There’s always at least one Falcons preseason game that turns into an unmitigated disaster, and it was difficult to argue against the notion that it was this one in particular. Too bad we have two to go.
The Falcons’ offensive line was shaky despite the considerable investments the Falcons made in it, penalties flew all over the place, and most notably the team lost three useful players to injury, and only Damontae Kazee looked like he was going to return anytime soon. While the game settled down from there, that and the weird decision to keep Matt Ryan in for almost the entire first half as he was getting killed left a very sour taste in my mouth for this one. If Kazee in particular and Gage or Sheffield to a lesser extent miss any time, this is not going to be a night we remember with much fondness.
The only positives we really took away from this one concerned a handful of players, though that’s typical of any preseason game. Matt Ryan looked very sharp, Devin Gray and Jaeden Graham shone, and the defense was largely pretty capable, especially against the Jets starters. That’s excellent for those guys and the defensive performance was legitimately encouraging, but it’s hard to shake off the sense that very little of this will be remembered or relevant in a couple of weeks. I will, however, remember that Dan Quinn and company left Matt Ryan in a meaningless preseason game until nearly the bitter end of the first quarter for no compelling reason at all.
On to the full recap, if you want to re-live that.
- Man, was Matt Ryan sharp despite the awful odds against him. His receivers messed up (most notably Russell Gage downfield), his offensive line could do nothing for him, and still Ryan was accurate and hit a bunch of different targets, with three of his four incompletions proving to be drops. He, at the very least, looks ready for the regular season and survived a lot of hits out there last night.
- Matt Schaub also was very clear that his doubters should kiss his butt. He ran a crisp two minute drill in relief of Matt Ryan, hitting everyone from Devin Gray to Jaeden Graham along the way. I still don’t know how he’d fare in any sustained regular season action, but he’s done a lot these last two weeks to prove he can still sling it.
- It was a nice game for Ito Smith, who wanted to remind us all just how good he can be with Brian Hill soaking up all the oxygen in the room. Smith reeled in a 28 yard catch-and-run, plowed through contact and forced his way into the end zone near the end of the second quarter in a very impressive effort that helps to reinforce why he’s the expected #2.
Qadree Ollison gamely scuffled all night long before breaking 30 yards combined on just two carries, reinforcing why he’s at least an interesting player.
- Speaking of nice nights, how about Devin Gray, who had a cool three catches for 45 yards on a night where Russell Gage unfortunately got hurt, Justin Hardy dropped a catchable pass, and no one else was spectacular. That was the kind of night he needed to remain in the conversation for the sixth receiver gig or a practice squad spot, and it was nice to see him do well out there after a slowish start.
- Jaeden Graham’s third quarter penalty and questionable blocking aside, he looked fluid as a pass catcher and explosive with the ball in his hands, things Dirk Koetter will say to himself excitedly as he falls asleep over the next week. Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker are both very capable blockers, and it would be nice to see the Falcons keep a third tight end who actually might develop into a receiving threat, even if they have a million of those at other positions. There was a strong hint that the team traded Eric Saubert away because they believed in another tight end, and Graham would seem to be the guy.
Also noteworthy: He got some time at fullback in this one, which would seem to further bolster his case for a roster spot.
- Jermaine Grace has just made plays and looked fast as hell, week after week. The Falcons let him get away before, but he’s more seasoned now and still looks just as fast and just as capable of being a factor on special teams. I’d be surprised if the team didn’t elect to keep him around at this point.
- Desmond Trufant looked about as sharp as possible out there, a pass interference call against him aside. He was fast, physical, and his coverage was pretty excellent, and while the usual preseason and competition caveats apply, it was mighty encouraging to see him faring so well. If he’s the best version of himself this year, the secondary and the defense will benefit considerably. I don’t see any reason to think he can’t at least be the team’s slam dunk #1 cornerback.
- It was just one play, sure, but man was Sharrod Neasman’s fourth down tackle for a loss against Trenton Cannon a pretty play. I remain convinced that Neasman should snag the job as Keanu Neal’s direct backup, and that’s the kind of highlight that helps a player make his case.
- It likely goes without saying that Matt Simms needs brilliant efforts to even think of hanging on as this team’s third quarterback, but he certainly didn’t have one against the Jets and Danny Etling is going to run him over very soon. Simms made some poor throws and fumbled twice, and while it’s hardly fair to call him out given the shakiness around him, it was not a brilliant effort. The pick six to salt the game away (for the Jets) was the icing on the coffin, to to speak.
- The offensive line kind of made me want to vomit! The Jets’ defensive line was as good as advertised and then some, and they whipped Ty Sambrailo and Chris Lindstrom in particular en route to unrelenting pressure on Matt Ryan, who still managed to make some pretty throws along the way. It would be beyond concerning if the starting offensive line was this bad in the regular season and in fact would likely doom the offense, so pray this was a hiccup and not a sign of things to come.
My biggest fear is that Ty Sambrailo has turned back into a pumpkin after a few stronger games at the end of the 2018 season. If that’s the case, I think the Falcons absolutely should see what Matt Gono has before Kaleb McGary returns, at least giving him increased run during preseason action. The Falcons can’t, after all their investments in this group, see it derail spectacularly during the season.
- Damontae Kazee getting hurt. Russell Gage getting hurt. Kendall Sheffield getting hurt. t was an ugly reminder that preseason can take away these guys just as well as the regular season, except the games mean nothing and the injuries thus hurt even worse. Kazee’s ailment looked like it’ll be a short-term concern but I’m less confident about that for Gage and Sheffield, both of whom were expected to be key reserves. At the same time, it’s not like you can sit everybody, and Kazee was only in for a handful of plays, a reminder that fluke injuries are also very much a thing. Fingers crossed.
- Speaking of injuries, what was Matt Ryan doing out there for so long? It’s fair to say that the Falcons’ season is over before it begins if Ryan gets hurt, and while he’s both remarkably durable and probably in need of a little game action, it felt wholly unnecessary to give him that much run on a night where the offensive line was having such a shaky game. That felt like a classic inexplicable DQ decision, though I’m sure he had a rationale he’ll share with us later that may or may not help us feel better about this.
- I think Giorgio Tavecchio will probably be fine, but he’s no Matt Bryant and that keeps showing up on the field. He missed a pair of 50-plus yarders (one appeared to be tipped) and the Falcons are unlikely to entrust him with the kind of seemingly impossible, high-pressure kicks that Bryant treated as routine. If this spills over into the regular season it will be a legitimate concern, though, because even a team with an offense this good often depends on its kicker.
- Penalties are always somewhat of a factor for this football team—it’s been that way since Dan Quinn took over, and it was at times late in Mike Smith’s tenure—but the fact that the Falcons have rung up 10-plus penalties in three consecutive weeks is less than ideal. That’s the kind of thing you want to go away before the season, and while most of these can be pinned on backups who won’t see the field, discipline continues to elude the squad.
- The football. We’ve already effectively been through three preseason games and we have two to go, and generally speaking we’re not watching a lot of great drives or even plays, with Dirk Koetter even reaching deep into his bag for some poor screen passes late in this one. Have mercy.
Far and away Ryan, who survived an onslaught and reminded us of how good he can be. May it be a regular season to remember.
The Falcons should not trot their starters out there for more than a series or two the rest of the way.
The dread team from Washington, which has drawn as many headlines for treating injured players horribly as they have for the on-field stuff. Check out Hogs Haven for more about them.