I went back and watch the Atlanta Falcons’ 31-24 win over the Tennessee Titans to evaluate the performances of every single player that saw the field. Here are my takeaways, broken down position-by-position.
What I Saw: The Falcons’ opening series gave everyone a taste of the core elements of what Kyle Shanahan’s offense will look like in 2015. There was a lot of play-action, rollouts and heavily dosage of Julio Jones. Matt Ryan looked like Matt Ryan, executing the offense very effectively for that opening series. He looked for Jones on almost every play and typically found him open with the exception of the one dump off to Patrick DiMarco.
T.J. Yates entered the game as the backup on the next drive and got five series of work. Yates did not look particularly good but upon a closer viewing, his play probably wasn’t as bad as it appeared live. Yates struggled with inaccuracy and poor ball placement throughout the night, throwing too high, low or behind to too many of his receivers. Most of his throws were catchable, but he made his receivers work a bit too hard. Yates’ decision making was pretty spot on for the most part, with no real instances like last summer where he didn’t know who to go. His sack was largely due to Jerome Smith stumbling on his release out of the pocket, which prevented Yates from having a check down, forcing him to hold onto the ball too long. His interception was a good throw to Justin Hardy that the rookie receiver just dropped because he let it into his body.
As the game wore on, Yates looked a lot more comfortable throwing on the move. Part of that might have been due to the fact that when he simply dropped back in the pocket, he was seeing frequent pressure from whomever Tyler Polumbus was supposed to block, which didn’t quite allow him to follow through and step into some throws.
Sean Renfree got reps on two series, but the latter of which saw the Falcons running out the clock, so he only really had the one series of work to start the fourth quarter. Renfree looked good, showing good accuracy, touch and placement on nearly all of his throws. His timing was good on most throws, although he was a beat or two late on a few passes. But working against the Titans’ bench allowed for larger windows since they weren’t covering guys like Marquez Clark tightly. That along with less than ideal zip on a couple of throws are the only real knocks on Renfree, but those are really just nitpicks.
Conclusions: Renfree definitely looked better in the battle of the backups, although he was definitely facing lesser competition and never really had to be concerned with pressure besides one or two unblocked defenders. The one instance where he really saw legit pressure came with an unblocked defender on a rollout and he did an excellent job delivering and taking the hit while delivering to Carlton Mitchell for a nine-yard gain. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to showcase accuracy and timing if he was to work against second-stringers next week against the New York Jets. I think the concern with Renfree going forward is the automatic assumption that many make that since he’s better than Yates indicates that he’s ready to be a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. That is not necessarily the case, but we really won’t know if he’s ready for that leap until he faces stiffer competition.
What I Saw: The Falcons’ running backs were mostly unspectacular, but a lot of that had to do with the fact that there wasn’t much in terms of quality run-blocking throughout the night. Terron Ward started, giving way to Antone Smith on passing downs. Smith’s pass protection looked solid throughout the night. He’s still undersized and will get pushed around a bit, but he hit his assignments and had a key block to pick up a blitzer on Leonard Hankerson’s third-down conversion on the opening drive. Between the two as runners, both Ward and Smith failed to stand out. Both players also worked on kickoff coverage units.
Michael Ford probably looked the best of the group simply because he did a little more creating on his own, showing some power and breaking a few tackles. Jerome Smith was fairly ordinary but had a nice 12-yard run late that was well-blocked.
Conclusions: I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions from these performances. The blocking was mediocre at best and it’s a bit too much of a leap to say anything conclusively about the running backs until you get improvement there. But it does raise some concerns about the Falcons’ depth if Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman don’t return healthy. Ford was probably the most impressive runner and if anyone is going to emerge as a potential “power back” among this group, he’s probably your best candidate. Antone Smith showing improvement in pass protection is important because not being trustworthy there was a big reason why his snaps were limited a year ago.
What I Saw: Patrick DiMarco earned the start and at least by the way the Falcons deployed their fullbacks, suggests that he has a very substantial lead on Collin Mooney. Mooney really didn’t get much action on offense until the fourth quarter with the Falcons utilizing a lot more two-tight-end looks during the second and third quarters instead of a fullback. On the opening possession where DiMarco was playing, they used traditional “21” personnel on I believe every snap. That also indicates that Shanahan’s offense won’t be one that marginalizes the fullback.
