Falcons Offense Struggles in 17-6 Preseason Loss to Dolphins

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan

Editor’s Note: This recap is a day late.

The Falcon suffered their first loss of the 2016 preseason with a 17-6 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. The game was played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando due to renovations to the Dolphins’ home stadium. The Falcons offense struggled in the game with too many untimely turnovers and an inability to maintain drives.

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Matt Schaub

Quarterback Matt Ryan’s evening was blighted by an inopportune red-zone turnover on the team’s second possession. He played the entire first half and one series in the second half, finishing the night with 129 yards passing while completing 12 of 22 passes. Matt Schaub replaced him and completed 10 of 11 passes for 109 yards, with Sean Renfree playing mop-up duty with seven completions on 10 pass attempts for 35 yards.

On the ground, Brandon Wilds led the team with a paltry 11 yards rushing on three carries. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both failed to find little room with the starters, gaining eight yards on five carries and six yards on three carries, respectively.

In the air, tight end Austin Hooper led the receivers with five catches for 50 yards. Aldrick Robinson also led the team with 70 yards receiving on a trio of receptions. Nick Williams and J.D. McKissic each added three catches for 36 and 16 yards, respectively.

Kicker Shayne Graham scored the team’s only points with a pair of field goals from 39 and 53 yards out. Matt Bosher punted three times for an average of 41.7 yards with two placed inside the 20-yard line. McKissic looked sharp returning kickoffs with 79 yards on a pair of returns, while Devin Fuller added one return for 12 yards. McKissic also returned his lone punt for nine yards while Eric Weems had a pair of punt returns for a combined eight yards.

The Falcons gained 292 total yards in the game and struggled on third downs by only converting three of 14 attempts. They also tried to go for it on four fourth downs, managing to convert just one of them. The team finished with just 31 rushing yards, with the starters gaining just 14 on six possessions. The team suffered a pair of turnovers with an interception and fumble. The fact that the team wound up with just two turnovers was fortunate given that they only lost one of four fumbles on the night. The Falcons also failed to convert on their one trip into the red zone.

Defensively the Falcons allowed 304 yards from the Dolphins, who managed to convert half of their 14 third-down tries. They also were successful in converting their lone attempt on fourth down. The Dolphins also scored touchdowns on two of their four red-zone trips.

Linebacker Philip Wheeler led the team with eight tackles on defense. Cornerback Robert Alford (four tackles, one pass breakup); safety Ricardo Allen (three tackles, one pass breakup); defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman (one tackle, one pass breakup); defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (three tackles, one tackle for loss); linebacker Deion Jones (five tackles, one quarterback hit); safety Keanu Neal (five tackles, one tackle for loss); safety Damian Parms (four tackles); linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (seven tackles, one tackle for loss); cornerback Desmond Trufant (one tackle, one interception, two pass breakups); linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (six tackles, two tackles for loss) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (five tackles) all had notable performances.

Weems tried to set the tone early, teaming with Reynolds on the opening kickoff for a vicious hit on Dolphins running back Damien Williams after a 15-yard kickoff return.

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Ryan Tannehill breaks loose on a 22-yard run

However that positive play was reversed when Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill took a read-option play for 22 yards on the first play from scrimmage, after Adrian Clayborn bit hard on the run action. Falcons rookie safety Neal got the first two tackles of his NFL career on the next two plays, bringing down tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Jay Ajayi after a pair of six-yard gains that got the Dolphins a new set of downs. Two plays later, Jarrett and Deion Jones teamed on an Ajayi run to stuff him for no gain to set up a 3rd-and-5 situation. Dolphins wideout Kenny Stills beat Trufant on a comeback for an eight-yard competition to get the ball into Falcons territory. But on the next play, Brooks Reed deflected a Tannehill pass that tipped high into the air and into the waiting arms of Trufant for an interception. The Falcons then took over at their 24-yard line.

