Falcons Pre-Season Week Two Observations

After a shaky showing the previous week, the Falcons first and second team units responded in a big way against the Ravens. The Falcons had a 23-7 lead when the third stringers came in. However, the third stringers couldn’t hold up that lead for a quarter against the more talented and connected Ravens second unit who came back to win the game 27-23.

The focal point of this should not be on the third/fourth teamers who blew the lead but rather on the outstanding play of the first and second units. The Falcons first and second unit defense in particular played very well against the reigning Super Bowl champions picking off both Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor and limiting the first team Ravens’ rushing attack.

Jonathan Babineaux stood out early and often against the Ravens in this contest. He sliced into the backfield on three different occasions, twice stuffing Ray Rice at or behind the line. Babineaux also had some good rushes against the passing attack of the Ravens, but the true star in that area was Osi Umenyiora. For the second straight preseason contest Umenyiora picked up three pressures and one QB hit by my count. Kroy Biermann also did a good job against the run as did former first round pick Peria Jerry who slid in on some sets pushing Babineaux to DE and Biermann to OLB. Corey Peters held his own against Marshall Yanda. While he didn’t stand out or amaze he did a good job of holding the POA against one of the best run blocking guards in the NFL after giving Kevin Zeitler issues in Atlanta’s inaugural preseason match-up.

Akeem Dent capitalized on his good week last week by continuing to be decisive with his run fits and reacting faster. Entering his second season as a starter, it looks like the game might be starting to slow down for Dent which would be a big positive for a Falcons LB corp that is lacking another play maker outside of Sean Weatherspoon. Stephen Nicholas split his snaps with Biermann and Jolpo Bartu. Nicholas had a good night as he helped blow up an outside run that lead to an Akeem Dent TFL. Bartu looked hesitant in his first team reps which is to be expected for a rookie free agent. Paul Worrilow continued to impress after last week’s performance as he notched another six tackles and had a sack where he beat Jah Reid on a blitz.

Asante Samuel got a pick off a deflection and returned it to the three yard line before being brought down. He and William Moore also allowed Torrey Smith to take a quick slant to the house and Asante was playing off coverage and gave a large cushion and Moore took a bad angle to Smith. Desmond Trufant wasn’t tested much in this game neither was Robert Alford, although Alford was flagged for a PI which on review was not really PI at all. The star of the secondary unit was Dominique Franks who had 3 PBUs and pick of Tyrod Taylor inside the red zone. Franks nearly had a second pick when he jumped what appeared to be a curl or stop route, but he dropped the ball or else he would have had a sure fire pick six. Peyton Thompson on the other hand gave up his second deep touchdown in as many weeks. This time it was to former Elon WR Aaron Mellette. Mellette burned Thompson on a simple streak route up the seam. Thompson seems like a bit of a longshot to make the roster at this point. The Safeties were mostly quiet for the day, but Kemal Ishmael was active on special teams and Charles Mitchell was the standout of the group as he showed great range on two separate read option plays and stopped Tyrod Taylor dead in his tracks both times.

On the offensive side of the ball, Matt Ryan wasted little time finding Julio Jones as he dialed up his number after the Ravens quick strike touchdown hitting him three times for 55 yards and drive capping touchdown. Roddy White left the game early with what is being reported as a minor ankle injury and was held out the rest of the way. Harry Douglas had a quiet night, but back up Drew Davis got involved in the game catching passes from both Ryan and Dominique Davis and showing strong leg drive to extend plays and pick up extra yardage. The one negative in Drew’s game was that he fumbled trying to pick up extra yardage during the two minute drill and ended up taking points off the board. Marcus Jackson had a bad night as he ran a sloppy route that let to Dominique Davis’ first incompletion of the day and picked up a false start penalty. Martel Moore had one catch on two targets before leaving the game with a rib injury. Darius Johnson was frequently targeted by Sean Renfree and did a good job of getting open and moving the chains as he pulled in five balls for sixty yards. Sean Renfree had an up and down night, he made some nice throws but when he tried to go downfield the ball floated out of reach several times which leads me to believe he was trying to aim the ball instead of just making a touch throw. One thing I did notice with Renfree is that he is already starting to recognize different defensive looks and blitzes and is checking out to different reads.

