Titans’ pass rush swallows Falcons

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan was sacked five times vs. Tennessee

The Falcons remain winless in the 2013 exhibition season as they dropped another game to the Tennessee Titans by a score of 27-16. The Falcons starters struggled to produce points on their limited redzone opportunities.

Matt Ryan led the Falcons, completing 11 of 19 passes for 138 yards. He saw ample pressure as he was sacked five times in just over a half of play. He gave way to Dominique Davis in the third quarter, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception. On the ground, Steven Jackson led the team with 51 yards on 12 carries. Davis added 45 of his own on a pair of attempts. Julio Jones and Darius Johnson tied for the team lead with 4 receptions each for 81 and 62 yards, respectively. Johnson had a touchdown, the Falcons’ only of the night. Chase Coffman and Tony Gonzalez also got into the act with a pair of catches each for 24 and 21 yards, respectively. Jackson also had a trio of receptions for 15 yards. Jeremy Shelley worked in for Matt Bryant, who sat out the game with back spasms. Shelley connected on 3 of 4 field goal tries from 27, 31, and 32 yards. He missed a 46-yarder. Matt Bosher had 4 punts for an average of 51 yards with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers had a lone kickoff return of 32 yards, while Harry Douglas returned a pair of punts for a combined 22 yards. The Falcons offense struggled to protect their quarterbacks, allowing six sacks on the night from the Titans defense. They struggled on third downs, converting on 4 of 12 attempts for the game, with the starters only converting 1 of 7 tries. They did not convert touchdowns on any of their three redzone tries.

Defensively, the Falcons got off to a good start but could not maintain that early momentum. They allowed the Titans to convert half of their fourteen third down tries, and also allowed touchdowns on 3 of 4 redzone attempts. They did force a pair of Titans turnovers and did manage to generate 10 points off them. Kroy Biermann led the group with 7 tackles, including a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss. Robert Alford (6 tackles, 3 pass deflections), Joplo Bartu (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble), Thomas DeCoud (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery), Akeem Dent (6 tackles), William Moore (6 tackles), Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss), Desmond Trufant (4 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (3 tackles) had notable games.

On the first play from scrimmage, the Falcons fed Steven Jackson for an 11-yard gain. Matt Ryan then followed that up with a 7-yard completion to Tony Gonzalez, who was getting his first action of the preseason. The Falcons would continue to feed Jackson, who had three more carries for a combined 18 yards after the Falcons crossed into Titans territory. Jackson’s legs got the ball to the Titans 6-yard line after a 4-yard catch from Ryan. But on the next play on 3rd & 3, pressure forced Ryan to step up in the pocket, where he was sacked by Moise Fokou and Karl Klug. That forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal, a 27-yarder from Jeremy Shelley to take an early 3-0 lead. The Falcons went 71 yards on 11 plays on that opening drive.

The Falcons defense stepped up on the ensuing Titans series. On the fourth play, pressure from a blitzing Thomas DeCoud flushed Jake Locker out of the pocket. While scrambling downfield, he was hit by Joplo Bartu, forcing a fumble that was recovered by a hustling DeCoud. The Falcons’ offense took over at the Titans’ 47-yard line. Ryan found Harry Douglas on a 16-yard completion, followed by an 8-yard catch from Julio Jones to put the Falcons back in the redzone. On 3rd & 2, a defensive pass interference call on Alterraun Verner, working against Jones gave the Falcons a new set of downs at the 16-yard line. But again three plays later the Falcons were stopped short of the endzone, after Ryan’s pass was too high for Douglas. Shelley trotted out onto the field to make a 31-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 6-0 lead with 4:20 left in the first quarter.

