The Falcons got destroyed in their preseason opener by the Bengals, and by the Falcons I mean the back-ups. The starters played very well leaving the game with a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. This includes a Falcons first string offense that was without Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
The first-string moved the ball well at times with Matt Ryan finding Drew Davis and Harry Douglas for long gains. Davis' gain coming on a go route where he beat Pacman Jones, and Douglas' gain coming off a screen where Davis did a great job of clearing out the DBs. Overall, Matt looked sharp and had good timing with his WRs, TEs, and RBs. Steven Jackson made his debut for Atlanta and already looks like a major upgrade. Despite not having a lot of yards he showed the ability to bounce the ball outside and get the edge. Jackson didn't have a lot of success running inside the tackles; this was mainly due to poor run blocking.
The offensive line as a whole was pretty poor when it came to run blocking, but they did a very good job in pass protection for the most part. Lamar Holmes made his first start at RT and did a great job in pass protection against the Bengals' first unit giving up 0 pressures from my count. Holmes continued his excellent work in pass protection throughout the night doing a good job against both Margus Hunt and Dontay Moch; although, Hunt and Moch each bested him once and he had some trouble with Devon Still on a stunt. Holmes' biggest issue was run blocking. He had trouble getting push on the right the side of the line and was also beaten to a gap on one play by James Harrison. That play in particular, Holmes probably should've resorted to cut blocking Harrison, but instead he attempted to use his long arms to push him past the play but ended up pushing Harrison directly at Jackson who managed to evade him before smashing into Holmes to top of a medley of errors on that one play. Garrett Reynolds also had some issues getting push in the run game and also struggled with Geno Atkins at times in pass protection. Justin Blalock was the worst looking offensive lineman. The veteran of the unit struggled against quicker rushers and on a 3rd and 1 play he allowed Geno Atkins to knife inside across the formation and hit Jackson for a loss. Blalock also allowed a pressure on Ryan against the Bengals 2nd unit when reserve DE Wallace Gilberry beat him with quickness and his hands. Baker looked very good as did Peter Konz in his first start at C.
The first team defense did a great job as well as they held the Bengals to 14 yards rushing and 37 yards passing in one quarter of play. The defensive line was a pleasant surprise, Osi Umenyiora, in his Falcons debut, dominated Anthony Collins in pass rushing situations, beating him twice and getting held once (not called). Osi also did well in the run game as did Corey Peters. Peters in particular looked much better against the run on a healthy foot than he did last year. He held the point of attack much better and also looked quicker than last year. Jonathan Babineaux flashed as well at times as he was able to get some penetration.
There wasn’t much to note from the first team LBs, for the most part they did a good job of making the run fills. Rookie corner Desmond Trufant did a decent job at the CB position; he didn’t have a whole lot of snaps, but for the most part he did a good job, although his attempts at tackling Jermaine Gresham were futile. Robert McClain had some good plays and some bad plays. He got beat for a TD but also had a great PBU against Ryan Whalen that was nearly an interception. McClain also did a decent job against the run. The second rookie corner Robert Alford had a great showing as he made several plays against the run and helped make a great play against a screen. Alford also made his presence felt in coverage as well as he had 2 PBUs including one on a fade route in the end zone. I was very impressed with how Alford played throughout the night as he was physical against the bigger Cobi Hamilton and on the edge in run defense. Thomas DeCoud and William Moore both seemed to be in mid-season form and I didn’t notice any particular flaws in their games.
I came away impressed with a couple of back-ups in this game. The first was reserve pass rusher Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi showed good burst and strong hands throughout the night. He got one sack and three pressures on the night by my count. One area that Massaquoi did have a flaw in was his balance coming off stunts; he had an easy second sack on a stunt if he could have kept his balance as he bumped into Josh Johnson who then attempted a jump pass over Massaquoi. The second reserve rusher that stood out was Stansly Maponga. Maponga had some flash plays including one in the red zone where he beat the RT clean around the edge and came within inches of a sack before Josh Johnson got a pass off that was nearly picked. Maponga also did a good job of recognizing and blowing up a screen play. Reports out of camp had said that Maponga had been impressing despite not being in tip top football shape as he was still recovering from a foot injury he suffered his senior season at TCU. The last reserve that stood out to me was LB Paul Worrilow. Worrilow seemed like he was everywhere on the field as he made 12 tackles. Worrilow did a great job with his run fits and helped make a third down stop. He also did a great job of smothering the RBs as soon as they caught the ball on check downs. He showed the ability to shoot gaps and blow up screens. If there is one flaw I noticed in his game it was that he was slow to react a couple of times including once at the goal line that led to a Gio Bernard touchdown.
Overall, the Falcons first unit looked good and on the defensive side of the ball they have several promising young players. The one area that I am concerned about is the Falcons depth on the interior OL and at the WR position. The second unit WRs were not getting separation against the Bengals second unit corners, and the second unit interior OL also struggled with the Bengals’ second unit DTs. These are areas that should be addressed as they could be problematic if injuries were to occur. The one bright spot on a rather dysfunctional second unit OL was OT Ryan Schraeder. Schraeder struggled against Margus Hunt at RT, but when he moved back to LT he shut down Dontay Moch and did a great job of run blocking. While the final score is a bit startling it’s nothing to panic over. After all, the Falcons are 2-8 in their last 10 preseason games.