety partnerships within the three seasons. Jarrett and Beasley should become centerpieces for the defensive line. If Jones and De'Vondre Campbell develop into anything like Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright, then the days of relying on the offense will end sooner rather than later.