On the opening play, pressure up the middle by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips forced Ryan to check it down to Freeman for a gain of four yards. Ryan then hit Julio Jones on a quick slant for a 17-yard gain. Freeman was unable to find daylight on a pair of runs up the middle, gaining just one combined yard, giving way to a 3rd-and-9 situation for the Falcons near midfield. On third down, pressure from both edges flushed Ryan out of the pocket and his throw to Jones in the flat was off target. Bosher’s 39-yard punt forced a fair catch from Jakeem Grant at the Dolphins 15-yard line.

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Desmond Trufant drops a would-be second interception

On first down, Jarrett and Clayborn knifed through the backfield, stringing out a run with Neal and De’Vondre Campbell teaming to make the stop for a loss of four yards. The Dolphins gained some back with a five-yard slant to wide receiver DeVante Parker to set up a 3rd-and-9. Dolphins wideout Jarvis Landry got in front of Campbell to convert on an 11-yard catch and run to give his team a new set of downs. But Landry pushed his team back 10 yards on the next play thanks to an offensive pass interference call while trying to block on a screen to Stills. Late pressure up the middle on the next play by Jones and Jonathan Babineaux caused an errant throw by Tannehill behind his intended receiver, Stills, which nearly resulted in Trufant’s second interception of the game but the ball bounced off the corner’s chest. Cameron dropped Tannehill’s quick throw on third down and the Dolphins were forced to punt. After a five-yard return by Weems, the Falcons started with favorable field position at their 40-yard line.

Tevin Coleman got the carry to start the next drive, gaining three yards on a run to the left. But that was followed up by a poorly executed screen, with linebacker Jelani Jenkins tripping him up in the backfield for a loss of five yards. On the subsequent 3rd-and-12, Justin Hardy beat cornerback Byron Maxwell on a slant but was dragged down after an 11-yard gain, a yard shy of the sticks. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 at their 49-yard line, but center Alex Mack was beat by Ndamukong Suh and Coleman was wrapped up in the backfield via a loss of one yard. Miami took over at Atlanta’s 48-yard line.

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Keanu Neal injures his knee after a stiff arm from Arian Foster

Tannehill was able to avoid oncoming pressure from Reed and Tyson Jackson and hit tight end Dion Sims for a nine-yard gain to start the subsequent drive. Two plays later Tannehill to avoid late pressure from Clayborn checked it down to Arian Foster in the flat, who was able to stiff-arm Neal in the open field and gain 16 yards. Neal exited the game with a right knee injury. Foster then bounced a play outside for a six-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds by Weatherspoon, putting the Dolphins in the red zone for the first time. Two plays later a botched snap by rookie center Anthony Steen caused a loss of four yards. That led to a 3rd-and-12 two plays later where Still was able to make a leaping grab in front of Trufant for a 10-yard gain to bring the first quarter to a close.

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Foster gets past Ricardo Allen for a touchdown

The Dolphins opted to go for it on 4th-and-3 at the five-yard line and that decision paid off when Foster beat Worrilow on a quick throw into the flat for four yards. Weatherspoon then penetrated to stop Foster in the backfield for a one-yard loss on the next play, which was followed by another incompletion to Cameron. This time the ball bounced off the tight end’s hands with Neal’s replacement, Parms, in tight coverage on a slant in the end zone. But on the next play, Foster was able to bounce to the edge and avoid a tackle by Ricardo Allen to score on a two-yard run to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead with 13:51 left in the second quarter.

To start the next drive, Ryan took a deep shot to Jones off play-action. Despite the ball falling to the turf incomplete, Jones was contacting by cornerback Brice McCain to draw the pass interference call and giving the Falcons 44 yards of field position. Jones however would exit the game with a noticeable limp. Two plays later a defensive holding call on linebacker Kiko Alonso gave the Falcons a first down at the Dolphins 23-yard line. A two-yard run by Freeman and a dropped pass by the running back brought about a 3rd-and-8. Jacob Tamme then broke open over the middle for a 13-yard gain to get the conversion and put the Falcons in the red zone. Ryan’s next pass was thrown in the dirt in order to avoid a sack. He then tried to hit Aldrick Robinson on a quick out, but the pass was too far ahead of the receiver on the outside. On the very next play, Ryan stared down Tamme and tried to force a pass that Dolphins safety Reshad Jones read the whole way. Jones picked it off at the goal line and returned it 17 yards to get the Dolphins a much-needed red-zone stop.

