After a lackluster first preseason game, the Chiefs game we saw last night was a breath of fresh air. Atlanta’s starters did terrific work, scoring on the first drive, shutting down Kansas CIty on their first drive, and generally playing well and staying healthy. If I sound upbeat about that, it’s because we really didn’t need to see much else from Atlanta.
Matt Ryan threw crisp passes and moved well in the pocket, Calvin Ridley looked great on a night where Julio Jones was on the sideline, and Tevin Coleman ran well behind an offensive line that blocked well. Defensively, the Falcons largely put the clamps on Patrick Mahomes and Kareem Hunt, and while the pass rush may not have been a standout, the team looked aggressive and physical despite not having Deion Jones on the field at all. The talent was evident, and it was hard not to feel that wild optimism rising again after such a dominant performance.
Then the Falcons got the deep reserves in and everything turned into a boring slog. There are a handful of players who will be tough cuts or might even sneak onto the roster—Jon Celestin, Garrison Smith, Malik Williams, and Matt Gono are among them—but there won’t be many. The backups simply haven’t distinguished themselves through two preseason games, and their chances to do so are dwindling.
And of course, there’s always a caveat. Just like I encouraged everyone not to read too deeply into last week’s ugly preseason game, I’d also urge you not to read too deeply into this pretty one. The Falcons are very obviously talented and capable of doing things like this to quality football teams, but we’ll need to see them do it in the season before we really feel comfortable with that thought. Last night’s game was, at best, an appetizer, albeit an enticing one.
Ultimately, though (and you see me type ultimately, though a lot), it didn’t matter that the Falcons lost this game. It mattered that they are relatively injury-free and largely showed up a tough Chiefs team when they had their best players in the game. It’s not the last time they’re going to run a strong opponent off the field, and I legitimately cannot wait for this season to start.
Here’s my typical breakdown of what happened in this one.
- We saw Matt Ryan moving in the pocket like he has in the last couple of years, escaping pressure and a collapsing pocket on a connection to Austin Hooper and rolling out on a touchdown pass to Hoop later in the same drive. He looks exactly as good as he needs to right now, and we’ll hope for a great season ahead. There should be very little doubt about his ability to achieve one.
- Calvin Ridley balled out. His route running looked as good as advertised all night, especially on his 36 yard grab on the first drive of the game and his touchdown reception from Matt Schaub. He could be special, but at the very least, he looks quite advanced for a rookie wideout.
- Austin Hooper showed out on the first drive of the game, making a couple of nice (if easy) grabs and turning upfield for a nice gain and a touchdown. If he’s improved this year, the Falcons’ offense is truly lethal.
- Eric Saubert only had one catch, but it was a gorgeous 24 yarder that showed off his athleticism and ability. I don’t know how large a role we can reasonably expect, given how talented this roster is, but Saubert appears to be a legitimate pass catching tight end.
- The Falcons’ offensive line blocked well on the first drive, with Brandon Fusco in particular doing some bullying of a pretty strong Chiefs defensive line. If Matt Ryan has time in the pocket and this line run blocks well—and that’s one of Fusco’s strengths, by the way—this offense is going to be hard to stop. It’s worth noting that Wes Schweitzer also did nice work blocking for Ito Smith once the first team offense was off the field. I’m getting overly excited, here.
- Deadrin Senat made his presence known again, most notably on a first quarter run stop where he just sort of enveloped Kareem Hunt, like an amoeba swallows a protozoa or something. It was impressive.
- Damontae Kazee didn’t pile up tackles the way he did in the first preseason game, but he did pick off Patrick Mahomes. The Falcons are simply going to need to find a way to get him onto the field, and early on, it may come as part of three safety sets or as a part-time nickel cornerback.
- Jon Celestin led the team in tackles and is working his ass off to make this football team, which is deserving of our enduring respect. Given the depth and talent at linebacker—and the fact that both Duke Riley and Foye Oluokun had at least solid nights—he’s likely ticketed for the practice squad at best.
- Garrison Smith got the smallest leg up on the fifth defensive tackle battle by sacking Matt McGloin in the fourth quarter. While McGloin was already stumbling, Smith put himself in a good position by fighting through the Chiefs defensive line, and put some solid play on tape last night, especially against the run. He’s still my favorite for the gig, even if Jacob Tuioti-Mariner also picked up a sack.
- It’s preseason, but Matt Bosher was booting the hell out of the football. He’ll be properly appreciated during the season, when that leg ends up helping out the Falcons a great deal on kickoffs and punts, but for now let’s tip our cap to him regardless.
- Kurt Benkert has talent, and he showed it against the Jets. He’s also not quite ready to really fight for the backup role on this football team, as he showed against the Chiefs. Benkert made some bad throws, faltered a bit under pressure, and just generally had a quiet night against Kansas City’s reserves. He should be headed for the practice squad, but last night was a good reminder of how much work is ahead of him.
- If, like me, you were hoping for an immediate Isaiah Oliver impact, you were disappointed last night. Oliver was mostly anonymous until he got crisped by Gehrig Dieter for a 27 yard score where the rookie corner simply missed his opportunity to jam the receiver, which was not a great look. Ultimately, the fact that the Falcons have Brian Poole and Damontae Kazee lurking might push him into a lesser role early, but he’ll be a personal protector on returns because he is excelling there.
- Ito Smith has the speed and wiggle to win a returner job, but he muffed two kickoffs, even if he did ultimately recover them. That might put someone else ahead of him, because Keith Armstrong hates that stuff. Unfortunately for Marvin Hall, who is good enough to be a roster lock, he also dropped a kickoff and lost his man as a gunner on one return in the second half, ensuring he’ll also earn Armstrong’s wrath. We’re not closer to figuring out who the returner will be, sadly.
- The deep reserves on defense really struggled, and the Falcons are going to have to parse that tape pretty carefully if they want to find standouts. You had a couple of nice plays from Garrison Smith, Jonathan Celestin and Richard Jarvis hustling, and...not much else. The Chiefs simply blew them off the field, which is an ominous sign for many roster hopefuls. A second or even third viewing might turn up a few players who did well, but on first blush, there wasn’t much to get excited about.
Give it up to Calvin Ridley, who was terrific on offense and special teams and should have a very bright future in Atlanta.
The starters are, with the possible exception of Deion Jones, exactly as healthy and ready as they need to be.