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Reactions to Falcons-Titans

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

Running Back

What I Saw: Jackson looked solid in this game. Rodgers also looked good, consistently adding two or three yards to the blocking that wasn’t there with the second-team line. He was able to consistently make the first tackler miss on each of his three carries, and got some yards after contact. Snelling didn’t have quite as much luck, and the other backs didn’t play. I thought Ewing had a nice debut as a blocker. While he isn’t overly powerful, he was consistently able to hit his assignments. Jackson fared better when he was on the field. DiMarco worked with the second unit in the second half.

Conclusions?: I’d like to see Ewing get extensive work next week. DiMarco is a solid special teams player, but his blocking ability is nothing special. There’s really nothing left for him to prove. Similar to Davis, Ewing needs the reps that will come next week. He’s basically only played three quarters of football up to this point in a Falcons uniform. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons cut any of the backup running backs this week. Traditionally, Rodgers and Snelling have gotten plenty of reps in the fourth preseason game, although I don’t think they really need it this year. I’d like to see Antone Smith, Vaughn, Wingo, and/or Russell get plenty of carries to see what they are worth.

Wide Receiver

What I Saw: Julio had a pair of drops, as he was letting the passes get into his body a bit too much. That was an issue he had at Alabama, but had seemingly corrected that last year. I thought Douglas made a nice grab in traffic on his lone catchc, but seemed unable to do the same on his second target in the endzone. Darius Johnson looked solid with the second unit and I think has proven himself offensively throughout the preseason with his speed and quickness. He looked very good after the catch on his touchdown. And as a quick slot receiver, I think he has potential worth developing.

Conclusions?: While I think Johnson has impressed offensively, he hasn’t shown that much in coverage on special teams. He offers potential as a return man based off what he did at SMU, but even if he has overtaken the others as the fifth receiver, I’m not sure he’s going to be active on Sundays if he is not trustworthy in coverage. I would give Johnson the edge over Cone as of right now, but I still think it won’t be definitively decided until after next Thursday against Jacksonville.

Tight End

What I Saw: It was nice to see Gonzalez back doing what he does. Coffman had some opportunities with five targets going his way, including one drop. Toilolo still has yet to see a pass go his way. It would be nice next week to see Koetter call a play specifically for him to get something on tape before the regular season starts. Toilolo missed a block in this game. I saw Szczerba give effort as a blocker, although I can’t say he blocked well.

Conclusions?: It appears to be a forgone conclusion that Coffman and Toilolo will be Gonzalez’s backups this year. But I suspect we’ll continue to see the Falcons using an offensive lineman as an extra blocker since neither have really distinguished themselves in that arena. At this point, if a good blocker became available I wouldn’t be averse to the Falcons picking him up and carrying four guys on the roster. I doubt they do that since it’s really a luxury at this point, but the value it would bring I think might be worth it.

Offensive Tackle

What I Saw: Baker struggled throughout the night with Kamerion Wimbley’s speed. I counted two hurries and a pair of pressures against Baker. Holmes also struggled with Derrick Morgan on the opposite side as there were several times where Morgan looked like Cameron Wake blowing past him off the snap. I counted 1.5 sacks allowed by Holmes and 2.5 pressures given up. Some of those sacks and pressures were due to stunts that he and Reynolds looked lost trying to pick up on the right side. It reminded me of the early days of Baker and Blalock on the left side who struggled to deal with stunts, while Dahl and Clabo were seasoned pros. That is something that will only get better as continuity and cohesion builds over time. Schraeder gave up pressure as well when working at left tackle, and then whiffed completely on an overload blitz to his side on a sack when working at right tackle in the fourth quarter. Terren Jones and Alec Savoie both got reps in this game. I didn’t see Jones get beat, but I did see Savoie give up a pressure and miss a block.

Conclusions?: Holmes looks green and it shows on the stunts. Baker’s past play has earned him the benefit of the doubt, but this was not a promising performance from him. Schraeder continues to show some promise as a developmental talent, but in truth his performance through three games is more in line with a player I’d keep on the practice squad rather than someone that has truly earned a roster spot. I still believe the Falcons would help themselves by trying to sign someone else to be the swing tackle this year, and keep Schraeder inactive on Sundays. Jones isn’t good, but his size and strength is at least an asset that Savoie does not possess. So I could see the Falcons trying to keep him on the practice squad for a year or two, hoping that he can refine some of the technical issues he has.

