The “dress rehearsal”. The most meaningful preseason outing. These are both labels slapped onto the third preseason game, and they’re both true. Still, it is a preseason game, and it ultimately doesn’t count for squat. So before I dive into these observations, let me once again remind everyone to relax. Remember the Falcons’ third preseason game last year, against the Dolphins? The one where the team looked pretty uninspiring on both sides of the ball? I sure as hell don’t, because it didn’t matter.
Now, with that out of the way, here our some of my observations after taking a closer look at Saturday’s game against the Cardinals.
The starting defense looks awesome
It’s been a very long time since the Falcons had a defense that was both fun to watch and actually effective. 2017 looks to be the year that all changes. The starters were fantastic against the Cardinals—a top-10 offense in 2016—and the emphasis on taking the ball away was obvious. Quinn seems to finally have the talent and depth that he needs to execute his scheme at a high level. I’m reluctant to put a number on it this early, but the defense certainly has top-10 upside.
Don’t be concerned about the offense
We all know Matt Ryan has a thing with the Cardinals (the 2016 game notwithstanding), but otherwise the offense as a whole just looked slightly off in this game. This was Julio and Gabriel’s first game action this preseason, and they looked understandably rusty. Ryan’s INT on the first offensive play was a risky decision, but definitely a fluke-y play. The Cardinals were the 2nd best defense in terms of yardage last season, so it’s not like they were playing a bunch of slouches. I’m not worried at this point, and you shouldn’t be either.
Takk McKinley and Jack Crawford look like early contributors
Throughout a good portion of the game, it seemed like the Jack n’ Takk show. These two were blowing up the Cardinals starting OL and creating disruption consistently. Takk’s speed and relentless motor were evident, and it seems that he’s already worked his way into the nickel packages. We were all a little unsure of what to expect from Crawford, but he looks powerful and athletic. It appears he’ll be a valuable part of the rotation early in the season.
Don’t worry about the CB depth
A lot of fans were freaking out about the 2 TDs the defense allowed to John Brown. Let’s set some things straight here. The first TD was allowed by Jarnor Jones, who—while impressive against reserves so far—is not likely to even make the roster. He’s also a Jalen Collins-like CB who shouldn’t be matched-up on speedy WRs like Brown. The second TD was allowed by C.J. Goodwin, who had excellent coverage on the play. The fact of the matter is, if the ball is thrown perfectly, there isn’t much the CB can do. Atlanta is a little thin at CB with Collins’ suspension, but there’s no reason to panic. Look at the Saints’ depth chart if you want to see a real problem.
The OL depth is still a problem
It’s been hard to evaluate the back-up QBs and other skill players because the reserve OL has been so damn awful. They were regularly getting blown up and allowing penetration into the backfield. The Falcons have already taken a step to correct this issue by bringing in T Austin Pasztor (who didn’t play this week), but it seems likely they may also bring in another veteran lineman who shakes loose during final cuts.
Brian Hill and Eric Saubert appear to be progressing
Hill finally got some snaps with the ones, and—as expected—looked a lot more like the guy the Falcons pictured when he was drafted. He’s a powerful runner and made some good decisions in his limited work on Saturday (he appeared to suffer an ankle injury midway through the game). Saubert, for the first time, made only positive plays. He caught several passes and looked a bit better as a blocker. The Falcons would really like to keep both of these guys around, as there is a legitimate chance one or both would be poached off the practice squad. A strong fourth preseason performance would go a long way in securing their spots.
The WR6 battle is still close between Reggie Davis and Marvin Hall
Once again, both of the UDFA WRs impressed on offense and special teams. This is going to be a very tough decision for the Falcons, as both have shown enough to deserve roster spots. It will probably come down to special teams play and what flavor of receiver the Falcons believe they need at this time. Marvin Hall looked great as a gunner on kick coverage, and is more of a possession receiver. Davis looked decent as a returner and in kick coverage, and is more of a deep threat. I think Davis has shown more on offense, but Hall has impressed more on special teams. It’s really close.
There you have it—my in-depth thoughts on the Cardinals game. Overall, don’t take this performance too seriously. We saw some positive things and also some things the team will need to iron out in the coming weeks. Which, really, is exactly what you want out of the third preseason game.
What were some of your observations from Saturday’s game? Any players stand out to you? Are the Falcons’ assured an 0-16 season after falling to 0-3 in the all-important preseason?