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Falcons vs. Dolphins recap: Preseason ends with a whimper, as preseason always does

Atlanta entered roster cuts and the regular season in appropriately deflating style.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons rarely give us much to feel good about in the preseason, and this preseason was especially taxing. If you love this team, the sight of them floundering out there in their familiar jerseys is a painful one, and once the deep reserves play a full game, it’s somewhere between excruciating and embarrassing.

So it went last night, when the Falcons were thumped by the Dolphins by a score of 34-7. The offense wasn’t good, the defense wasn’t good, and the only reason special teams was solid was because David Marvin was absolutely booming punts all game long. Atlanta seems hellbent on making people miserable before the season begins, no matter how well we know the truism that preseason doesn’t matter.

Now Atlanta has to sift. They have something like 5-7 roster spots open and need to find the right fits for those spots, and there wasn’t a lot happening on the field to make those calls easy. Nonetheless, the Falcons have shown themselves to be deft assemblers of talented rosters in recent years, and they’ll be deciding on the 2018 version of this team in under 48 hours. Let’s hope they saw something we did not last night.

That said, let’s break down the good, the ugly, and what’s next for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Good

  • In an utterly dismal game for the offense, Malik Williams showed a little pop and flash. He had two runs and a nice grab at the end of the first quarter for a total of over 20 yards, which doesn’t sound particularly impressive until you realize the Falcons had literally done nothing to that point in the game. He also scored the first touchdown for the backups all preseason with an eight yard run in the second quarter where he showed nice footwork, and picked up 19 yards on a rumble in the third quarter. Given Justin Crawford’s quiet preseason, Williams may have a practice squad spot waiting for him.
  • On a very quiet night for the passing game, Jaeden Graham led all receivers with three receptions on four targets for 36 yards. He’s quietly been solid all preseason, and if the Falcons elect to keep a tight end on the practice squad, Graham’s probably the guy.
  • Defensive tackle was one of the few bright spots on defense. Garrison Smith got into the backfield, Justin Zimmer nearly had a sack, and Jon Cunningham looked quick and dangerous last night. I have to think Smith makes the roster and Zimmer makes the practice squad, but it’s encouraging to see that the Falcons might have some genuine young talent at a position where they’ve traditionally struggled to cultivate it.

Smith’s third quarter sack may have pushed him over the top.

  • The Falcons got two sacks from young defenders. The first came early in the game from Anthony Winbush, who had a solid effort overall, and the second came later from Richard Jarvis, who has put together a strong offseason overall. I don’t know that either player will stick around, but I think Jarvis has a decent shot at the practice squad.
  • Speaking of linebacker, Emmanuel Smith, Jonathan Celestin and Emmanuel Ellerbee were three of the team’s four leading tacklers. Smith in particular came up with some very timely stops, while Celestin mixed some good tackles with a shakier overall effort than he had any of the previous couple of weeks. I think Celestin is ticketed for a practice squad spot, at this point.
  • Chris Lammons has struggled at times in coverage, but he’s also played safety, nickel cornerback and outside cornerback and shown physicality and real talent. He bolstered his case with an interception last night, and I have to think he’s in play for a practice squad spot. Given how badly Ron Parker has scuffled this preseason, it’s possible if unlikely that he might have a roster spot, too.
  • David Marvin genuinely punted well, and if nothing else, might earn himself a call if (Football Gods forbid) something happens to Matt Bosher.

The Ugly

  • I wrote earlier this summer that I thought Kurt Benkert was the most talented young quarterback the Falcons have had in a long time, and I still believe that. I also believe that he’s shown us he’s not remotely ready to step into a real role any time soon, and his dismal preseason finale should allow the Falcons to stash him on the practice squad without any trouble. We’ll see if he can make enough progress to compete for the backup job in 2019.
  • Reggie Davis’ special teams ability may still earn him a practice squad spot, but he had an absolutely disastrous night as a receiver against the Dolphins, dropping multiple passes and shying away from contact. He likely could have sealed up a slot with a quality performance, I think, but the coaching staff can’t have liked what they saw from Thursday night.
  • Matt Gono saw Ty Sambrailo sit this one out, solidifying his status as the swing tackle, and followed that up with a pretty dismal effort against the Dolphins. Gono got beat, got penalized, and showed he still has some work to do before he can be considered a decent reserve tackle. I’m hopeful he’ll hold on to a practice squad spot and get the chance to develop with Atlanta.
  • Ron Parker has not been great all preseason long, and with a missed tackle and some seemingly indifferent efforts in the fourth preseason game, it’s not actually a lock that he’ll make the roster.
  • That game was extremely ugly, and while I think the Falcons had a lot of talent on this 90 man roster this year, it didn’t show up the way I hoped it would in preseason. That ought to make Atlanta’s decisions easier, at least.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

There wasn’t one! Hooray!

One Takeaway

This team’s deep depth is not great, which we already knew.

Next Week

The first actual regular season game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons can’t get revenge for the Divisional Round—it’s a regular season game—but they can start off a promising season with a bang. Visit Bleeding Green Nation for more.

Final Word