Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 3 vs. Dolphins

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY SportsT.J. Yates

Once again, here’s my extensive look back at the Atlanta Falcons’ third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, accounting for every player that saw the field, position-by-position. The delay in getting this review up was partially due to my disgust over the play of the offensive line and not wanting to subject my eyeballs to it.

If you’re curious to read my previous breakdowns, then you can click here to read my review of the first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans and here for the New York Jets game review.

Quarterback

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T.J. Yates

What I Saw: Matt Ryan struggled in this game thanks to the large amount of pressure he saw on his four series of action.The Falcons pulled the hook on Ryan early midway through the second quarter despite most of the other starters remained in the game through the remainder of the first half. Ryan did miss some throws, likely because he was speeding up his movements and mechanics for fear of the rush. While I don’t want to be too critical of Ryan, I have noticed over the years a tendency that if opposing defenses can hit him early, it generally will have a very negative effect on his poise, accuracy and decision-making for the remainder of the game.

T.J. Yates filled in for the remainder of the game and showed some improvement with a couple of nice throws early. But as the game wore on, he became less effective. His most glaring mistake was his hesitance on pulling the trigger on a throw into the end zone where he had Levine Toilolo wide open. That led to Yates taking a sack on fourth down and the Falcons came away with no points on a drive ending at the one-yard line. I can’t explain why Yates didn’t pull the trigger besides maybe not seeing Toilolo because he was focused on Justin Hardy instead, but it was definitely a mistake and missed opportunity that had this been a real game, cost the Falcons a win.

Conclusion: While Yates’ performance was slightly improved, it would be difficult to say that he was good against the Dolphins. His accuracy and decision-making were less erratic, but still not up to par for what the Falcons want to see in a potential backup. His extensive playing time was likely due to this being his last real shot at earning the job. It’s likely that against the Baltimore Ravens this week, the Falcons will utilize only Sean Renfree and Rex Grossman at quarterback.

Running Back

What I Saw: Tevin Coleman essentially got two series of work and saw very poor blocking in front of him. He did have a nice run on a six-yard gain where he was able to shrug off a defender in the backfield and run another eight yards to turn it into a positive gain. But on four carries, there wasn’t a big enough sample size to draw any strong conclusions about the Falcons rookie running back.

This was the first game where Terron Ward’s limitations as a runner became a bit more apparent to me. Ward isn’t bad, but there were a few runs where his lack of lateral agility coupled with the poor blocking led to lost yardage. It’s not fair to blame Ward too much when defenders are several yards in the backfield, but a quicker runner could have potentially be able to avoid them and gotten some yardage back. He also missed the block on Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull on the aforementioned fourth-down play where Yates took the sack at the goal line. However there were other times in the game where Ward’s pass protecting was solid.

Jerome Smith had a couple of nice runs, able to run through arm tackles as a straight-ahead runner. I haven’t been overly impressed with Smith this summer, but he’s certainly done his job when given opportunities late in games. I don’t think his fumble at the end of the game should’ve been ruled a fumble, but I get why the officials let the initial call stand. That was one of those reviews where there wasn’t enough evidence to really confirm if he fumbled or not, and thus the initial call of a fumble stood.

Michael Ford’s only work of the night came on kickoff coverage where he did a decent job busting up the wedge on one return.

Conclusion: Smith has played well enough this summer to merit a spot on the practice squad. I also believe that Ward’s play is more inclined to a practice-squad spot than being on the roster, but it’s been very clear that the coaching staff like him given his higher status on the depth chart. It’ll be nice to finally be able to see what Coleman can do once the regular season comes.

Fullback

What I Saw: Patrick DiMarco got all the reps as the lead blocker with Collin Mooney’s work coming solely on special teams. DiMarco did have a few nice blocks on the edge and had a couple of nice catches. He did a good job after the catch on a 16-yard completion in the fourth quarter to shake off linebacker Spencer Paysinger and get 11 yards after the catch. He also got plenty of work on special teams.

