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Now that the first preseason game is in the books what did we learn from the Falcons victory? Below is a position by position look at the game, if a player isn’t mentioned they probably didn’t do anything good or bad enough to warrant a mention.
Matt Ryan put in a typical efficient performance going 7/7 for 53 yards. Ryan never really looked to push the ball downfield, his longest completion was a 17 yard strike to Harry Douglas. On third down there were no surprises as Ryan continually looked to Roddy White. Overall nothing flashy from Ryan but then again he really didn’t need to be.
TJ Yates replaced Ryan and struggled early on. Yates has had a tendency in the past to get tunnel vision and stare down his receivers and this was definitely the case early on as he threw two near picks. However, late in the second quarter Yates got going and started to look comfortable making nice throws to both Boldewijn and Roby. Yates couldn’t get the ball in the end zone but none the less it was a nice composed drive from Yates. Yates got over some early struggles to put together an ok performance, moving forwards I would like to see Yates attempt more deep throws and he needs to make sure he progresses through his reads instead of keying in on his receivers.
Sean Renfree really impressed me. Renfree looked to have a good understanding of the offence and just seemed to have progressed a lot from the rookie QB we saw last preseason. Renfree made a lot of correct reads and found the easy throw, the deep completion to Freeman on a wheel route perhaps being the highlight of the game. If Renfree can continue his high level of play he just might nab the backup spot from Yates.
Jacquizz Rodgers started in place of the injured Steven Jackson and put together a very solid evening. Quizz didn’t have the best blocking in front of him but he still managed to turn some negative plays into positives. There has been a lot of talk about Freeman taking snaps off of Quizz this year but Friday night only confirmed that Quizz has a role to play on this team and it shouldn’t be underestimated.
Antone Smith was the second RB we saw and he looked just as explosive as ever although his stats won’t show it (3 carries, 5 yards). Smith had two big gains wiped out by penalties but it’s clear Smith has almost unplayable speed and as coach Smith said post game the team needs to create some plays to get Smith on the filed because he is a game changer. The only negative of Smith’s game was a missed block which resulted in a sack of QB Matt Ryan, Miami was called for a penalty but Smith was well and truly trucked trying to stand up to a blitzing LB.
Devonta Freeman was one of the players everyone wanted to get a look at Friday night and luckily for the fans Freeman put on a show. It should be noticed that Freeman did get some nice open lanes to run through but still he made the most of them and just as he did in college once he hits that hole he gets up field in a hurry. Freeman still isn’t a refined pass blocker but he put his body on the line on a couple of occasions so he isn’t lacking in effort. The only negative play that springs to mind with Freeman was a dropped catch in the red zone that if caught could have been a potential TD. The pass was a little high and there were two defenders close by but Freeman still should have made the catch. Overall a very encouraging debut for Freeman.
Josh Vaughn was one of the stars of the preseason last year but things never got going for Vaughn Friday. I’ve always felt with Vaughn that his biggest negative is that he struggles to create for himself and this was pretty much what happened yesterday. The o-line didn’t open many holes for Vaughn and as a result he tends to look a bit slow and labored as he puts his head down and grinds out a couple of tough yards. The words out of training camp have been that Vaughn has been having a good camp but personally I still think he struggles to make the roster. Vaughn also badly whiffed on a block in the redzone which resulted in a rushed pass and with it the chance of a TD gone.
Patrick Dimarco only played a handful of snaps Friday and he didn’t make any stand out plays. However, Maurice Hagens a rookie out of Miami put on a very impressive performance. Hagens never stood out to me on film but Friday night he was a changed player from the one I saw on tape. Hagens showed a nice set of hands hauling in a couple of catches, one being on third down. If Hagens continues this level of play the Falcons could well have a FB competition on their hands.
As was expected the starters only played the first series, Roddy White was his usual reliable self on third down. It was nice to see White get some snaps in the slot and hopefully the Falcons utilize him more as a slot receiver this year. Harry Douglas pulled in a nice 17 yard strike from Ryan but apart from that was pretty quiet. Devin Hester saw a handful of snaps but the only time Ryan looked his way there seemed to be a miscommunication between the two. Personally I’m not high on Hester as a receiver and I hope the Falcons have a handful of plays set out for him a game and leave it at that.
As I said in my preview earlier in the week two players I was really looking forward to seeing on the offensive side of the ball were Bernard ‘Speedy’ Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn. Reedy flashed his speed on a couple of occasions hauling in 2 catches for 61 yards. Reedy has impressed since his first day in a Falcons uniform and if he carries on this level of play it will be hard for the Falcons to leave him off the roster.
Geraldo Boldewijn played the most snaps of any WR Friday which perhaps shows the Falcons interest in the big bodied WR. Boldewijn showed good and bad flashes in the game but he definitely left me with a positive impression. As is stands I think Boldewijn will be put on the PS this year but he has the potential to develop into a really nice talent down the road.
Veteran Courtney Roby normally makes his living on special teams but he caught a couple of passes Friday. It was interesting that Roby was playing when TJ Yates was struggling and it was Roby who Yates looked to when things got a bit out of shape.
Levine Toilolo saw extended snaps Friday as the Falcons clearly tried to get the big man comfortable in the starting role. Toilolo as has been promised played a lot as an in line blocker and he looked pretty good. Toilolo played 44 snaps and on 17 of those he was used as a blocker which is perhaps an indication of how the Falcons will use him this season.
