Atlanta’s starters looked sharp in the team’s second preseason game, and the young players provided moments that should inspire real optimism. It wasn’t all great, and the second half was certainly a sign of that, but the good largely outweighed the bad on a night that devolved into a stormy, sloppy mess.
The quarterbacks continue to be the story of the preseason, but this was a good showing by the offensive line and the top-tier defensive units, two groups who needed a good night. In that sense, this game should be taken as a step in the right direction, even if the end result wasn’t in the Falcons’ favor.
The team has to trim the roster down to 80 players by Tuesday afternoon, and the decisions aren’t getting any easier. Let’s take a look at the action that unfolded with a few insights sprinkled in.
Early Kyle Pitts fireworks
Kyle Pitts continues to look he’s truly taken a leap forward in his development. On Atlanta’s second offensive play, Pitts created a large amount of separation against Jets corner Bryce Hall. It’s unclear how exactly Pitts got so wide open, but when the camera panned over the battle had already been won.
Marcus Mariota delivered a decent enough deep ball that Pitts reeled in while maintaining some of his speed, and the result was a 52-yard shot play to jump-start the offense.
Here’s hoping that’s an early sign of things to come, but the Pitts hype remains extremely warranted.
Marcus Mariota leads a scoring drive with his arm
Mariota has played better than fans had any right to demand so far this preseason, and perhaps far better. After connecting with Pitts on Atlanta’s opening possession, Mariota continued to move the ball extremely well through the air on the offense’s second drive. He hit KhaDarel Hodge for a 13-yard pickup on the second play, and then found a wide-open Anthony Firkser for 39 yards on the next snap.
His best throw of the drive, however, came on a third-and-9 from the Jets’ 13-yard line. Just when it looked like the Falcons would have another drive stall in the red zone, Mariota fit a pass to Olamide Zaccheaus into a very tight window for a 13-yard touchdown.
Atlanta’s offense has looked very competent with Mariota under center thus far, and he finished Monday’s game going 6-of-10 for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Desmond Ridder continues to impress
Ridder’s first drive was once again very encouraging. He had Atlanta in position to score a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard, but a false start penalty knocked them into a field goal try (and ultimately, conversion). Ridder completed all seven of his pass attempts for 68 yards, including 18- and 17-yard throws to start the drive. This marked the second time in as many games that Ridder looked decisive on an opening drive.
While Ridder didn’t again get the Falcons as close to the end zone, he continued to look poised and polished for much of the night. He made smart reads, protected the ball well and used his legs to buy time in the pocket. When he exited the game in the third quarter, Ridder was an efficient 10-of-13 for 143 yards.
Penalties became a problem in the second quarter
Atlanta continued to move the ball as well as it had with Mariota behind center, but penalties became a far greater problem once the starters exited the game. And while the Falcons overcame some of their blunders, those mistakes very likely prevented at least one touchdown. The first two penalties – a holding penalty and a false start penalty – each occurred on the 1-yard line.
Ridder’s second drive of the game provided a great opportunity to practice the two-minute drill. Well, on the first play, a miscommunication between Ridder and Frank Darby resulted in an intentional grounding call. That was quickly erased, however, with a 34-yard pass to Jared Bernhardt. Ridder then saw a 25-yard completion to Mycole Pruitt wiped out due to an illegal shift call. A 9-yard scramble from the Jets’ 12-yard line was negated by a holding penalty, and another holding penalty on the following play essentially ended the drive.
A couple of the miscues could be pinned to Ridder, but this was a larger issue across many of the offensive reserves. It ruined a great opportunity for the Falcons to put together a first half they could feel really good about.
Arthur Smith’s offensive play calling looks sharp
The preseason is still an adjustment period for coaches, who are fine-tuning what role specific players will have in their future plans. Arthur Smith already looks to be in midseason form. A key insight from Monday night’s broadcast was Atlanta’s constant use of route combinations (known as “beaters”) designed to attack New York’s Cover 3-heavy defense.
Instead of methodically going through the litany of plays in the arsenal that he may want to run at some point in the year, Smith called plays like he would in a real game and his players executed. The mobility of the quarterbacks has been on full display in ways that Smith uses to enhance the offense. If this is the ramp-up time, the Falcons appear to be using it in the right way.
Feleipe Franks runs into trouble during stretch as QB
After generating plenty of warranted hype about his transition to tight end in training camp, Franks got his first run at his old position of quarterback in a preseason game. The results likely won’t draw the same rave reviews. His first drive was very up and down, and Franks was far more dangerous as a runner than he was as a passer. Unfortunately, he lost control of the ball while trying to make one play with his legs, and the fumble was returned for a Jets’ defensive touchdown.
Franks moved Atlanta to the Jets’ goal line with his legs on a later drive in the fourth quarter, but he couldn’t connect on four straight passes and the drive stalled out at the 5-yard line.
Another blown coverage hurts Falcons
It wasn’t the starting defense this time, but the Falcons blew another coverage assignment. In the third quarter, Teez Tabor and Corey Ballentine got tangled up in man coverage off the line and momentarily ended up covering the same player. This allowed Lawrence Cager to come wide open across the middle and race into the end zone untouched for the Jets’ first touchdown.
The only positive is that this error didn’t occur with the starting unit, but it’s a play two guys on the roster bubble shouldn’t be making at this point in the summer. Tabor, at least, redeemed himself with an interception later on.
Jared Bernhardt has another big night
After catching the game-winning pass in spectacular fashion in his NFL debut, Jared Bernhardt put together an excellent encore performance. He was superb in finding space against New York’s zone defenses, and deftly caught the passes thrown his way.
Bernhardt led all Falcons players with three catches for 67 yards. He also returned one kick for 27 yards, and has gotten a long look in camp at that role. Long considered a practice squad lock, Bernhardt may be making a real roster push.
It’s Teez Tabor’s turn to make the play
In the midst of a pretty rough stretch of defensive play for Atlanta, Tabor made his mark on the game. From a deep safety position, Tabor read a deep route perfectly and came over the top to intercept a ball that proved tricky to grab in a heavy downpour. Tabor should probably be considered on the outside looking in, but plays like that help him make the case to nab one of the final roster spots.
Also, hat tip to Dee Alford, who was the cornerback in coverage on the play and managed to get a fingertip on the pass to help deflect it to Tabor.
Some defensive standouts, in no particular order
It can be hard to write this and truly make detailed notes of everything that happened in the game. Tonight, the defense largely suffered from my oversight. Until the late part of the third quarter and the fourth quarter, Atlanta’s defense played well. The late-game struggles are real and concerning, but that’s something I’ll dig into a bit more on the rewatch. Until then, here are some players who I jotted down who stood out to me for a good play or two.
- DL Abdullah Anderson
- S Dean Marlowe
- OLB Lorenzo Carter
- OLB Ade Ogundeji
- DL Jalen Dalton
- OLB Quinton Bell
- S Henry Black
- DL Nick Thurman
- CB Matt Hankins
- CB Dee Alford