The Atlanta Falcons lost their second preseason game to the Houston Texans this past weekend in somewhat sloppy and embarrassing fashion, getting outplayed in all three phases of the game. But despite the disheartening loss, there were a few players that raised their stock in bids to earn key roles or roster spots with the team, along with others that must do more to get back into the good graces of coaches and fans alike.
DE Malliciah Goodman
Goodman is ascending with two solid preseason performances this summer. Showing the ability to penetrate and collapse the pocket, he was the team’s most productive pass-rusher against the Texans. Goodman has also made plays against the run, showing the ability to defeat double teams and disrupt plays in the backfield.
He’s an ascending player, and frankly has played at a level that is deserving of a starting spot if not for the deference given to veterans Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson. Goodman has appeared in the team’s sub-packages lined up beside Babineaux as an interior pass-rusher. That is possibly a role he could maintain in the regular season given that neither Jackson nor nose tackle Paul Soliai are known for their pass-rushing prowess. But Goodman’s ability to also stuff the run means the Falcons could tinker with the notion of starting him over either veteran. In the case of Babineaux, it would help keep the 32-year old fresher for those passing situations. In the case of Jackson, it may simply result in getting a better player on the field for the majority of snaps.
At this point, the only negative on Goodman’s resume is missing his assignment that led to a blocked field goal Saturday. But Goodman wasn’t brought into Atlanta to bolster their special teams units, instead he’s being developed as a long-term starter along their defensive front with Ra’Shede Hageman. It appears that development is potentially further along than anybody could have hoped.
RB Devonta Freeman
Freeman’s stock continues to rise, out-performing all other Falcons rushers on Saturday night against the Texans. Freeman showed good burst and speed when running outside, ripping off a 15-yard run on a sweep left. Freeman had an additional 23-yard touchdown wiped out by penalty. He finished the night with 31 yards on six rushes (5.17 avg), but if not for penalties nullifying two other runs, that should have been 54 yards on eight carries (6.75 avg).
Another thing Freeman did consistently, that was not the case in his first preseason action was the fact that he did a lot better job adding yards beyond his blocking. Freeman showed the ability to avoid penetrating defenders and make his blocking look better, as he did on that nullified touchdown. Such a skill is necessary to be a productive starter, particularly in Atlanta where the team is not blessed with a road-grading offensive line like say the San Francisco 49ers.
Freeman’s reps against Houston only came after Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan all touched the ball, indicating that he’s still buried on the depth chart. However, given his play, that’s unlikely to remain the case in the coming preseason games as well as the regular season.
DT Travian Robertson
Robertson is another young player that has been putting together a strong summer. Having already appeared as a riser on previous stock report, it translated into a solid performance against the Texans where he made a number of plays against the run. Robertson was able to consistently get the better of Texans backup center James Ferentz both as a run-defender and pass-rusher.
Robertson also showed more range than is traditionally expected from a nose tackle, being able to chase down ballcarriers in pursuit. The only question is whether or not he’s going to be a regular part of the rotation when the regular season starts. But if he continues to play at his current level, that is an ever-increasing probability.
DE Tyson Jackson
Jackson was considered a perennial underachiever throughout his five years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Drafted by Scott Pioli with the third overall pick in 2009, Jackson was expected to be the Chiefs’ version of Richard Seymour. While Jackson failed to live up to those lofty expectations, he did by the end of his Chiefs tenure develop into a capable and valuable run defender. However that value has yet to really emerge in Atlanta through two preseason games. Jackson looks too heavy, too slow and too stiff thus far in limited action. Despite being listed at 50 pounds lighter than Soliai, one could not tell by comparing the way the two move on the field.
Given the promising play of Goodman, Jackson is going to need to start showing more impact in the coming weeks, or the calls that the Falcons are getting screwed over by another overpaid free-agent defensive linemen will only increase.
LB Paul Worrilow
Worrilow by no means had a poor performance against the Texans, but had a number of missed tackles that indicate that one of his bigger weaknesses from 2013 may not have significantly improved. Not being blessed with great size, Worrilow had a tendency to be a drag-down tackler last year. He could wrap up a ballcarrier, but would need to wait for the cavalry to arrive in order to get the opposing player down to the turf. During the offseason, Worrilow bulked up by adding around a dozen pounds to improve in that area. While still showing his trademark instincts and recognition skills, there were several opportunities for Worrilow to make one-on-one tackles against the Texans, and he did not. Had it been Texans running back Arian Foster toting the rock, such shortcomings may have been forgiveable. But with backups like Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue being able to shed Worrilow in the open field, it is not a promising sign that the Falcons plague of poor tackling has been cured.
QB T.J. Yates
In simple terms, Yates was downright terrible against the Texans. His two interceptions don’t paint the complete picture, as there were a handful more throws that he made that could have been picked off. In his final games with Houston, it appeared that Yates was prone to falling into “quicksand” where poor play would simply compound itself and turnovers would come in bunches. That seemed to be the case this past weekend, as things continued to get worse for him with every series. His poor play may have irrevocably ruined his chances of sticking on the roster as the backup to Matt Ryan. He’ll need to have a huge turnaround in the final two preseason games, and possibly also get some help from erratic play by his primary competition, Sean Renfree, to even have a chance of making good on the team’s decision to trade for him.