Conclusion: This is a position where neither player has really created much separation from the other. If I was a betting man, I’d probably say there’s a 51 percent chance that DiMarco wins the job, but that’s really a coin flip at this point. I lean that way only because DiMarco is a little bit bulkier and thus a more physical lead blocker at the point of attack. But this is definitely a battle that will be decided in the final preseason game against the Ravens.

Wide Receiver

What I Saw: Julio Jones got one snap to open the game and then quickly gave way to Devin Hester. Leonard Hankerson started for an injured Roddy White’s at flanker or “Z” receiver. Hester had a nice catch on a 13-yard grab where he made a nice move after the catch on a whip route. Hankerson had a couple of nice catches, but was targeted twice when Ryan was off the mark thanks to the pressure. One thing I also noticed was how weak a blocker Hankerson was, consistently failing to hit his assignments. Given his size, he should be better there.

Among the backups, Eric Weems was quietest on offense. Carlton Mitchell had a nice catch on a post on the final series. Mitchell has good length and solid hands but doesn’t look quite as explosive as I remember several years back during his days at South Florida.

Justin Hardy and Nick Williams both had a couple of nice catches. Williams had a nice run after the catch on a quick screen, breaking a pair of tackles to get about 23 yards after the catch. Williams showed more burst and niftiness on that play than when he’s been asked to return punts. Bernard Reedy had a nice block on that play, and his main contribution was a couple of solid blocks when working out of the slot. Considering his size, Reedy is a good blocker.

Conclusion: Nothing really to take away from this game, but you understand why Reedy wasn’t kept around. He just didn’t exploit his opportunities on offense and wasn’t given much chance to work on special teams given the emergence of Williams. Williams is in the hunt for a roster spot, although I’m less convinced it will be at the expense of Weems. Weems simply seems far too entrenched on special teams coverage units, an area where Williams has played, but has yet to stand out. Hardy and Mitchell have gotten work in those areas, but also haven’t stood out either. It’s enough to think that losing Weems would be too big a blow to their special teams to absorb.

Tight End

What I Saw: Jacob Tamme had another quiet game, spending much of his time blocking rather than catching passes. Tony Moeaki had one nice catch, but missed a block and had a false start penalty against him.

Levine Toilolo looked sluggish after the catch in this game and there were a couple of blocks where he looked overwhelmed. D.J. Tialavea looked decent at times as a blocker working against the Dolphins backups but had limited contributions in the passing game. If Mickey Shuler saw the field on offense, I barely noticed him.

Conclusion: As I’ve mentioned in the past two breakdowns, the depth chart is pretty much set in stone with Moeaki, then Toilolo backing up Tamme. Tialavea’s blocking is likely what has allowed him to stick around longer than Shuler. Tialavea has an outside shot at making the practice squad given his blocking ability.

Offensive Line

What I Saw: t’s hard to single any one individual as the entire unit looked completely out of sync for most the night. It’s hard to conclude why that was besides the fact that the Dolphins front was too strong and explosive for the Falcons’ individual blockers to handle.

It could be due to the fact that Mike Person was manning the center spot with the starters and thus maybe wasn’t up to snuff in being the anchor and leader of the unit. But that’s hard to prove when so many individual blockers were simply getting beat. Person probably had the least amount of individual breakdowns of any of the starters, but it’s hard to give him too much praise given how bad the entire unit was. That can sometimes be a reflection of whoever is playing center especially when it comes to failing to deal with blitzes as the Falcons struggled to do at times.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

James Stone lets up a sack

James Stone and Ryan Schraeder were the two biggest culprits, although Jake Matthews and Chris Chester certainly had their fair share of trouble. Most of Stone’s struggles came in the run game as he had four missed blocks with Schraeder having two and Chester one. Schraeder struggled more in the pass game, allowing one sack and five hurries. Stone was responsible for a sack and pressure. Chester gave up a pressure and hurry, while both Matthews and Person each gave up one hurry.

