Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
After the horror show last week in Houston the Falcons rebounded in a nice way Saturday night with an all-around solid performance. While the Falcons would ultimately end up losing the game the starting units left the game with the lead and for the most part they looked a class above the Titans. As per usual below is a position by position breakdown of the Titans game although this week is more focused on the play of the starting units.
Matt Ryan put in a very solid performance finishing with 224 yards and two touchdowns completing 18 of his 23 pass attempts. Ryan did a nice job spreading the ball around and early on he seemed determined to test the Titans deep as he threw a number of long shots to Julio Jones. All in all another very solid display from Ryan and pretty much the perfect warm up before Week 1 in the dome.
TJ Yates was the second QB we saw and Yates once again looked awful. Yates made a number of mistakes last week in Houston and it was clear he was determined not to make any this week. As such Yates looked extremely reluctant to pull the trigger and repeatedly held onto the ball too long. Whether he still isn’t fully acclimatized with this new offense or his new receivers Yates just looks to have no confidence at the moment, he isn’t seeing the field well and he seems to have no trust in himself to make any sort of throw that isn’t wide open. Yates will see some extended reps next week but to be honest it looks as though the ship has already sailed on his shot to win the backup QB spot.
Sean Renfree came into the game late on and he immediately got the offense going. Renfree looks to be in total control of the offence and he is seeing the field extremely well, making a lot of good decisions pre snap resulting in what look to be easy throws. Renfree is a much more aggressive QB than Yates and during the preseason he has looked much more composed and capable than the veteran. Barring an injury Renfree looks to have the backup job won.
Jacquizz Rodgers had himself an extremely impressive game vs Tennessee. All preseason fans and media have been fawning over rookie Devonta Freeman and this has somewhat left Quizz in the shadows, Saturday’s game was perhaps just a little reminder that Quizz is very much alive and he has a big role to play in this team. Quizz was involved in both the rushing and passing game, recording 33 yards on the ground (8 carries), and 31 yards through the air (5 catches). Quizz is the team’s best pass blocking back and this as well as his tremendous versatility will ensure he has a big role with this team no matter who he is sharing the backfield with.
Antone Smith once again got snaps with the starters. While I’m a fan of Smith I don’t see much value in having him run up the gut 4 or 5 times a game as seems to be the norm right now. Maybe Smith and Co are keeping their cards close to their chests with Smith and his usage but once the regular season arrives I would like to see Smith put in more situations where he has room to run (stretch plays, screen passes etc). Smith’s best play of the game came on Special Team’s where he was back to his old tricks of lighting up a returner.
Josh Vaughn actually got some decent blocking this week as he had two carries for 21 yards. When he has a hole to run through and he can pick up some speed Vaughn is a load to bring down but I still worry about his ability to make plays that aren’t starring him in the face. Whether he makes the roster is a question mark right now and in my eyes he needs a big game next week to be considered for a spot on the 53.
Devonta Freeman probably had his quietest game to date but he still flashed the kind of explosive play ability that has everyone so excited. Freeman’s vision is excellent and he rarely makes a wrong decision with the ball in his hands. The thing I have been most impressed with this preseason with Freeman is the tough yards he picks up. Rarely does Freeman go down on first contact and he is always keeping his legs driving. Freeman will only see limited snaps this season but none the less look for him to have a big impact.
Dimarco made a couple of nice blocks to open up run plays but apart from that he was pretty quiet. Hagens did see snaps late on but he didn’t make any noticeable plays. I like Hagens and his pass catching ability out of the backfield but it looks as though Dimarco has the FB posistion won.
Julio Jones looked as good as ever recording 2 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. While Jones only caught 2 passes he gave the Titans defensive backs fits all day and Julio looks more than ready for the regular season to start.
Roddy White saw some extended time in the slot vs the Titans and hopefully this carries on into the regular season. Roddy had 3 catches for 34 yards, he did have one drop that would have been a first down but apart from that White looked good. There has been a lot of talk about how the Falcons will cope without Tony Gonzalez this year and the answer could well be Roddy White. The Falcons will hopefully look to put Roddy in the slot as much as possible where he can use his excellent route running to find the soft spots in opposing defenses.