Mickey Shuler is a player who I’ve never been overly impressed with but once again I was pleasantly surprised by Shuler. Shuler made a couple of nice catches, one on a quick slant on 3rd down where he really did well to bring in the catch and pick up the third down. Shuler’s YAC ability was probably what stood out the most Friday as the big TE showed some ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. At the moment Shuler looks the clear favorite to be the third TE on the roster.
The starting unit looked pretty solid. Sam Baker looked completely healthy which is a huge positive. Joe Hawley got beaten up on a couple of run plays. Jake Matthews held his own vs Cameron Wake but did struggle a bit later on.
The second unit were a bit shaky early on but once they settled down I thought they played very well. Lamar Holmes looked much improved in his play which is a good sign. Harland Gunn confirmed his play in camp with a good showing and Mike Johnson playing LG also looked solid despite reports of him struggling in camp. Peter Konz did struggle at times but I thought there were also some positives from Konz, the battle between Konz and Gunn for the backup C spot looks an intriguing one as camp goes on. Ryan Schraeder has always been a feisty lineman but he needs to make sure he doesn’t give away needless penalties like he did Friday. Schraeder looked ok in pass protection but struggled run blocking (-3.8 run blocking grade from PFF).
The starting unit played a very conservative scheme with Soliai and Jackson inside at tackle and Babineaux and Biermann at DE. The starters played the run very well as Miami averaged 2.75 YPC on the opening series. The line didn’t get much pressure on the QB but this line isn’t designed to. Individually I thought Soliai was very impressive as he consistently got the better of his man and created some nice penetration.
Ra’Shede Hageman saw some extended snaps Friday which suggests to me he is fully recovered from the hand injury he picked up in training last week. Hageman flashed both the good and the bad that we expect with such a raw prospect but it was a largely positive showing for the rookie out of Minnesota. Cliff Matthews is a player who we haven’t heard much of this camp and the amount of snaps he played Friday suggests he is fighting for a roster spot. Travian Robertson on the other hand only saw limited reps which could suggest just how highly the Falcons regard the backup NT.
When the Falcons went to the 3-4 defense the outside linebackers were Massaquoi and Biermann. Massaquoi in particular flashed the kind of explosiveness that has fans so excited about him this year, JMAS made an eye catching tackle in the backfield where he blew past the LT to make the stop for a 4 yard loss.
Stansly Maponga has by all accounts come on leaps and bounds from his rookie year and that was evident Friday. Maponga consistently got pressure on the QB and if he continues to play well he will undoubtedly push for reps on D. Tyler Starr and Jacques Smith also both played well. Smith showed nice awareness to sniff out a screen that looked like potentially going for a first down. Starr also showed good awareness to jump on a fumbled snap by the Dolphins in the redzone. There were a couple of occasions where Starr set the edge perfectly in the run game and it was a very promising start for the 7th round draft pick.
Worrilow and Bartu were unsurprisingly the two starters, Bartu didn’t have his best game missing a tackle early on and giving up a third down pass. Prince Shembo didn’t make a huge impact on the game but he was solid and he did have the Falcons lone sack of the game. Look for Shembo to be heavily utilized as a blitzer right up the middle. Tim Dobbins didn’t look good in his snaps at LB with missed tackles and bad angles plaguing his play. Dobbins will probably make the team as a ST ace but I would be thrilled if he is made expendable by another player stepping up on teams. Yawin Smallwood hasn’t been heard of much in camp and he didn’t make much impression on the game.
The Falcons opened with Trufant, Alford and Wilson at CB. Javier Arenas who has been struggling at times in camp put in an impressive performance making a couple of nice tackles for no gain and generally playing well. Jordan Mabin was the forgotten corner heading into camp but after missing an early ST tackle Mabin balled out. Mabin saw extended snaps and he really took advantage, he did drop an easy pick but none the less Mabin put himself on the map. Rookie Ricardo Allen was another DB who really flashed his abilities Friday showing the coverage abilities that made him such a dangerous player at college. Unlike in previous years the Falcons have some nice depth at corner.
Kemal Ishmael was the starting FS in place of the injured Dwight Lowery. Ishmael has been impressing coaches and players alike in camp with his play but he didn’t have his best game Friday. Ishmael’s biggest struggles are always going to be in coverage and this is exactly where he struggled Friday. On the Gibson TD Ishmael gets caught by the play action, takes a false step and as a result leaves Gibson wide open for a walk in TD. Ishmael isn’t the fastest safety so his instincts and decision making in coverage need to be impeccable and he can’t make mistakes like the one he made Friday.
Sean Baker has been impressing in camp with his physical style of play and last night it was evident to see why. Baker relishes contact but he showed Friday he is more than just a in the box banger. Baker made a couple of nice plays in coverage. Baker is in a battle with Ishmael for the backup SS spot and if Baker continues to impress he may put some pressure on Ishmael.
Sergio Castillo is the real deal and should hopefully be a PS stash this year.
Overall Friday’s game was a typical first preseason game, lots of flags, lots of mental errors but some flashes of talent. What is clear is that the Falcons have a lot more depth than in previous years and they have some very promising young talent on the roster. The play calling as expected was very reserved Friday which never makes for the most exciting game but a win is a win and after last season it was nice to see the Falcons come out on top.