Landry dropped a quick out on first down, which was followed by Jarrett busting up a run to Ajayi for a loss of two yards. Pressure up the middle by Jarrett forced a quick check down to Ajayi, which Campbell had well covered for a six-yard gain on 3rd-and-12, forcing the Dolphins to punt for the first time.

The Falcons quickly faced a 3rd-and-3 on the ensuing drive thanks to a pair of short gains by Freeman on a run and throw from Ryan. The Dolphins blitzed and protection collapsed preventing Ryan from getting enough on the throw over the middle to Robinson, which was undercut and knocked away by Maxwell. Bosher’s 43-yard punt was returned by Grant, who nearly busted a huge gain if not for a timely tackle by Falcons long snapper Josh Harris to limit him to a 17-yard gain.

On the ensuing first down, Tannehill delivered a nice throw to over the middle to Stills for a gain of 15 yards. Three plays later on 3rd-and-2, Tannehill completed a pass over the middle to Parker, who was chased down by Robert Alford, but not before forward progress gave him a first down on a three-yard gain. Three plays later the Dolphins faced another manageable 3rd-and-3 situation. But a checkdown in the flat to running back Isiah Pead was quickly bottled up by Jones and Alford for a loss of four yards and the Dolphins were forced to punt with 4:08 left on the second-quarter clock.

On the fourth play of the ensuing series, Ryan found a streaking Robinson down the sideline for a gain of 36 yards off play action. The Falcons tried another play-action play on a bootleg but Ryan’s 37-yard throw downfield to Hardy was a bit too far out of bounds for the young receiver to reel it in for a completion. A quick screen to Mohamed Sanu in the flat gained 10 yards to get the Falcons a first down on the next play and get the ball to the Dolphins’ 30-yard line. Ryan tried to hit Robinson on a slant but the receiver couldn’t make the diving grab over the middle. Sanu made a nice grab on second down for a gain of nine yards to set up a 3rd-and-1 as the two-minute warning hit. Ryan tried to make a back-shoulder throw to Hardy along the sideline, but the ball was a bit too far out of the reach of the diving receiver. The Falcons opted to settle for three points from Graham, who nailed a 39-yard field goal to put the team on the board down 7-3 with 1:52 left in the first half.

Tannehill tried a deep shot of his own to Parker on the outside, who got past C.J. Goodwin, who also slipped on the play trying to play the ball in the air. But luckily Allen was there to deliver a blow to Parker that separated the receiver from the ball and the pass was incomplete. Landry then made a nice move after the catch on the next play, gaining nine yards. The Dolphins converted the ensuing 3rd-and-1 with another pass to Landry, who got by Alford over the middle for a 16-yard gain. With the Dolphins in their no-huddle attack, Alford did a nice job deflecting a pass to Parker along the sideline to stop the clock at 42 seconds. Pead converted the ensuing 2nd-and-10 with a 12-yard gain on a slant before the Dolphins called their second timeout of the half with 35 seconds left. Tannehill overthrew Stills down the seam on the next play, but the Falcons were flagged for two penalties in the secondary. Trufant was flagged for pass interference for grabbing Stills and Goodwin was also flagged on the opposite side of the field for illegal contact. Hageman then did a nice job penetrating and batting down a pass to bring about a 2nd-and-10 with 26 seconds left remaining. Stills got the conversion on an in-breaking route for a gain of 14 yards, with Tannehill then hurrying to the line to the line to spike the ball and stop the clock with 11 seconds to go in the half. Damien Williams slipped on the swing pass in the flat for a gain of no yards and the Dolphins used their last timeout to preserve three seconds on the clock to attempt a 37-yard field goal. Andrew Franks’ subsequent kick was shanked and fell short, ending the half with the Dolphins still preserving their 7-3 lead.

