If ending the preseason on the right foot means anything for the regular season (narrator: it doesn’t) then the Falcons are in great shape. While resting many of their starters for Saturday’s home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Falcons set the tone early and rolled to a commanding 28-12 victory.
The reserves for Atlanta played very well, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, and Desmond Ridder earned a win in his first start as Falcons quarterback. This game may only make some of the 53-man roster decisions more difficult, but let’s dive into the big takeaways:
Desmond Ridder has uncommon resiliency for a rookie
Three games – preseason at that – may ultimately prove too small of a sample size for such a sweeping conclusion, but Desmond Ridder has already shown a certain amount of greatness in his resiliency.
Let’s go to the tape:
In the first preseason game, Ridder threw what could have easily been a pick-6, but he was bailed out by a roughing the passer penalty. He responded by completing three of his next four passes for 30 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass. His one miss on the drive was very nearly a gorgeous touchdown, by the way. Oh, and we all remember how that game ended:
This angle of Desmond Ridder’s game winning TD pic.twitter.com/oRdS8pD9xq— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) August 15, 2022
In the second preseason game, Ridder orchestrated a fairly impressive two-minute drive despite the offense deciding to unload a six-shooter on its collective foot. After an intentional grounding put Atlanta in a second-and-20, Ridder hit Jared Bernhardt for 34 yards and a first down. An illegal shift two plays later again put the Falcons behind the eight ball, only for Ridder to again connect with Bernhardt, this time for 21 yards. He very nearly pulled off the hat trick, finding Damiere Byrd for 20 yards on a second-and-28 after back-to-back penalties. The Falcons got a field goal on a drive that should have ended three different times.
In the third preseason game, Ridder made his first start and promptly threw an interception on the first play of the game. True to form, Ridder responded by going 5-of-5 on the next drive, completing a 17-yard pass to Byrd and a 2-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Allgeier. He finished Saturday’s game 14-of-21 for 185 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Now, it’s fair to say that Ridder has been far from perfect this preseason, but he’s been very impressive for stretches. And some of his very best drives share a common theme: they follow adversity.
Atlanta’s defensive front looked dominant
The Falcons have some very interesting decisions to make along their defensive front, and Saturday’s performance proved to be the most inspiring for many of the young reserve players. Atlanta was consistently stout against the run, allowing just 54 rushing yards, and that effort was led by second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie and Derrick Tangelo. The latter also contributed a sack. Timmy Horne found ways to make himself a nuisance with a pair of pass deflections at the line of scrimmage.
It was a good day for the second level of Atlanta’s defense as well. Troy Andersen had his best outing of the preseason, making some nice open-field tackles and pressuring E.J. Perry into throwing an interception. Nate Landman was the benefactor of Andersen’s pressure, securing the interception and chipping in with a sack of his own. Finally, Quinton Bell partnered with rookie DeAngelo Malone for one of the key plays of the game, a blocked punt that was recovered at the 1-yard line.
In a game that saw very few starters participate, the Falcons’ reserve defensive front largely dominated in the first half and played a very good game overall.
Dorian Etheridge carted off after injury
It’s every team’s preseason nightmare: a cart being driven out onto the field. Atlanta had its first such instance of that in Saturday’s game. While pursuing the ball carrier, Dorian Etheridge appeared to be “leg-whipped” as the broadcast team termed it and was unable to rise to his feet following the play. The trainers attended to him for a period of time before the cart was called for to bring Etheridge to the training room.
Etheridge has been a standout preseason player for the second year in a row, and we hope for the best possible news regarding his status.
The Falcons have a very tough decision at running back
This might be the tightest position battle that I can recall in quite a while. It seems as though everyone competing for a role is a player of the exact same caliber, just of varying styles. Each running back had his moments of brilliance on Saturday, and they’ve all been steadily solid throughout the preseason. Caleb Huntley, who may have been at the bottom of the pecking order entering the game, led the way with 19 carries for 86 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run.
Qadree Ollison chipped in 42 yards on 10 touches, including a 1-yard touchdown run of his own. But it was rookie Tyler Allgeier who fans will probably be raving about. Allgeier scored two touchdowns on Saturday, one receiving and one very impressive goal-line score from 4 yards out.
Cordarelle Patterson and Damien Williams did not play on Saturday, and their places on the roster seem certain. The Falcons could have legitimate reasons for electing to go with any of Ollison, Huntley or Allgeier, although it would be a slight shocker to see them release the rookie. And the whole wild card in all of this is Avery Williams, who is technically a running back but is more akin to a freelancer in the Falcons’ gig economy.
This has been a preseason of competency
This is going to be the final takeaway, so I’ll make it a bit more macro. At no point this preseason – okay, maybe one or two of the Feleipe Franks series in New York – did the Falcons look befuddled or incompetent. Sure, there were plenty of miscues, lapses in concentration and failures of direct competition, but that’s to be expected in the preseason.
In every game, the Falcons looked in control at various points and certainly never looked flustered. And that was displayed across all levels of the roster. There was a high baseline level of competence on the offense, and the defense very rarely fell apart completely while having moments of genuine fortitude.
There’s a reason the Falcons won so many of their one-score games last season; they did the little things right. There weren’t consistent lulls in performance across multiple phases of the game, and the Falcons made the key plays when needed. This preseason has been an encouraging sign that perhaps that’s going to be a hallmark of Arthur Smith’s teams.