Offensive Guard

What I Saw: I saw Blalock do some nice things when asked to pull, able to locate his assignments. He got whooped a couple of times by Mike Martin in pass protection, and I counted 2 of the sacks on Ryan against him. Blalock wasn’t that bad, it’s just that the times he got beat, he got beat badly. And because he has more starts (94) than the rest of the unit has combined (92 between Baker, Konz, Reynolds, and Hawley), I tend to hold him to a higher standard. Reynolds by default looked relatively good. I don’t think he had a great game, but his mistakes (1.5 pressures, 0.5 hurries) didn’t come until late in the second quarter and third quarter when the Titans started to ramp up the stunts. He gives some ground in pass protection, but not to the degree where it’s really affecting Ryan’s play. I think he was fairly capable as a run blocker as well. The backups in Manley and Gunn didn’t do much. McClendon got some work at left guard in the fourth quarter. He didn’t see a ton of reps with only really one series to go on, but I did see him get some good movement at times. I wished we could have seen him get more reps through the first two weeks at guard.

Conclusions?: In general, I don’t have a very high opinion of Reynolds, but if I’m being objective, he’s outplayed Blalock this preseason, albeit not by any huge degree. I don’t know if that will hold up in the regular season, and given the mediocre perforamnces of Manley and Gunn, I would really like to see the Falcons try and upgrade their depth with a decent insurance policy. Both backups are eligible for the practice squad, and in my opinion have not played at a level beyond that. I’d like to see McClendon get extensive reps at guard next week to see if he might be the upgrade I seek there.

Center

What I Saw: The struggles against the blitz give me some concern in regards to Konz. I think for the most part, Konz did a nice job blocking, although I did count a hurry against him. But the struggles the Falcons had against the stunts and blitzes does rest on Konz’s shoulders to a certain extent. Hawley got second team reps and was OK.

Conclusions?: Konz has shown himself well from the neck down, but last night he was challenged from the neck up and I don’t think he answered the bell to the extent I would have liked. I won’t sit here to draw sweeping conclusions, but how the Falcons handle the blitz will be something to monitor come the regular season. McClure was so good there, and coupled with Ryan’s intelligence, handling the blitz was something that we’ve been able to take for granted the past five seasons.

Defensive End

What I Saw: I counted a pair of hurries from Osi where he was able to move Locker off his spot. Biermann got a pair of sacks, although one was were the pressure from other players flushed Locker into his waiting arms. But the second one was all Biermann, where he beat David Stewart easily. Biermann also made some nice plays in run defense. He had some issues getting off blocks on the edge at times, and does seem a bit more comfortable setting the edge as an end than linebacker. But he made enough plays against the run when he was standing up that I’m not overly concerned about it. Massaquoi and Goodman looked good in the second half, each getting credited with a pressure. I thought Goodman did some good things against the run late in the game when working inside. Maponga also got credited with a hurry on rushing a throw from Fitzpatrick that was completed for no gain.

Conclusions?: Overall, the pass rush looks about the same as it has always seemingly been: lackluster. Based off these three games, I don’t expect Osi and Kroy to be more adept at pressuring QBs than Abe and Kroy were last season. Massaquoi flashes ability, but I don’t expect to contribute anymore than Sidbury has over the years in 2012. And Goodman, while good against a second/third string guard probably isn’t going to make significant contributions during the regular season against starters. Honestly, Maponga hasn’t done much to merit anything beyond a practice squad spot. I suspect he’ll still make the team, but he’ll likely be inactive every Sunday.

Defensive Tackle

What I Saw: Babineaux and Peters played well. Peters got credited with the pressure that flushed Locker into Biermann on the first sack. He also got a sack of his own. Babineaux didn’t do a lot as a pass rusher (1 hurry), but did nice work vs. the run. Jerry was okay in this game. The issue with Jerry is that he always seem a step too late to make the play. When he holds up at the point of attack, he can’t get off the block to make the stop. When he gets off the block, the runner sneaks past him. And when he does manage to show up as a pass rusher, it results in a bone-headed roughing the passer penalty because apparently he is completely unaware of the rules. Robertson has a bit more upside as a pass rusher. Matthews continues to struggle against the run, as he was easily pushed off the ball early in the game on 3rd & 1 conversion by Chris Johnson at the end of the first quarter. He did do some nice things when rushing the quarterback with some quickness to beat backup guards from a 3-technique.