Stone really struggled against Earl Mitchell, getting too often overwhelmed by the latter’s power and first step, unable to get his hands inside and thus powerless to really do anything to him. Schraeder got beat multiple times by both Cameron Wake and his backup Derrick Shelby. The amount of times Shelby overwhelmed him was troubling, although there was a play in the third quarter where Schraeder was noticeably limping after Shelby easily beat him with a swim move for a sack. A penalty on the Dolphins wiped out that sack, but perhaps one of the reasons why Schraeder was so ineffective as a blocker both in pass protection and the run game was because he was nicked up.

Joe HawleyJon Asamoah, Tyler Polumbus and Pierce Burton were inserted into the lineup with the second units. They were better, but I wouldn’t go far enough to say they were good. Polumbus gave up a pressure and three hurries. He also got some work for a series at left guard before leaving the game with an injury after someone rolled up on the back of his leg.

Hawley had a decent game, especially when compared to the starters, but did have a few struggles creating push against nose tackles. Asamoah was clean in pass protection, but noticeably looked sluggish when he was asked to get out on the move and block on the second level. Although I think Asamoah’s abilities to get position and hold up in pass protection more than make up for this limitation, it’s very clear that this coaching staff prefers linemen that are more mobile than Asamoah’s been this summer. I do think the ankle injury that nicked him up earlier this offseason is affecting his mobility, given that he looked quicker a year ago and when he was in Kansas City previously.

Burton getting promoted to the second team is a notable development since he’s been the team’s most consistent backup linemen. He continued to look both solid as a run-blocker and pass-protector for the third week in a row.

Jakes Rodgers was adequate at left tackle. He does his best work as a run-blocker and can struggle with speed off the edge in pass protection. In one series of action, Matt Huffer did little to stand out.

Adam Replogle got work solely at left guard. The best thing I can say is that he showed decent pop off the snap and a bit of a nasty streak when working against the Dolphins’ third-team defense. It certainly seems that guard is a more natural fit for him than center, where he’s predominantly worked the past two weeks. Eric Lefeld got limited action at left guard and did little to stand out. Valerian Ume-Ezeoke did a decent job walling off defenders on a couple of plays, but got beat in pass protection a once or twice. He might be a player that is also better suited to playing guard in the future, although he too probably lacks the ideal mobility in this scheme. Jared Smith did some nice things at right guard, but nothing eye-popping. Like Burton, he’s been one of the more consistently effective backups this summer.

There were too botched exchanges with Yates in the game, and without seeing a clear replay, it’s hard to say who was at fault. But a cursory glance suggests that it was less on the center and more on the quarterback, but for now I’ll say that things were too inconclusive to lean one way or the other.

Conclusion: A very poor performance for the Falcons, with the run blocking arguably being a lot more troubling than the pass protection given how poor the former has been the three previous games. It’s a lot easier to say the pass-protection woes were more of a one-time issue given the caliber of opponent and the fact that the starters held up relatively well the previous two games. While individuals looked bad, the most troubling aspect is how out of sync the entire group of starters looked, indicative of a lack of cohesion, which can be a death knell for a starting five.

The left guard and center spots look most problematic. While Hawley and Asamoah are their two best interior linemen based off their entire body of work, the Falcons appear uncertain about whether or not they want either in the starting lineup. Hawley did get worked back with the starters this week in practice, but one wonders if Person had a better performance would that have been the case. It’s hard for me to buy that all of Person’s first-team reps this summer have been as “insurance” in case Hawley’s knee soreness flares up down the road. Frankly, if Hawley was firmly entrenched as a starter, then it’s likely that the Falcons would have rested him a lot more. Instead, his playing time is more indicative of a guy competing for a job. But again, it may be moot given that Stone’s struggles might force the Falcons to go with Person at left guard instead of center and Hawley re-earns the center spot by default.

Burton looks the best among the backups, but one wonders if he’ll make the roster. I think he’s outplayed both Rodgers and Polumbus this preseason, but both of those guys have either draft status or experience working in their favor. But it’s very likely that at the least, Burton will wind up on the practice squad (assuming he clears waivers). Smith probably will also wind up on the practice squad as well. Replogle has played well enough to think he too has a shot, but I’m not sure the Falcons will keep that many interior players on the practice squad. However, dealing Asamoah might clear up a spot for one of them.

