I think it would be safe to say that Julio Jones was the story of the preseason game. About that, I have no doubt. 6 catches for 109 yards and TD in just over a quarter of play is very impressive.
The other impressive thing was how sharp Matt Ryan & Co. looked offensively (with the exception of the interception which I will address). The first series started with two Michael Turner runs, but quickly followed with a 13-yard slant to Roddy White, a 26-yard post route to Julio Jones, a WR screen to Jones for 19 yards, and another fade route for 6 yards. Man, this offense was hitting on the first drive. It consummated in a beautiful goal-line fade to Jones for a touchdown. If you know anything about me, you’d know I am in love with the goal-line fade, and this was a well thrown ball and an even better catch. My goodness, it was just so well executed. That is my dream for this Falcons team, for them to abuse defensive backs who don’t turn to play the ball by using jump balls to Jones and White. I really, really loved that fade play.
One thing I have to comment on was that the touchdown pass as well as a couple of the other passes weren’t thrown at the Ravens #1 corner Ladarius Webb; they were thrown at the #2 corner Cary Williams. He obviously isn’t as good as Webb is, but he is still going to be a starter for the Ravens in 2012. The Falcons picked mercilessly on him.
There was one play that stood out to me that the Falcons did pick on Webb was a 36-yard pass down the field to Julio Jones. It was a go where Webb tried to jam Jones, but instead got called for pass interference. The pass was perfect nonetheless, right past Webb, and right in front of the safety. Neither of them could make the play, or even get a big hit on Jones, the connection went that well. Very exciting play. Ryan had to loft it to put it in that perfect spot so he didn’t really get to showcase his arm strength. However, he did get to showcase his newfound connection and confidence in Jones.
The defense, not to be outdone, looked really good when the first team was on the field. The first three defensive series, the Falcons forced 3 three-and-outs. The tackling from the corner positions was very good (Asante Samuel did a good job on Torrey Smith), and there was a good amount of contribution. There were a couple other players who really looked good yesterday. First was Stephen Nicholas. There were lots of plays where he took up blocks, but there was one where he really penetrated into the backfield and made the tackle on Ray Rice. It really was a fantastic play. On the very next play he batted down a pass from Flacco that was intended for a receiver. I watched at he came clear across the field, got in the passing lane, and made a disruption. It was another great play.
Sean Weatherspoon didn’t play long, but he made his presence felt. On 3rd down in the first defensive series, Weatherspoon came in and smashed Flacco right as he was releasing the ball. It didn’t result in a sack, but it was a very hard yet clean quarterback hit, something the Falcons rarely did and we need to see more of. Weatherspoon looked good.
The final contributor of great note is Peria Jerry. There has been a lot of talk about how much the Falcons need him to start producing at some level. He certainly did that last night by getting in the backfield, putting pressure back there, and even got what looked to me like a couple quarterback hits. He looked really sharp.
Others of note: Kroy Biermann tripped into a sack; Akeem Dent had a big hit for a sack.
The one thing that I paid special attention to was the offensive line situation. The line that started the game was Baker, Blalock, McClure, Garrett Reynolds, and Clabo. I’m not too terribly surprised. I was surprised that Reynolds didn’t fold like a chair when asked to block someone. He actually performed fairly well. Granted Terrell Suggs was out, and I didn’t even see rookie Courtney Upshaw on the field, but they still had all of their big nasty three up front (including Haloti Ngata) which is most of what an o-line needs to block against a 3-4 scheme. They performed admirably and Ryan was rarely hit. Like I said, a major pass-rusher was missing for the Ravens, but they sill protected him well.
In the third offensive series, Joe Hawley took over from McClure, and he performed well. He was the center when they ran the ball into the end-zone with Jacquizz Rodgers. It wasn’t the most forceful push up front, but it certainly moved the defensive line enough to get diminutive Rodgers into the endzone for a touchdown. I think Hawley did well.
I’m sure everyone is curious to see what Peter Konz did; I didn’t see him until the late in the second quarter and he lined up at right guard with the second team unit. I didn’t see anything special out of him mostly because the other linemen were giving up a lot of pressure at this point. It is the second and third stringers at this point I guess, but I would have liked to see a little more out of them.
There was one thing that really worried me, and that was the injuries to important players on special teams. Bradie Ewing went down early with what looked like a knee injury after a punt coverage play. He is probably the best fullback on our roster and we need him if Mike Cox doesn’t perform well.
The most pressing injury was that to Akeem Dent. He is projected as our middle linebacker in 2012, but also suffered a head injury on special teams. Why a stater with a key role like MLB is playing special teams, I have no idea. But he suffered the injury nonetheless. I just hope that he recovers quickly, the injury isn’t serious, and that he can practice and play really soon. If the Falcons are weak at the MLB position without Dent, it could be really bad for the defense in 2012.