On Tuesday in the sweltering Florida sun, the Falcons took the field for a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins. Given the opportunity to trot out new look lineups and reserves on both sides of the ball against a different team, the Falcons acquitted themselves well.
Observers may have been split on who “won” practice—please do not engage in debate on this, because life is short and the sun is shining—but most seemed to come away impressed with how the Falcons fared. The consensus seems to be that this is a more physical group, which is music to the ears of both Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot as this team’s architects.
The same caveats apply eternally: You can’t extrapolate a big season from a big play in practice, and you shouldn’t condemn or celebrate a player for a couple of lackluster snaps or great ones just because there’s an opponent on the field. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
Clark Phillips injured...minorly
Obviously, one of the headlines of practice was the injury to Phillips. Arthur Smith updated us after practice by saying Phillips was kicked in the lower leg, and tests revealed that he is day-to-day. That might imperil his chances of playing in Friday’s preseason game, but blessedly it shouldn’t keep him out much beyond that or impact his availability for the season.
Phillips looks good in training camp and practices thus far, and while his role is far from settled, I have high hopes for him as a future starter, so we’ll hopefully see him back out there soon.
Offense shows flashes, settles for field goals
Against a tough Miami defense, the Falcons had some moments in red zone drills, including a nice ball to the dangerous Bijan Robinson for a touchdown.
Bijan TD in Red Zone (bad camera angle) pic.twitter.com/grzmCaLCnP— Tyler DeSena (@DeSenaSports) August 8, 2023
In two minute drills, D. Orlando Ledbetter reported that the team settled for a pair of field goals, with one of those drives broken down below.
Dolphins D vs. Falcons 1's 2 minute:— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 8, 2023
Kohou really nice PBU working underneath the route
Pitts a catch and run for a big gain, pressure might’ve been in on Ridder. They’re giving him the catch.
Ridder to Hodge for 10
Back to back 5 yard comps to Robinson
50-yd FG good
We’ve talked a lot about the talent on this offense, as well as the questions around how players will mesh and Desmond Ridder will fare, so we won’t belabor any of that right now. The important takeaway is that the Falcons have the talent to succeed but are still figuring out how they’re going to succeed, with the resulting up-and-down results in camp, practice, and likely preseason reflecting that.
What will matter is what they put on the field come Week 1, and hopefully all this tuning up will make that product successful.
The Falcons have been piling up interceptions in training camp sessions, as Kevin Knight and Adnan Ikic chronicled in recent weeks, but did that translate into big plays against Miami?
Reader, you bet it did.
Falcons defense really turning up on Dolphins offense in red zone team drills.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 8, 2023
Linebacker Troy Andersen intercepts Tua Tagovailoa and CB Breon Borders intercepts Skylar Thompson. A.J. Terrell makes a nice PBU in the end zone. Falcons DL having some success too.
The red zone defense was especially good on Tuesday, as Tori McElhaney wrote, with Troy Andersen picking off Tua Tagovailoa and recent camp standout Breon Borders took one out of their against Skylar Thompson. Add in deflected passes from rookie Zach Harrison—who also had a sack and appears to be gaining steam in recent days—and A.J. Terrell and a non-red zone interception of Mike White by Micah Abernathy and it was a day for big plays for the Falcons defense.
Mike White is picked by Micah Abernathy in his 2-min period and the final horn blows. Good competitive day, wouldn't say either side dominated, but I would give the edge to the Fins on both sides.— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 8, 2023
Podcast and story coming this afternoon.
It’s worth remembering that Ryan Nielsen comes from a New Orleans team that certainly favored an aggressive style—the Saints were top ten in interceptions two out of the past three seasons—and that the Falcons have focused on adding players who are capable of making game-changing plays. How that translates to the regular season will be well worth watching, but at least the early returns are positive.
In addition, the defensive front looked rugged against Miami, which is what you’d hope for and expect after the team infused a ton of money and talent into the group this offseason.
Speed still kills
By some fluke or by design, depending on your perspective, the Falcons went a long time without allowing a play over 40 yards over the past couple of years. That streak was eventually broken, but limiting big, back-breaking plays will be a priority for a team that wants to bully opposing offenses.
Covering Tyreek Hill during practice is hardly a fair assignment, given that his speed and technique make him murderous in a game situation and especially in a one-on-one situation on a Tuesday. Ditto Jaylen Waddle, one of the league’s most dangerous route runners, so it should not be surprising that Atlanta’s defensive backs struggled mightily with those particular assignments today.
Tyreek Hill is putting everyone in the blender today pic.twitter.com/tmgE4wFW8O— Tyler DeSena (@DeSenaSports) August 8, 2023
If there’s anything worth taking away from this, it’s that Atlanta will still have to be smart and creative with how they handle the league’s fastest and most dangerous receivers, because outside of Terrell they lack any truly elite defensive backs to deal with those kinds of players. Fortunately, the team has the time to figure some of those things out before the critical Sundays roll around, and they’re not limited to one-on-one coverage on gameday.