Defensive Line

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Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox coaches up his unit

What I Saw: Kroy Biermann worked his way into the LEO spot in the base defense over Vic Beasley, who was relegated to mostly to nickel. Beasley did see a snap or two in base and was mostly quiet (one hurry) despite working against untested Dolphins left tackle Dallas Thomas for much of the night.

The rest of the base unit (Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Ra’Shede Hageman) did their jobs, with Soliai and Hageman showing a good amount of power to overwhelm Dolphins guards and centers. Jackson showed much better range than he showed all last year, indicating that the weight loss has indeed added some quickness to his game. Hageman got some reps in the nickel sub-package, but did very little. While Hageman hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities as a pass-rusher in his short NFL career, the reality is that at no point has he really shown great ability there. He’s flashed occasionally over the past year, but those folks expecting him to be an every-down defender probably will have to wait at least one more year.

Adrian Clayborn continued to look explosive off the snap in the nickel sub-package, beating a few Dolphins guards with his speed. The only knock on Clayborn is that he tends to play a little too off-balanced and winds up on the ground a bit too much. But that’s a very, very minor complaint given how effective he is at pressuring the quarterback on the plays where he does maintain his balance. Jonathan Babineaux had a couple of nice plays where he was disruptive.

O’Brien Schofield looked solid, notably on the play where he had a sack-strip. He did get some reps at strong-side linebacker in the base formation as well. The Falcons also lined up him up as a stand-up defender when they utilized three-man fronts on third downs, typically lining up between left end and nose tackle. Such a formation gives the defense flexibility as Schofield is just as liable to drop into the flat to cover a zone as he is to rush the passer, but usually has to be accounted for by the offensive line.

Malliciah Goodman played both LEO in the base and defensive tackle in the nickel. He got pushed around too often versus the run when he was in the base. He showed better ability as a pass-rusher inside, although was mostly quiet. He did get a hurry on one play where he showed good power, blowing up Dolphins guard Billy Turner on a stunt. Goodman has done his best work this summer as an interior pass-rusher similar to Clayborn and could be groomed as a potential heir apparent to him in that role down the line. He has a long way to go before he’s on Clayborn’s level, but there’s some developmental upside there. However, Goodman’s struggles to get leverage at the point of attack in the run game is somewhat troubling given his past as a five-technique. He should be better there.

Cliff Matthews worked exclusively as a strong-side defensive end behind Jackson in the base package. He did little to impress, only looking more effective late in the game when he was working against the Dolphins’ scrubs.

Joey Mbu probably had his best game of the summer, overwhelming Jeff Linkenbach (among others) multiple times late in the game with his strength. He also was able to make a couple of nice plays moving laterally. Grady Jarrett was fairly quiet and too often was easily moved off the ball at the point of attack. He’s continually showed that he’s mostly effective when he can get penetration and be disruptive, which he did sparingly against the Dolphins. Derrick Hopkins flashed one play by stacking and shedding J.D. Walton, which is one more play than he’s shown so far this summer in limited action.

Warren Herring continued to look active against the run. He’s not very quick and is limited as a pass-rusher, but he was disruptive against the run on a couple of plays. Sam Meredith showed good strength on a couple of snaps, able to move the blocker back a few yards but was held back by the fact that he rarely was able to disengage and make a play. Stansly Maponga was quiet compared to past games.

Conclusion: The Falcons feature a relatively deep rotation, but it’s very clear that beyond their four main guys in their nickel sub-package, there’s a clear lack of pass-rushers. Maponga has flashed potential, but probably has benefited from feasting on below-average backups. Goodman and Biermann have flashed occasionally as pass-rushers but there is clearly a significant drop-off once you get past Schofield, Beasley, Babineaux and Clayborn. The Falcons can’t really afford any injuries with that group. It’s also probably a reason why Maponga and Goodman could get a boost when it comes to making final roster decisions unless the Falcons can find better options off the waiver wire.