As far as their performances go, they were pretty nondescript and competent. They for the most part hit their blocks and assignments. Neither is overly powerful, but I’d probably give DiMarco a slight edge in that department. Both guys also got work on special teams coverage units.
Conclusions: It’s hard to know if the Falcons not using a fullback for the bulk of the middle portion of the game was because they wanted to see more tight ends get reps or because there is a sizable gap between DiMarco and Mooney. We’ll just have to wait and see if anything changes next week against the Jets.
What I Saw: In case you’ve been in a coma for the past few years, Julio Jones is pretty good. Jones did move around the formation a bit to start the game with his touchdown coming on a play where he was lined up in the slot. He made a sick move after the catch to beat Perrish Cox. Roddy White also started but did little on the handful of snaps he played. Leonard Hankerson made a nice catch on third down on the opening drive and was the primary guy rotating in and out of the game with both starters early. Hankerson had a miscommunication with Yates on his first pass, not looking for the ball on a crossing pattern.
Justin Hardy was the next receiver off the bench and got a lot of work in the last three quarters. Hardy had a couple of opportunities that he failed to take advantage of. Yates’ interception was mostly Hardy’s fault thanks to letting the pass get into his body. While Yates’ accuracy didn’t help him, there were one or two catchable passes that Hardy didn’t reel in that he got his hands on. I think those issues have more to do with rapport than anything. And let’s be honest, no one really cares if Hardy and Yates’ rapport is strong, it’s really just about the Hardy-Ryan connection moving forward.
Nick Williams and Eric Weems were the fifth and sixth receivers into the game. Williams made a nice grab in the second quarter on a high throw to Yates and then again on a sliding catch on 4th-and-1. Weems didn’t do much on offense, hauling in a 14-yard grab from Yates on the final drive of the first half, which was probably Yates’ best throw on the night.
Hardy, Bernard Reedy and Carlton Mitchell got the bulk of the work in the third quarter with Marquez Clark getting reps in the fourth quarter. Clark showed good speed and Renfree looked to him quite a bit on a couple of throws. But the others did not really stand out.
Conclusions: Jones looks to be in regular-season form. White got a handful of snaps and Ryan barely looked his way. I’m not sure what I should read into that, but I’ll probably wait until the third preseason game where White should see extensive playing time before really drawing any firm conclusions about how much he has left in the tank. I believe the wide receiver depth for the Falcons is probably the deepest it’s been in a very long time, but that wasn’t obvious based off the various performances. But it was nice to see that everybody (except White) got their hands on at least one pass and it’s something to build off in future games. Hardy’s debut wasn’t as impressive as I expected, but he was by no means bad. He’s got some things to clean up and I suspect he will.
What I Saw: Jacob Tamme did a lot more blocking on the opening drive than receiving, so we didn’t really get the chance to see whether or not he’s going to impact in the passing game. He missed a block here and there. He was being asked to play inline as a Y-tight end which is not really his forte.
The Falcons didn’t really flex any tight ends besides Levine Toilolo on a couple of third downs late in the game. Toilolo had a couple of nice grabs and his blocking was competent although he didn’t blow anybody away there. Tony Moeaki was the first tight end off the bench, and his blocking was solid. He got good initial push on safety Daimon Stafford on Antone Smith’s touchdown run. Moeaki didn’t maintain the block which allowed Stafford to get off and nearly stop Smith before he could stretch across the plane, but at least he got that initial push which wasn’t that common among Falcons tight ends in recent years.
Mickey Shuler spent the bulk of his time working as a blocker in double-tight-end sets with Toilolo in the second and third quarters. D.J. Tialavea got action late and didn’t really stand out as a blocker.
Conclusions: Toilolo had the most number of impact plays, mostly because he was the only one to really get involved in the passing game. Overall, the blocking was functional. There weren’t many instances where Falcons tight ends created substantial push, but there also weren’t many where they themselves got pushed around.
What I Saw: I already mentioned that the run-blocking was unspectacular throughout the night and that goes for everybody from the starters to the third string. The Falcons starters were okay as they didn’t really give up any pressure, although that was probably helped by all the play-action that the team used to open the game. Pressure started to pick up on the second series with Yates at the helm.
