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Falcons vs. Cardinals preseason recap: Don’t worry about the loss, celebrate the defense

There’s a silver lining here that has nothing to do with the fact that the Falcons were thumped.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons got blown off the field in their very first game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is something I never wanted to have to type. Thankfully, it was only a preseason game, which means we have some poor performances and lessons to absorb, and then we can safely move on.

The problem was less the defense, which looked every bit as good as it has the first two weeks plus some lapses, and more the offense, which looked frankly horrendous. Matt Ryan threw a pick, Matt Schaub fumbled the ball away, and everyone just looked sort of weirdly out of sync and slow.

The good news, as I’ll repeat once more, is that this is preseason. We saw similarly weird and fluky play out of the offense during last year’s preseason, and ultimately it didn’t matter a lick as the Falcons cruised to the Super Bowl. I’m not saying that’ll happen again this year, but I am saying the offense you saw out there last night isn’t the one you’re going to see when the Falcons suit up Week 1 against the Bears, and in the weeks after that. Barring injury, there’s just too much talent here to consistently see dud results from the offense, so you really needn’t worry.

The defense, meanwhile, looked electric. There were almost too many big plays to count, with forced fumbles happening all over the place and tackles for loss ending up as a feature, and we were reminded again that the quickness and physicality Dan Quinn and company have built into this defense matters more than anything else in today’s NFL. I don’t see that evaporating in the regular season, even if they’re sure to have some rocky stretches.

On balance, then, we didn’t see anything particularly alarming or encouraging against the Cardinals, except for the lack of injuries and the plethora of forced fumbles. This team is as it has been all along: Good, young, and hopefully ready to return to contention in 2017. We’re only a couple of weeks away from finding out for certain.

Here’s our full recap of the action. Remember: It really is just preseason.

The Good

  • Tevin Coleman continues to look brilliant as a wide receiver. He’s simply too fast to contain, and now that he’s become a more refined route runner and teams still can’t afford to put a top-flight cornerback on him, he’s going to eat. 2017 may well be the best year of his career thus far.
  • Josh Magee reeled in a good Matt Simms pass and took it to the house, totaling 57 yards. On a night where Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis did fine but were quieter than they have been, and Anthony Dable didn’t do much, that catch helped his chances. They’re still very slim.
  • This was a better game for Brian Hill, on balance, and he showed enough as a runner, receiver, and blocking option that I do think the Falcons will find a way to keep him around. Unfortunately for him, Terron Ward once again looked better, as he has every week of preseason thus far.
  • The defense looked unreal right off the bat, showing speed and physicality and forcing two fumbles on the first two drives, recovering the second. The first one was caused by Adrian Clayborn and the second by Keanu Neal, with Duke Riley scooping it up.
  • Jack Crawford looks like a problem. He showed terrific physicality against the Cardinals, coming up with a critical tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Like Adrian Clayborn and others before him, he may just have needed to join Dan Quinn’s Falcons to bring out his true potential.
  • Takk McKinley is already a problem. He showed reality-bending speed off the edge on multiple occasions, including a sack of Drew Stanton in the second quarter that launched a thousand TAKKKKKKKKKKKK tweets. He later also picked up a fumble Jack Crawford caused, leading to an excellent Jack-Takk synergy I didn’t know I wanted.
  • A week ago, I suggested that Chris Odom didn’t look as good as J’Terius Jones as a pass rusher, but that he certainly looked more complete as a run defender. He showed that against Arizona, especially on pair of tackles for loss in the fourth quarter. He and Jones could both make the practice squad.
  • They finally got beat in the late first and early second quarter, but again, it’s preseason. Overall, this defense has looked as fast and physical as we’d hope for, and that’s what needs to translate from here to the regular season.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan went ahead and threw an ugly interception (albeit one that was tipped) on his very first pass. There’s something about this Arizona Cardinals team that just doesn’t agree with him, I guess, but thankfully it’s but a preseason turnover. Unfortunately for Ryan, he nearly threw another pick and looked a little shaky on the team’s second offensive drive, but again, that’s preseason for you.
  • The offense, generally, was ugly, and the backup offensive line particularly so. We knew the latter was an issue and I think the former can be chalked up to a bad night, so still not sweating. The Falcons are unquestionably in trouble if they lose multiple starters along the line, though I think having one of Garland/Schweitzer and new swing tackle Austin Pasztor will help to mitigate that.
  • Andre Roberts should probably avoid fumbling his first punt return opportunity of the game. Keith Armstrong goes gentle on no man.
  • Some of you actually freaked out about a preseason game again, even after last year. Please stop.

The Wrapup

Game MVP


One Takeaway

The defense is, as my colleague Steven Godfrey at SB Nation put it, sexy.

Next Week

Finally, blissfully the preseason finale. That’ll be the Jacksonville Jaguars, featuring Blake Bortles. Be sure to visit Big Cat Country for more!

Final Word