Mbu had his strongest game to date, and if he plays that way in the finale, he might be able to sneak on to the roster given the lack of a decent nose tackle behind Soliai. That might also be the saving grace of Matthews, who seems like the only competent run-defender behind Jackson given Goodman’s inconsistency there. But neither Mbu nor Matthews have played at a level where I feel like they’ve quite earned a roster spot. Instead if either are kept, it’ll likely be because they both won spots by default.

Linebacker

What I Saw: Paul Worrilow had a couple of nice splash plays with a tackle for loss and pass broken up. While his lack of physicality is still apparent as a one-on-one tackler, he’s been in position a lot more to make plays. The “fast and physical” style that Dan Quinn has instilled in Atlanta also has meant that defenders have been swarming the ball, leaving Worrilow with fewer instances when he’s been on an island trying to make a tackle, thus limiting the exposure of that weakness.

Justin Durant too had a couple of nice plays against the run. The only major negative was the time where Jarvis Landry got behind him for the big 46-yard gain. Durant looks active and is playing with very good speed. Brooks Reed was pretty quiet on limited snaps. He did get a few instances of putting his hand in the dirt and rushing in the nickel sub-package.

Tyler Starr got a decent amount of reps at strong-side linebacker, but didn’t do a lot. But he did show good speed on a rush where he tipped Matt Moore’s pass which resulted in an interception for Joplo Bartu. Bartu continues to look fast, active and has seemingly found a home in Quinn’s scheme as Durant’s backup. He still struggles at times taking on blocks, but when he’s able to flow and chase the ball, he’s arguably the team’s most explosive and rangy linebacker.

Allen Bradford was playing on his heels a bit too often and continues to struggle when he has to deal with blockers. But Bradford has performed very well on special teams and in truth that’s going to be his primary role this season. He plays hard and shows toughness, but there are limitations to his game at lineabcker.

Nate Stupar worked mainly at weak-side linebacker and only saw the field after Terell Manning, which doesn’t bode well for the former’s chances of sticking. Stupar was better this week than last week, but not by a huge degree. He continues to not take the greatest angles to plays in pursuit, as opposing runners have too often be able to juke him in the hole. But he continues to be effective on special teams and if he sticks, it’ll be for that reason. Manning had a couple of nice plays, showing good closing speed on the ball. But he also got flagged for an offsides penalty. Boris Anyama saw limited action at strong-side linebacker and did little with it.

Conclusion: Bradford saw a ton of reps, likely solidifying that he’ll be Worrilow’s backup at middle linebacker this year. Starr’s pressure made a stronger case for him making the roster, but he’s still probably closer to practice-squad talent at this point. His recognition skills in zone coverage are still in the development phase, but a potential injury to Reed could help his cause. Bartu too has locked up a spot. The only question is really if Stupar makes the team for his special teams contributions.

Cornerback

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Dezmen Southward is on the bubble

What I Saw: Robert Alford got beat for a touchdown on a quick slant by Rishard Matthews, but that was really a perfect throw by Ryan Tannehill. There was a half-moment’s hesitation by Alford on the play, but it would have been next to impossible for him to break up that pass without interfering given Tannehill’s ball placement.

Phillip Adams continues to look functional on the outside. He continues to work with the “starting” special teams unit as a gunner, and that role as well as being the nickel corner upon Desmond Trufant’s healthy return seem to be his destiny this season.

Jalen Collins looks like he’s also entrenched as one of the gunners on punt coverage. He had a penalty there for unsportsmanlike conduct when he opted to continue running out of bounds for about 20 yards down the sideline without making much of an effort to get in bounds. He wasn’t really tested on defense this game.

Kevin White continues to be the backup slot cornerback and that is likely his key to sticking. Travis Howard saw extensive reps as Adams’ backup at left cornerback. He did help break up one pass late, delivering a hit on Kevin Cone on a throw behind the receiver.

Dezmen Southward’s only real action was reduced to playing in the nickel late in the game when White would move from right cornerback inside to the slot. Akeem King and Michael Lee only saw the field once the Dolphins were in the victory formation for the final two plays.