Jake Matthews gave up a pressure to Jurrell Casey (surprise, surprise) on that second series on the missed cross to Hankerson thanks to a bad punch. His other main blemish in pass protection came a few plays later when he and James Stone failed to pick up a stunt. Stone released Yannick Cudjoe-Virgl and Matthews failed to pick him up, allowing him to get upfield on the play where Mike Person had a bad snap to Yates. The pressure didn’t really matter thanks to the bad snap, but it could’ve.
Stone didn’t really stand out, but wasn’t bad either. He and Ryan Schraeder did their jobs. Chris Chester gave up pressure to DaQuan Jones on the same play where Matthews was beat by Casey. Chester also had a play or two where he struggled to get leverage against Casey in the run game.
Joe Hawley started the game at center before giving way to Person on the second series. Hawley came back in on the third series at center, while Person kicked over to left guard. All the Falcons centers tended to struggle against the Titans’ nose tackles. Al Woods was able to knock both Hawley and Person in the backfield. Undrafted Titans nose tackle Toby Johnson was straight up kicking butt in the second half when he was facing the likes of Peter Konz and Valerian Ume-Ezeoke. Johnson was probably the best defensive linemen in the entire game on either team, busting up the middle on a couple of plays, anchoring and being immobile in the middle. This performance alone should guarantee he doesn’t clear waivers should he not stick in Tennessee.
Tyler Polumbus probably had the roughest night giving up substantial pressure at right tackle. He struggled against Ropati Pitoitua on the third series, but also gave up pressure to J.R. Tavai a couple of times. He was just giving too much ground and allowing Titans defenders to collapse the edge which was a cause in why Yates’ placement on a couple of throws was so off the mark.
Jake Rodgers fared better at left tackle, but did get beat by Karl Klug for a sack because he set up too deep and gave up the inside counter move. Rodgers did some nice things as a run blocker. Jon Asamoah didn’t exactly set the world on fire working with the backups but did his job.
Among the team’s third-string players, right tackle Pierce Burton was probably the most impressive, making a couple of nice run blocks and faring well in pass protection. Jared Smith looked athletic when he was out on the move but couldn’t get leverage at other times. Matt Huffer was the third-string left tackle and had struggles throughout the night because he was slow off the ball, which allowed players like Mike Martin and Derrick Lott to beat him at the point of attack late in the game.
Eric Lefeld looked decent at left guard, especially relative to others. Adam Replogle was aggressive, but not overly effective. To what should be nobody’s surprise, Konz struggled when he was asked to move and make second-level blocks. That has and always has been Konz’s biggest deficiency: getting out on the move and blocking on the second level. Playing in this zone-blocking scheme only exasperates the problem. Konz wasn’t bad by any means, but he didn’t hit any of his assignments on the second level and that’s a very limiting factor in this scheme where so much of the center’s duties is taking out linebackers to spring cutback lanes for runners.
Conclusions: This game wasn’t the one where Asamoah came out, kicked butt and took back his starting spot. I’m beginning to get the feeling that the Falcons are trying to create a trade market for Asamoah by summer’s end. I still believe he’s the team’s best interior blocker, but Asamoah didn’t have the sort of overwhelmingly good performance coupled with Stone and/or Chester struggling to suggest that he’ll be back starting next week. I believe the Falcons want Stone and Chester to be the starters because they are a little bit more athletic on the move, or at least that seemed to be the case last night but the difference there is minimal.
Person and Konz’s bad snaps leaves depth at center with a lot to be desired. Konz certainly didn’t do himself any favors in terms of indicating that he has turned a corner as a player. The way the team deployed Hawley and Person each with the first team at center suggests that the former is fighting for his starting job, or at least the team is cognizant that his health is an issue and want to know if Person is a viable starter. At least how the Falcons utilized Asamoah and Hawley against the Titans suggests that they may be short-timers with the team, although how short remains to be seen. But at the same time it could be the team tinkering, yet it does raise questions for the remainder of the summer.