Conclusions?: Peters looks poised to have a good year. I don’t think it’s going to be a great season (a la Babs in his prime), but he certainly looks like he’s ready to earn a lucrative second contract with the team. Robertson typically will flash for a play per game, which is enough to make me believe he has developmental potential. But not enough to think he is ready to be a significant part of the rotation. Matthews has disappointed me this summer and my hopes that he would be another Chauncey Davis are disappearing with his shoddy work against the run. Jerry isn’t terrible and if he made half as much money as he is set to this year, I probably wouldn’t complain much about him. It’s just I know the Falcons can get the same or more value with another player for a quarter of the price.

Linebacker

What I Saw: Welcome back to Spoon. He showed his speed and range once again vs. the run and did some things as a blitzer as well. Dent continues to look better against the run, showing better instincts and do a better job getting off blocks. Bartu made a nice play on his forced fumble, and appears competent in coverage when facing backup tight ends. Worrilow continues to look active and instinctual against the run. James made a play or two there as well.

Conclusions?: I’m not really buying the Bartu hype although I think he’s played more than well enough to earn a roster spot. I think the idea that his play has been good enough to push Nicholas for a starting spot is downright crazy. Maybe he’s shown those things in practice, but I’m just not seeing it in the games. I understand the financial reasons why Nicholas’ job is in jeopardy. But I don’t think any of the young linebackers have shown enough to make me think their play is the reason why his job is in jeopardy. Nicholas’ salary makes him expendable, not necessary the play of the young linebackers. I hope we see extended reps for guys like Banks and Schiller next week.

Cornerback

What I Saw: Alford struggled in this game as a replacement for an injured Asante Samuel at left cornerback. He got beat a number of times. He did manage to break up a couple of passes and got a pick, showing good ball skills. All three of his touchdowns he gave up were on slants where the safety had vacated the spot. On the first two, William Moore and Thomas DeCoud both got sucked up by the run-action and were out of position for the quick throw. On the third, Ishmael had blitzed and disrupted the throw, but the receiver (Michael Preston) made an excellent diving catch. Trufant and McClain were the only other corners I noticed in this game, and relatively played well, although I wouldn’t say either was good.

Conclusions?: If I was disappointed with anything from Alford, it was how slow he looked at times. Before last night, if asked who I thought was the fastest player on the team I would have picked Alford without much thought. But if that’s still the case after last night, then I’m very envious of the speed the Titans have at wide receiver. Last night was indicative of the growing pains that both our young corners will suffer this year.

Safety

What I Saw: I don’t know what is up with William Moore. As mentioned earlier, he bit on one ont he touchdowns. Chris Johnson juked him out of his shoes on one run, and then he looked a little tentative on a pair of hits on Shonn Greene where the runner seemed to get the better of him. After missing that tackle on Torrey Smith last week, overall it just hasn’t been a great preseason for him. DeCoud hasn’t fared that much better either. Although he does get positive credit for getting a hit on Locker that led to Bartu’s forced fumble and his own recovery. Didn’t notice much about the backups besides Motta and Schillinger doing some nice things in run support.

Conclusions?: I’m not overly worried about DeCoud and Moore, but the past two games haven’t been quite good for the latter in particular. I’m still worried about the depth in the event of an injury to either starter.

Special Teams

What I Saw: Shelley had a nice game besides that missed 46-yarder. Not an easy kick. Bosher did a nice job punting. Loved that he was able to pin the Titans inside their own 5 on one kick. Quizz had a nice return on his lone kickoffs, and Douglas also had a good punt return for 20 yards where the Titans punter outkicked the coverage. Coverage wasn’t noteworthy, although my expectation that Alford would make a good gunner seems to be coming true.

Conclusions?: Had Shelley made that kick, there might be a teensy bit of a “kicker controversy.” At least it would have significantly increased the chances Shelley is one some team’s roster by year’s end. We’ll see how things play out, but at this point I don’t think it’s crazy for the Falcons to reserve one of their practice squad spots for him. Teams rarely keep kickers on the practice squad, but given Bryant’s age (the same at which point Jason Elam lost it), why not have his eventual replacement within arm’s reach?

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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