Conclusion: It appears that within two weeks, Howard has leapfrogged Southward on the depth chart based off the depth chart against Miami, which bodes poorly for the former third-round pick in Southward. Unless he or Howard have a big game against the Ravens, it appears unlikely that either will stick on the roster. Both instead are probably clinging to the hopes of being on the practice squad. It appears that White has solidified the fifth cornerback spot.

Safety

What I Saw: Ricardo Allen continuously looked solid in both run support and coverage, showing good instincts and awareness in zone. He was consistently in position, fast and active to the ball. He’s looked strong throughout all three preseason games, but this was probably his most impressive performance so far. While not a true burner, Allen’s range looks much better than his speed should indicate given his top-notch instincts.

Kemal Ishmael didn’t have a great game as he was out of position a couple of times in run support. But he probably didn’t need to since he shouldn’t be in much danger of losing his spot as William Moore’s backup at strong safety. Charles Godfrey did play a bit better than past weeks, looking decent at times in run support. However he still has a couple of plays per game where he is out of position in coverage. At this point, he’s more comfortable playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but isn’t as good as Ishmael or Moore are when it comes to playing in the box since he has struggled more often than not when asked to take on blockers and/or filter through trash.

Sean Baker continues to make a couple of nice plays in run support, particularly when he’s asked to play in the box. Jonathon Mincy got some reps late at free safety, but didn’t really do much because he was basically playing center field when the Dolphins were trying to run out the clock.

Robenson Therezie was injured on special teams during Matt Bosher’s third punt of the game in the second quarter. That injury likely led to why Allen remained in the game until the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.

Conclusion: It’s telling that the Falcons kept Allen in the game once Therezie was hurt rather than giving any of their other reserve safeties a longer look at free safety. That’s likely a positive sign for Therezie that he stood a good chance of winning the backup spot there before his injury. How his quad injury affects his roster chances will depend on if he can return quickly. If Godfrey or Baker make the team, it’ll likely be due to that injury forcing the team to want an extra body there. While I’ve been impressed with Baker so far this preseason, it’s very clear that the Falcons like Godfrey a lot more based off the depth chart’s configuration. If Godfrey sticks, it’ll be because the team wants a veteran presence.

Special Teams

What I Saw: Once again, Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher and Josh Harris were their usual selves.

The “starting” kickoff coverage unit featured Therezie, Weems, Moeaki, Collins, Howard, Ishmael, Bradford, Mooney, DiMarco and Alford. It’s difficult to say that all of those players are entrenched with that unit, but it’s very likely that Weems, Moeaki, Collins, Ishmael, Bradford and whichever of the fullbacks makes the cut will have roles there when the regular season starts.

Weems continues to be the team’s primary up-back (or personal protector) on punt coverage. Allen has consistently been the backup in that role this summer, and in the event that Weems doesn’t make the roster, then he’s the likeliest candidate to take over. But I’m not sure it’s smart of the Falcons having their starting free safety performing there during the regular season, especially given the questionable safety depth behind him. Thus even if Weems wasn’t the team’s best cover guy, he’d probably stick around. But again, Weems is the best player they have on special teams coverage and thus he’s very likely to stick.

Adams and Collins appear entrenched as the team’s go-to options as gunners on punt coverage. Therezie, Mitchell and Howard also got work there against the Dolphins.

The other “starters” on punt coverage were Toilolo, Ishmael, Biermann, Stupar, DiMarco and Bradford. That unit got all the work on punts throughout the first half, indicating they may be relatively entrenched in those roles. Bradford nearly gave up a blocked punt at one point, whiffing on a block.

The next punt unit up feature Mooney, Shuler, Bartu, Baker, Anyama and Starr. Mooney and Bartu are probably the two most likely candidates to get a “promotion” when final roster decisions are made.

The “backup” kickoff coverage unit consisted of Williams, Hardy, Manning, Starr, Baker, Southward, Shuler, Stupar, White and Ford.

The muffed kickoff return by Hester and Williams seemed to be a lack of communication as both players went to field the kick and ran into each other. Apparently, short kicks like that one need to be “called” like fly balls in baseball.

If you’re curious what the team’s depth chart used in the game looked like, here it is:

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Falcons Week Three Preseason Depth Chart vs. Miami Dolphins

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