Tackle depth still remains a problem largely because of Polumbus’ struggles. The positive is that Rodgers looked decent, but I need to see a lot more to be confident that he’s ready to be the swing tackle. Of the third-stringers, Burton probably gets the nod as the front-runner for a practice-squad spot. Lefeld would be the runner-up there.
What I Saw: Surprisingly the Falcons utilized Vic Beasley in their base package at the LEO spot. That’s a surprise because I don’t expect that to be a regular feature of the defense in the regular season. But that might be because the team is trying to test their rookie’s limits to see if he can hold up as an every-down player. At least from his performance against the Titans, there’s no strong indicator that he was a liability against the run.
Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Ra’Shede Hageman were the other starters in the base package. Jackson and Soliai looked sharp, showcasing power, getting leverage and showing some quickness. Hageman was fairly ordinary compared to the others. He flashed first-step quickness on a few snaps, but on too many other plays seemed to struggle to maintain balance and leverage.
Jonathan Babineaux and Adrian Clayborn’s only snaps came in the team’s nickel sub-package at defensive tackle. Both guys looked quick. Babs wasn’t officially credited with a sack-strip and forced fumble on Marcus Mariota’s fumble, but he probably should have been. He beat Chance Warmack with a nice rip move and speed to get pressure. Clayborn showed good upfield burst but never really got past Andy Levitre on his handful of snaps. O’Brien Schofield also got work in the sub-package opposite Beasley and was decent.
Stansly Maponga was probably the team’s most effective edge-rusher throughout the night. He got a nice sack late in the game against rookie right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, using nice power to collapse the edge. There were plays where he got pushed around a bit, but he was active and you could tell he was trying his best to be “fast and physical” throughout the night.
Malliciah Goodman played both end in the base defense and tackle in the sub-packages. He had a couple of nice plays where he was able to be disruptive up the middle as well as get leverage on the edge against the run. Warren Herring also worked as the strong-side end and tackle in sub-packages, but really only popped on one play where he did a good job stacking and shedding Poutasi at the point of attack.
Grady Jarrett got better as the night went on likely because he was facing lesser blockers. He struggled early at times against the double teams from Titans starters, but he was active and played with his trademark high motor at other times to make plays in pursuit or get late pressure because he consistently plays to the whistle. It wasn’t a bad debut, but there were a few plays where he got pushed around a bit more than you would like.
Joey Mbu did fine against one-on-one blocks as Soliai’s backup at nose tackle in the base package. Derrick Hopkins got some reps at nose tackle but was nondescript. Sam Meredith probably was the most impressive of the third-stringers showing good strength and burst to get leverage at the point of attack somewhat consistently.
Conclusions: It’ll be interesting to see if Clayborn and Babineaux will be solely limited to sub-packages this year like they were against the Titans. They’ll probably dial back Beasley’s snaps in the regular season, but I’m less concerned about his ability to be an every-down player after last night’s performance. We’ll see if that continues. Maponga did well with Cliff Matthews injured and Kroy Biermann spending the bulk of his night at outside linebacker. We’ll see if that also continues.
Meredith probably took an early lead in the competition for a practice-squad spot. Mbu is right there with him. Jarrett flashed potential, but didn’t have quite the splash plays you’d prefer to see.
What I Saw: Biermann got the start instead of an injured Brooks Reed at strong-side linebacker. Biermann also played some defensive end in the team’s nickel sub-package. He had a nice pressure on a bull rush on Robenson Therezie’s interception, bull-rushing Byron Stingily and preventing Zach Mettenberger from following through on the deep ball. That led to an under throw that Jalen Collins broke up and tipped into the hands of Therezie. Neither player were in ideal position on the play and if Mettenberger had made a better throw, it could have been a touchdown. So one can say that Biermann prevented a touchdown, not a bad night.
Paul Worrilow looked fairly sharp at middle linebacker, as I actually saw him beat a lead-blocker (Anthony Fasano) in the hole. His biggest negative play came on the sack by Tyson Jackson where Worrilow bit on the run-action in the backfield and got turned around trying to recover in coverage. Kendall Wright was open over the middle, but because Mariota didn’t see it immediately, he held the ball for a beat too long which allowed Soliai to get pressure and Jackson to finish the play for the sack.