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Austin Hooper gets flipped by Michael Thomas, resulting in a fumble

McKissic had a nice 30-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Ryan came out of the locker room for another series in the hopes of getting the offense back on track. Things didn’t start so favorably with Ryan missing on a throw to a crossing Sanu off a rollout. On the next play, Ryan connected with a crossing Hooper over the middle on a nice leaping grab. But Hooper was chopped down by Dolphins safety Michael Thomas after a 23-yard gain and the ball came loose, with Thomas recovering. Initially Hooper was ruled to be down by contact, but after Dolphins head coach Adam Gase challenged the ruling, it was overturned as the ball clearly came out before Hooper hit the turf and the Dolphins had another turnover. Miami took over at their 46-yard line with 14:15 left in the third quarter.

Backup quarterback Zac Dysert entered the game for the Dolphins to start the second half. Running back Damien Williams found a cutback lane on the edge and sprinted for a 13-yard gain before being yanked down by Robenson Therezie after going out of bounds, drawing a horse-collar tackle and tacking on another 15 yards to put the ball at the Falcons 26-yard line. Williams lost seven yards on his next carry thanks to penetration by Hageman, who disrupted the play that Courtney Upshaw and Wheeler finished off. Two plays later, Dysert hit wide receiver Griff Whalen over the middle for a 20-yard gain to convert a 3rd-and-11 and get the ball down to the Falcons seven-yard line. Akeem King slipped on a quick slant to Leonte Carroo, which gained five yards. Williams finished the drive with a two-yard run up the middle to push Miami’s lead to 14-3 after a six-play, 54-yard scoring drive.

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J.D. McKissic

McKissic once again found some space on the kickoff return taking it 49 yards before being dragged down from behind by Rashaad Melvin and the kicker Marshall Koehn. The Falcons saw enough of Ryan and put Schaub into the game, whose first play was a seven-yard toss to Cyrus Gray. Gray couldn’t find room on the next play, getting dropped for a one-yard loss to bring about a 3rd-and-4. Schaub connected with Hooper, who made a sliding five-yard catch to get the conversion. Then the Falcons faked a reverse with Schaub looking deep, but his intended target never came open and he was forced to throw a swing pass to Nick Williams for a loss of one yard. Brandon Wilds gained six yards to give the Falcons a manageable 3rd-and-5 on the next down. But the Falcons opted to run a draw play to Wilds for a gain of two yards, leading to a 53-yard field-goal try. Graham booted it almost perfectly down the middle and the Falcons cut the lead to 14-6 with 7:15 left in the third quarter.

The Dolphins got an easy third-down conversion on their next series thanks to a delay of game penalty against Goodwin. Sharrod Neasman made a nice tackle in the flat against Damien Williams to limit him to a two-yard gain on a check down on the next play. Williams then got to the edge, beating Brian Poole and Goodwin to gain nine yards and get the first down. Nordly Capi and Upshaw were able to get pressure on the next play, tripping Dysert up after he tried to scramble for a one-yard gain to bring about a 2nd-and-9. Two plays later Dysert found more room on his scramble, gaining nine yards before sliding to convert a 3rd-and-9. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn challenged the spot of the ball, but the ruling on the field stood after the review. Wide receiver A.J. Cruz got behind Wheeler to gain 19 yards on a Dolphins rollout. Dysert was unable to find an open receiver on the next two plays, scrambling for a combined eight yards to bring about a 3rd-and-2. He found a wide open receiver in tight end Dominique Jones on the next play who walked into the end zone for a 17-yard score, but Jones was able to come open thanks to a pick by Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Shippen against Neasman, with Shippen drawing the offensive pass interference flag and wiping out the score. That pushed the Dolphins back 10 yards and Dysert was unable to connect with Shippen on a comeback with Jalen Collins blanketing him in tight coverage. Koehn came on and hit a 45-yard field goal to push Miami’s lead to 17-6 after a long 12-play, 48-yard scoring drive with 1:09 left in the third quarter.

The Falcons began their next series at their nine-yard line thanks to an illegal block in the back penalty by Wheeler on the ensuing kickoff. Schaub hit Robinson to start the series for a 22-yard gain. Schaub then threaded the needle to Nick Williams, who made a nice diving grab for 19 yards on the final play of the third quarter.

