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Falcons vs. Jaguars recap: We waited for nothing, and nothing arrived

Atlanta’s third preseason game told us little but frustrated us plenty.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars failed to capitalize on countless opportunities against the Atlanta Falcons. When you amass 400-plus yards and you only score 17 points, even in preseason, chances are you’ve done something wrong, and in this case that was mostly on two brutal Blake Bortles interceptions. And yet they still dominated Atlanta.

If this were a regular season game, you’d have a ton of angry thoughts below about how listless the Falcons looked in this one. Because it’s preseason, you’ll only get mild griping, because this was a game where the Falcons were down seven players and evinced their lack of desire to win over and over again. Atlanta has established by now that they’re more than happy to try things out and get players they’re interested in close the ball, with the wins being secondary and perhaps even tertiary.

That said, do I have a lot of positives for you this morning? Reader, I do not. The Falcons made so many mistakes that Dan Quinn was moved to say something about the team needing work on both offense and defense after the third preseason game, and he’s objectively right. The Falcons had underthrows, overthrows and drops to mar the passing game, poor blocking up front to further sink the offense, and a lack of pass rushing ability and competent tackling on the defensive side of the ball. They stunk, objectively.

And yet they also stunk (eerily, losing by the same score) two preseasons ago in the third week during a year where they went to the Super Bowl. We know how talented this football team is, and preseason is sort of a trap where we have to throw all that out the window and watch this team play poorly. Objectively we know they’re a hell of a lot better than they appeared Friday night, but it’s hard to watch them stink and keep that in the back of your mind.

We should still do so, though. The starters made it through the preseason healthy and the reserves will compete for those last few roster spots in Week 4, leaving us with little recourse but to look ahead. The Eagles are a tough draw in Week 1, but with a full strength team and no preseason listlessness in that one, the Falcons should at least give them a hell of a game in what absolutely should be a hell of a season. As good as the Jaguars are, you shouldn’t view this game as anything more than an exhibition gone awry.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • There’s really nothing you can say about Damontae Kazee that we haven’t already said. He’s looked amazing this preseason as the Falcons have asked him to man multiple positions, and he’s been a tackling machine throughout. In this one, he jarred loose a fumble (albeit on a play where he got nailed with a penalty under the new helmet rule), nearly had a pick, and delivered some bone-jarring hits. With Isaiah Oliver struggling and Ron Parker looking mediocre thus far, Kazee’s going to find his way onto the field.
  • Tevin Coleman didn’t always have his blocking working, but he ran hard and sprang a couple of nice runs, finishing his day with seven carries for 38 yards. Devonta Freeman isn’t going to play at all this preseason, but Coleman looks healthy and capable of doing damage again in 2018.
  • Reggie Davis had an opportunity with Marvin Hall sidelined, and to his credit, he did not waste it. Davis got loose and could have had a long touchdown if not for an errant Matt Schaub throw, and he showed out on special teams. Davis’s speed will always make him intriguing, and there’s still a good chance he could hang on to a practice squad spot for the second straight season.
  • A couple of nice, long catches for both Eric Saubert and Dontez Byrd. Saubert is locked into a roster spot and a potential role as Hooper’s complement in two tight end sets, while Byrd is fighting (hard) for a practice squad spot. Those are the kinds of plays that really help raise the coaching staff’s esteem for you in a preseason setting.
  • Speaking of those plays, we saw both Jonathan Celestin (with a half sack and five tackles) and Richard Jarvis (with a sack) make big plays in an otherwise forgettable game. Both Celestin and Jarvis are fighting for practice squad spots, and over the last two games in particular, both have made strong cases. The only problem is that the team will keep two linebackers at most, so that fourth game looms as a critical one.

Also, Grady Jarrett and Jack Crawford got sacks, but that’s hopefully just the first of many for both.

  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson didn’t have to work particularly hard for that third quarter Blake Bortles interception, but he still nabbed it, and he’s quietly played well all summer. I know Justin Bethel’s going to be here for special teams reasons, but especially with Isaiah Oliver struggling early, I think you have to keep Wreh-Wilson around as a sixth cornerback. He’s shown a lot in his limited action with the Falcons.
  • Keanu Neal also had a pick. As long as he doesn’t lead with his knee, he’s going to have a tremendous season.
  • Garrison Smith is the supposed breakout candidate and a very solid choice for a roster spot, but Justin Zimmer got the sack-and-a-half against the Jaguars and has shown an ability to get pressure at times this summer, which makes him an intriguing choice for a Falcons DT rotation loaded with effective run stoppers. I don’t think Smith is locked in just yet, but both players will get a ton of time in Week 4 and that should help the coaching staff make a decision.

The Ugly

  • Calvin Ridley dropped a pass, which wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy in preseason if fans weren’t a little leery of his track record in college. It’s still not a big deal, honestly, but it was a catch he should have made.

But wait, he also dropped two other passes. This is still preseason, but it’s a reminder that there are still reasons to slow down the Calvin Ridley hype train, regardless of his evident ability and savviness running routes. Those drops were an issue at Alabama, and the Falcons will have to figure out a way to make sure they aren’t an issue this year after such miscues doomed them repeatedly in 2017.

  • The offensive line had some legitimate issues in this one. Given, the Falcons were playing without Julio Jones and against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the pass protection was not good and the Falcons kept fizzling out after a successful first drive that ended in a field goal. With some very great front sevens on the docket this year, Atlanta’s got to prove this was an anomaly or there will be trouble.

Of course, this was a preseason game without Julio. We do need to keep in mind that this is a significant factor.

Isaiah Oliver got a pass breakup (ultimately negated by penalty), but then showed that he’s a work in progress when he got beat handily by Donte Moncrief on a slant. Oliver’s no lock to step into a major role right now with Kazee and Brian Poole excelling, but I’m hopeful some of the technique issues that are holding him back right now will be resolved later in the year.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

There genuinely wasn’t one, so let’s go with the Time, which did eventually release us from watching this game.

One Takeaway

The Falcons do have work ahead of them if they’re going to beat the Eagles in Week 1, no matter how talented they are.

Next Week

The Dolphins, this coming Thursday night. Such excitement! Such Dolphins. Be sure to check out The Phinsider for more.

Final Word