Justin Durant read the screen well for the interception, but in all honesty, he partially owes it to Bishop Sankey not seeing the pass and not making a play on it, allowing Durant to just step in front of him for an easy pick.
Nate Stupar stepped in as reserve middle linebacker and Joplo Bartu was on the weak-side behind Durant. Bartu looked sharp, able to play downhill and made a couple of plays near the line of scrimmage. He got beat on a wheel route, but it was really because he was “rubbed” by Harry Douglas on a slant. Bartu also looked good on punt coverage. Stupar was adequate, but tended to play a bit on his heels when it came to making plays in pursuit or avoiding blockers on the second level.
Allen Bradford had some positive and negative plays as the third-string middle linebacker. He was active and showed good speed and range, but he also seemed to be processing info a bit too slowly and wasn’t always instinctual. He took some bad angles in space, but he was also out there throwing his body around and playing with a physicality that Stupar lacked.
Derek Akunne got a lot of reps at weak-side linebacker and showed good range, but looked undersized at times. He had an opportunity to shoot a gap and make a stop on Antonio Andrews’ touchdown run in the third quarter, but didn’t. Boris Anyama played on the strong-side and on that same play got key-blocked by Titans fullback Jalston Fowler, getting knocked back off the line. Anyama nearly had a sack-strip on Mettenberger in the third quarter, showing good edge speed on one of the handful snaps he had as an end in the nickel sub-package.
Tyler Starr looked solid playing both strong-side and end in the sub-package. Starr did not do a good job setting the edge on Dexter McCluster’s six-yard run in the second quarter, getting pushed back by Hakeem Nicks because he was playing on his heels. There were other plays where Starr did do a nice job setting the edge, including a play earlier in that series where he beat tight end Craig Stevens.
Marquis Spruill got some late snaps in the game, but really didn’t have enough time to do much.
Conclusions: Worrilow looked better against the run in the new scheme. Biermann really isn’t a linebacker given athletic limitations but was functional as a stopgap for Reed. Bartu looked the best among the reserves and his ability to impact on special teams for the first time in his career only enhances his chances of sticking. It’s also worth noting that he was the first backup off the bench, although that could be mostly due to the team wanting to prevent exposing Durant to injury. Starr, Bradford, Akunne, Stupar and Anyama each had their moments, but none consistently played at a level where they’re guaranteed of sticking. But all did enough to think that they can build off this game in upcoming weeks.
What I Saw: One of the problems with evaluating cornerbacks is that you really need to see All-22 tape to properly assess how a guy plays if/when he’s not targeted. Unfortunately, there is no All-22 for preseason games provided to the public. Thus unless a guy is targeted, the automatic assumption is that he did his job. That is not always the case, but without being able to confirm with the All-22, I’m going to have to make similar assumptions for the Falcons’ cornerbacks in this game.
The Falcons played a lot of Cover-3 and zone and many of the receptions they gave up were instances when Titans receivers found soft spots in the zone.
Phillip Adams got the start in place of an injured Desmond Trufant, with Robert Alford starting at right cornerback. Kevin White got reps in the slot with the starters and then later filled in as a right cornerback with the third-string defense. None were really tested by the Titans starting offense. White played aggressive against the run and played well in coverage on the few instances he was challenged. Jonathon Mincy also saw some reps in the second half as the slot cornerback in the nickel, while also getting a few snaps at safety.
Jalen Collins struggled throughout the night. I think he got a rude awakening seeing that while a good athlete, he isn’t quite up to the level where he can solely rely on his athleticism like he probably could in college. He’s not an elite athlete that can get away with sloppy technique and that was proven last night. He should fare better if he can improve at getting his hands on receivers and redirecting them at the line of scrimmage, which I don’t recall seeing him do once against the Titans.
Dezmen Southward didn’t do much as the backup left cornerback. There wasn’t anything overwhelmingly negative but you could see that he’s still trying to get comfortable playing cornerback. Akeem King and Michael Lee got some late reps and their most positive plays came when they were playing off and able to keep things in front of them. That’s not surprising given both were safeties last year in college.
Conclusions: Any hope that Collins would be a quick study probably evaporated last night. It appears that Adams or White will open the season as the nickel corner if there isn’t substantial improvement by Collins. If/when Trufant returns next week, it’ll be interesting to see if White continues to get the starting reps in the slot. I suspect that he will. Southward, King and Lee will have to show substantial improvement as well if they want to make the roster because they are probably on the outside looking in based off this initial performance.