Harry Douglas had a couple of catches and made a crucial block on Julio’s long TD run. Douglas also thought he would try and fight Bernard Pollard, good luck with that Harry. Douglas isn’t anyone’s favorite person, or receiver but he has a role to play on this team and if the Falcons use him correctly he can be a productive player.
Devin Hester has been lauded as a game changer for the Falcons this year and to be honest up until last night’s game I was extremely cynical of everyone who was singing the praises of Hester as a receiver. However, vs the Titans Hester lived up to all the expectations as he looked like a genuine receiving threat. The play that springs to mind is obviously the TD catch and run where the Titans blitzed leaving man to man coverage on the outside. Hester beat Jason McCourty all ends up and with the ball in his hands he was able to beat safety Beranrd Pollard to get into the endzone. I am still slightly dubious if Hesters receiving abilities carry on for a 16 game season but if he does I will be the first to admit I was wrong.
Geraldo Boldewijn once again flashed his potential with a couple of nice receptions late in the game. Sean Renfree and Amsterdam seem to have built up some nice chemistry through camp and Renfree clearly trusts the big man. Boldewijn looks destined for the practice squad at this point but he could potentially have an outside chance at the 53 man roster if the Falcons want a bigger bodied receiver on the roster outside of Julio.
Bernard Reedy was only targeted once and he promptly dropped the pass. Since Week 1 Reedy hasn’t really been involved in the passing game, whether this is by design or it is just a coincidence I’m not sure but Reedy has been pretty quiet. Reedy had been getting some looks as the backup returner but vs Tennessee the newly signed Eric Weems took over as the backup returner which possibly doesn’t bode well for Reedy. Reedy has shown through camp he has deep threat potential and he seems to have won himself a spot on the PS at worst. Whether Reedy makes the 53 man roster will largely depend on what the Falcons choose to do with Roby and Weems.
Courtney Roby was brought in to be a special team stud but to be honest he hasn’t lived up to expectations. A the end of last week the Falcons signed ex Falcon Eric Weems who was a special team stalwart during his time with the Falcons and he made a nice return making a ST tackle and handling the backup returner spot. Thomas Dimitroff raved about the combination of Roby and Weems during the Titans broadcast and that would seem to suggest the team could well take two special teams based receivers with the last two receiver spots on the roster. I severely hope that this isn’t the case as I think the Falcons need to have 5 genuine receivers on the roster this year.
Levine Toilolo wasn’t really targeted in the passing game vs the Titans. Toilolo opened the game lined up wide as a WR which is something we haven’t seen much of in the past. Toilolo was called for a hold on third and short early in the game and apart from that he didn’t really feature much.
With Mickey Shuler out with a concussion Bear Pascoe was the second TE we saw. Pascoe isn’t really a TE who will get you sitting on the edge of your seat and vs the Titans he made few plays that jump off the screen to you.
Jake Matthews made his debut at left tackle and for the most part he looked very solid. Matthews was flagged twice, once for holding and once for a false start. The holding call looked pretty suspect and the false start was probably due to nerves more than anything else. Matthews was charged with giving up a sack but Matthews wasn’t to blame at tall as QB TJ Yates hung onto the ball way too long.
While Matthews was making his debut most people’s eyes were probably focused on the right hand side of the line and Lamar Holmes who is now the de facto starter at right tackle. Holmes had been impressive as the backup left tackle in the first preseason games and he carried this play on into the Titans game. While Holmes didn’t shut down the Titans pass rushers he didn’t give up a sack and he looked solid in all areas of the game. Holmes is a more polished in pass protection and his run blocking still needs work but overall it was a very solid start for Holmes.
As a unit the starting offensive line looked solid in pass protection but they still have room for improvement in run blocking, this should hopefully improve as the season progresses.
Overall the defensive line looked very solid last night. Jackson, Soliai and Babineaux looked as good as advertised vs the run. Unlike in previous years the Falcons have genuine depth along the d-line and we got to see some of this vs the Titans as the likes of Goodman and Hageman were rotated in. Hageman had the first sack of his career but this was eradicated due to a penalty on Pat Angerer which will be sure to please coach Smith. While the defensive line does look solid vs the run they still fail to get pressure on the QB without manufacturing pressure.