To start the fourth quarter at midfield, center Mike Person was flagged for a holding call which pushed the Falcons back 10 yards. Schaub then threw behind Williams on a slant before getting decked by defensive tackle Julius Warmsley after he beat right guard Wes Schweitzer with a swim move for a seven-yard sack. On the ensuing 3rd-and-20 a screen to Gray went for nine yards and the Falcons and the Falcons were punting once more.

Brandon Doughty replaced Dysert in the game and his first play was a handoff to Daniel Thomas that was busted up by Reynolds, who shoot through a gap to make the tackle in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Wheeler then popped Whalen after a seven-yard completion to bring about 3rd-and-5. Doughty was hit from behind by Capi, forcing his pass to hit the turf well underthrown of his intended target to cause a three-and-out and punt with 11:33 left in the game.

Schaub connected with Williams on his first pass of the subsequent drive, who then broke a tackle and wound up with an 18-yard gain to put the ball in Dolphins territory. A holding call on Hooper pushed the Falcons 10 yards after a five-yard run by Gray which was followed by a false start on Schweitzer. Schaub then hit Hooper over the middle for 14 yards before hitting Robinson on the sideline for 12 yards to get the lost yardage back. Two plays later a bad shotgun snap by Person caused the Falcons to lose six yards, bringing about 3rd-and-14. McKissic then made a great adjustment in the air to make a leaping grab for nine yards, prompting the Falcons to go for it on 4th-and-5 at the Dolphins 32-yard line. But Person skipped another shotgun snap past Schaub’s feet, prompting a loss of 14 yards. Miami took over at their 46-yard line with 6:36 left in the game.

The Dolphins began to milk time off the close with a trio of runs by Daniel Thomas on the subsequent drive. On the first, Thomas gained seven yards thanks to Malliciah Goodman sliding off the tackle. But the Falcons run defense subsequently got their act together with defensive tackle Cory Johnson leading a group of Falcons tacklers to get a stop for a loss of three yards, followed by Parms getting Thomas down after a one-yard run. Falcons defensive ends Capi and Ife Obada converged on Doughty in the pocket, who flipped it forward to Thomas before he was hit by Reynolds for a gain of two yards on 3rd-and-12 to force another Dolphins punt.

Starting their drive at their eight-yard line, the Falcons inserted Renfree into the game at quarterback. He completed his first two passes to McKissic and Gray for a combined eight yards, bringing up 3rd-and-2 with the Falcons now operating out of the no huddle. Josh Perkins then broke open on a whip route and gained 12 yards to get the Falcons only their second third-down conversion of the half. Dolphins defensive end Cedric Reed then beat right tackle Bryce Harris for a sack, dropping Renfree just before the two-minute warning hit. Renfree connected to Perkins again over the middle for a 13-yard but when he tried on the subsequent 3rd-and-2, his pass was thrown high and behind. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th-and-2 at their 36-yard line with 1:39 left in the game. Renfree was able to draw the Dolphins offset but still managed to complete a pass to David Glidden on the free play for a gain of five yards. Renfree was unable to connect on his next two passes to bring about a 3rd-and-10 with 1:29 left in the game. With pressure oncoming, Renfree delivered a nice throw to a crossing Glidden, who was popped by safety Shamiel Gary and jarred the ball loose. Dolphins cornerback Lafayette Pitts scooped up the loose ball before going out of bounds at the Falcons 32-yard line. But the officials reviewed the play and deemed that Pitts did not secure the ball before going out of bounds and the resulting play wound up by deemed a four-yard catch followed by fumble for a loss of nine yards. The Falcons retained possession for a 4th-and-12 with 1:15 left in the game. Renfree got hit low just after throwing it to Hooper along the sideline for a gain of six yards and the Dolphins took over at the Falcons 38-yard line with 1:08 left in the game.

After a pair of kneel downs the game was over with the Dolphins prevailing 17-6.

The Falcons’ preseason record falls to 2-1 with a chance to close things out positively with a win at home in the Georgia Dome next Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Falcons played the Jaguars for five consecutive preseasons between 2010 and 2014 with their only win in that span coming in 2014. That win was the first time the Falcons had beaten the Jaguars in an exhibition game since 2005, with the former suffering six consecutive losses to the latter in the meantime.

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