What I Saw: Ricardo Allen looked active and showed good range when playing free safety. He didn’t get many opportunities to impact in coverage but on the occasional plays, he was in good position for the most part. Concerns about his transition to safety from cornerback are abating. William Moore spent a good amount of time in the box on his few snaps, showcasing the dichotomy between the two safety spots. But as the night wore on there was a bit more interchangeability between the free and strong safeties.
Robenson Therezie was the backup free safety spending the bulk of his reps playing deep coverage. Therezie was OK, and it certainly helped his stock that he made that interception. But his lack of range and ideal awareness looked pretty apparent in the game and didn’t look like a good option in the event that Allen goes down. He really wasn’t in position on his pick, and only thinks to Mettenberger’s under thrown pass and a tip from Collins did he pick it off. It was a good play by him, but more of a lucky break than an indicator that he’s a strong option to back up Allen. Kemal Ishmael was active against the run when he was working as the strong safety with Therezie. Later in the game he was re-inserted and started to play a bit more deep coverage.
Charles Godfrey was able to get a pair of forced fumbles, but was questionable in coverage. Neither forced fumble did he get credit for on the stat sheets. The first came on a kickoff, and the second came after he got caught cheating up on a pass to Chase Coffman, letting the Titans tight end get behind him. But Godfrey did a good job making up for it by stripping him and the ball bounced into the end zone. The officials ruled Coffman down, but it was actually a fumble. Godfrey also broke up a pass, but that was really a bad throw/decision by Mettenberger. Godfrey was an example of a guy that both spent time in the box as well as playing center field.
Sean Baker spent most of his time in center field with the third-team defense. But he let Andrew Turzilli get behind him for a touchdown, which is a no-no for the free safety. Turzilli luckily pushed off on White at the top of the route and drew the offensive pass interference to nullify the score. But it did seem that Godfrey started to rotate back for deep coverage a bit more after that play.
Conclusions: Allen and Moore look fine, but the depth is a concern. Therezie seems miscast as a deep safety. Godfrey had some positive moments with a pair of forced fumbles but also looked undisciplined in coverage. That’s definitely not something you want in a backup free safety in the team’s Cover-3 looks. Ishmael is fine as a reserve strong safety, but did nothing in this game to suggest he’s a viable candidate to backup Allen. Unless the backups can get better in coverage, adding a quality free safety might be something the team will have to do at the end of the summer. It seems like every preseason, the Falcons always have questionable depth at safety.
What I Saw: What do I have to say about Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher and Josh Harris? They were their usual solid selves. It was interesting that the Falcons opted to kick all the extra points with Bryant. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues the rest of the summer.
Ward and Williams began the game as the team’s returners with Reedy and Clark getting looks in the second half. The Titans punted only once with Justin Hardy back to return. Nobody really did anything as a returner to draw much attention.
As mentioned before, Bartu had a nice couple of plays on punt coverage. Weems and Allen both worked as the up back on punts and both did a good job in coverage as well. Adams and Collins started the game off as the gunners on punt coverage, with Hardy, Mitchell and Therezie also getting reps there.
Weems, Collins, Hankerson, Moeaki, Antone Smith, Stupar, Toilolo, Ishmael, Alford and DiMarco were the “starting” kickoff coverage unit. Ishmael, Stupar, Toilolo, Biermann, Bradford, DiMarco and Weems were the “starters” along with Adams and Collins on the punt coverage unit.
Mitchell, Hardy, Mooney, Bartu, Akunne, Anyama, and Allen were the players that I noticed get work both on kickoff and punt coverage. Several other players got work on either unit, but I think it’s notable that those guys got work on both units. That indicates that the team wants to give them opportunities to carve out roles on special teams.
Conclusions: A couple of nice plays by Godfrey, Bradford, Bartu, Weems and Allen in coverage. We’ll continue to see how the Falcons mix and match with different coverage units in the coming weeks. But there’s no doubt that plays made on special teams will determine some roster spots, but it’s too early right now to say which players have made them thus far.