Massaquoi and Biermann opened the game as the starting outside backers. Biermann again didn’t flash in the way we expect him to and there has to be genuine concern about Biermann’s play heading into the season. Massaquoi has been impressive this preseason and he looked good again vs a very good Titans o-line. Massaquoi is going to be heavily relied upon this season to produce and so far he looks like he could potentially live up to the expectations.
Once again the best pass rusher on the night was Stansly Maponga who created havoc both rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Maponga has come on leaps and bounds since his rookie year and to be honest he looks to be playing better than Biermann right now.
Jacques Smith saw a lot of snaps with the two’s as the ROLB and for the most part he went against rookie LT Taylor Lewan. Lewan was largely touted for his mean streak coming out of college and Smith more than held his own against the first round pick. Smith looked to be having a very solid game before he got himself ejected for punching Lewan in the helmet. Lewan was shoving Smith after the whistle and Smith retaliated by taking a swing. Now obviously you never want players to get ejected but to be honest I don’t have much trouble with what Smith did. All preseason the team has been shoving the word ‘toughness’ down our throats and it will be interesting how coach Smith and Thomas Dimitroff handle Smith’s ejection. Smith looked to be well on his way to making the roster and hopefully the coaches don’t take too dim a view of one mistake in a preseason game as Smith looks a useful player to have around.
Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu started the game inside for the Falcons. Bartu would rotate in and out with Shembo as the team looked to get Shembo some looks with the starters. Worrilow had another solid night as the leader of the defense. The defense was noticeably more aggressive this week as the Falcons blitzed the inside linebackers and Worrilow was rewarded as the Titans o-line left him untouched on his way to sacking Jake Locker. Neither Bartu or Shembo made and stand out plays and the battle for the starting inside spot alongside Worrilow still looks wide open.
Pat Angerer saw some time with the two’s and as can probably be expected he looked solid vs the run but he got abused a bit in pass coverage. Angerer looks to be in a battle with Dobbins for what could potentially be the last backup ILB spot.
Neither Alford or Trufant had their best game in a Falcons uniform. Trufant looked beaten on a number of occasions and he was beaten for a long TD by Nate Washington. There seemed to be some confusion on the play as it looked as though Tru was handing the receiver off to the safety. After the game Trufant took full responsibility for the TD but I feel he was simply not willing to throw a teammate under the bus in public. Robert Alford made a couple of nice plays, the highlight being a sack off a corner blitz. However, Alford was flagged numerous times for holding/pass interference and he needs to learn to keep his hands off of receivers heading into the regular season.
Javier Arenas got the start at the nickel and he was lucky as he was beaten badly on a couple of plays but the ball was never thrown or the receiver dropped the pass. Arenas isn’t a bad depth player to have but he shouldn’t be the starting nickel.
The nickel position was one of the areas of debate heading into the preseason and no one seems to have separated themselves from the pack. As it stands the Falcons have three solid if unspectacular nickel corners and the position could well become a problem as the season rolls on.
William Moore and Dwight Lowery were the Falcons starters and they looked pretty solid as a tandem. Moore was moved around quite a bit and it was nice to see him in and around the box some more than the previous few games. Dwight Lowery looked rusty last week but he looked a lot better this week as he made a couple of nice tackles in the box and he made a nice hit to get off the field early in the game. If Lowery can stay healthy he should be a nice component for this defense but the injury history is obviously a major concern heading into the season.
Dezmen Southward and Kemal Ishamel were the second team safeties until Southward knocked himself out of the game with a special team tackle. Ishmael had a really nice game as he repeatedly put his body on the line to make stops. Ishmael is a tough nosed football player and whether he starts at safety or not he is a good player to have on the roster.
The coverage units all looked much improved this week which was nice to see. Devin Hester busted a long return of a kickoff which gave fans a glimpse of his potential. Overall the Special Teams units all looked much improved from a week ago in Houston where they were pretty much a disaster.