The RBs had a solid night as Steven Jackson performed well as both a receiver and a runner picking up two ten yard gains on the ground and one off of a check down where he did a good job of manipulating the sideline and avoiding a tackler. Jacquizz Rodgers had some good runs and juked Courtney Upshaw out of his shoes on one run. Back-up Josh Vaughan did an excellent job running the ball but had another disappointing showing on special teams as he got flattened on punt protection that nearly lead to a LaQuan Williams blocked punt, this game a week after missing a tackle on the Dane Sazenbacher TD return. Vaughan did make defenders miss and showed good speed to the outside for a bigger back. Antone Smith had some decent runs and looked great as a check down option out of the backfield. Donald Russell and Ronnie Wingo also had some good runs within the back-up group.

The first team offensive line was pretty solid. Lamar Holmes struggled at times with Arthur Jones, but also showed improved drive blocking as Atlanta was able to successfully run behind him with S-Jax. Holmes had another good night in pass pro, although he didn’t get a very good chip on Dumervil on a screen play. I did notice that Holmes occasionally lunged and caught defenders instead of punching them in pass protection. Ryan Schraeder had a great night in pass protection but struggled with penalties as he picked up two false starts which seemed to be a recurring theme on the night for the Falcons. Back-up RT Alec Savoie had a bad night as he got beat for sack and twice more giving up two pressures. Chase Coffman did a good job of getting open in the passing game, but struggled blocking. Levine Toilolo also continued to have struggles with blocking. Colin Cloherty had two big drops on the night with the third stringers and also had some struggles blocking. He seems like a long shot to make the roster.

On the ST side of things Matt Bryant nailed his only FG attempt of the night before giving way to Alabama product Jeremy Shelley who hit both of his FGs on the night. Matt Bosher continued to boom punts but had yet another one housed on him. The Falcons coverage unit is having some trouble staying in their lanes and corralling the return man to the sideline or to traffic in the middle of the field. Kemal Ishmael had two tackles to lead the ST units and rookie Desmond Trufant picked up a tackle on kickoff coverage. Robert Alford showed some signs as a returner tonight after being hesitant on his first return he was more decisive with his second and returned it out to midfield against the Ravens to set up Sean Renfree for a potential game winning drive. The Falcons have a lot of work to do on their coverage units before the season starts, that’s for sure.

The three prospects that stood out the most to me this week were LB Paul Worrilow, CB Dominique Franks, and LT Ryan Schraeder. Worrilow had another fantastic night as he continued to do a solid job with run fills and shooting gaps. He also picked up a sack against Jah Reid when he got around him on a blitz. Worrilow seems like a lock to make the roster at this point if he continues to play like this. Dominique Franks had a great night and looked much better when he was able to read the QBs eyes. I noted during the season last year that when Franks filled in at FS he seemed much more comfortable and played at a higher level than he did when he was play the SCB. It seems that Franks is at his best when he is able to read and react and moving him to FS or into a rover type role might benefit him more. Ryan Schraeder continues to impress me in his pass protection set. He is a strong anchor and has nice hand placement with light feet. He does let defenders into his chest occasionally on bull rushes which puts him on skates, but he also shows the ability to recover. Schraeder had a very good night aside from the two false start penalties and seems to have a bright future in this league.

Next week’s game against the Titans is usually the game where the starters play the longest and we get a little less vanilla of a game plan. I would look to see if guys like Worrilow and Schraeder get some first team reps next week much like fellow UDFA Joplo Bartu did this week. Going against the starters of the Titans will be a huge test for these guys if they get the opportunity and it could lock them into roster spots if they perform well.