The Titans were barely able to move the ball after an illegal block penalty on Verner during the kickoff started them at their own 8-yard line. After Locker’s pass over the middle to Taylor Thompson was too high, the Titans were forced to punt after a six-play series. The Falcons took over with just under a minute to go in the first quarter. Ryan hooked up with Jones once more for a 42-yard play down the sideline, beating Verner on a go route just before the quarter ended. At the start of the second quarter, Jones dropped a second down pass. Ryan then dumped the ball off to Jason Snelling for a 5-yard gain on 3rd & 11 to try and get Shelley into better field goal range. But Shelley’s 46-yard attempt sailed wide right and the Falcons could not capitalize. The Titans offense finally got into gear, starting out the ensuing drive on their own 36-yard line. Kenny Britt beat both Falcons rookie corners on a pair of catches for a combined 34 yards. After a 19-yard run by Chris Johnson, the Titans found themselves at the Falcons’ 11-yard line. After a 4-yard run by Johnson, Locker found Nate Washington on a slant in the back of the endzone, beating Alford for a touchdown. The Titans took a 7-6 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in the half.

The Falcons offense responded with a three-and-out, with Ryan getting sacked on third down by Jurrell Casey and Kamerion Wimbley. After the punt, the Titans’ offense would find success, as a 17-yard catch by Nate Washington pushed them into Falcons territory on the fourth play of the drive. Three plays later on 3rd & 5, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Peria Jerry for a late hit on Locker gave the Titans a new set of downs at the Falcons’ 21-yard line. But Kroy Biermann was able to step up a few plays later and get a coverage sack on Locker and force a Rob Bironas field goal. Bironas hit from 39 yards, stretching the Titans lead to four points, 10-6.

The Falcons offense started to move the ball a bit on the ensuing drive. Ryan hit Jones on a 20-yard pass. After two consecutive incompletions to Jones, Ryan found Jackson on a dumpoff, who ran after the catch for 11 yards to convert a 3rd & 10 as the two-minute warning hit. That marked the Falcons first third down conversion of the game not via penalty. But Drew Davis then dropped a pass over the middle on the next play, which was followed by a Derrick Morgan sack. On 3rd & 18, Sam Baker was called for holding on a Ryan incompletion and the Falcons were forced to punt from their own 46-yard line. On the second play of the Titans’ drive, Nate Washington beat Alford for a 34-yard catch down the sideline. Biermann dropped Locker for another sack on the next play. Alford would respond by breaking up a pass to Britt on third down to force a Bironas field goal. Bironas would hit from 53 yards to give the Titans a 13-6 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the first half. Ryan would be sacked by Mike Martin on first down, and the Falcons would let the remaining seconds tick off the clock, content with their 6-point deficit at halftime.

Chris Johnson would start the Titans’ drive off well in the third quarter, breaking a 20-yard run on 3rd & 1 to break into Falcons’ territory. But the Falcons’ defense stepped up after that point. Kroy Biermann would trip up Johnson on the ensuing play for a 1-yard loss. That was followed by Corey Peters swallowing up Johnson on a screen pass for a 5-yard loss. Peters would then sack Locker as he tried to step up in the pocket on the next play, forcing the Titans to punt. The Falcons starters remained in the game, but did nothing on the ensuing drive with a three-and-out. Thanks to pressure from Jurrell Casey, who sacked Ryan on third down. On the second play of the Titans’ next drive, Alford would struggle again, this time with Michael Preston streaking by him for a 56-yard catch from Ryan Fitzpatrick. On the next play, Justin Hunter would beat Alford on another slant for a 3-yard touchdown. The Titans now had a 20-6 lead with just under 8 minutes to go in the third quarter. Dominique Davis came into the game, and seemingly sparked the Falcons offense with a 43-yard scramble on his first third down. After a 19-yard catch by Kevin Cone two plays later, the Falcons once again found themselves in the redzone. But then pressure got to Davis and he was forced to throw it away on 3rd down to force the Falcons to settle for another field goal. Shelley this time hit from 32 yards out to make the score 20-9.

The defense stepped up, as Robert Alford stepped in front of a Fitzpatrick pass on the first play of the Titans’ series. That gave the Falcons good field position at the Tennessee 41-yard line. The Falcons couldn’t move the ball until Davis found Darius Johnson on a crossing pattern on third down. Johnson shook a pair of tacklers and ran 41 yards for a touchdown. That cut the Titans lead to four points with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter.

A holding penalty closed out the third quarter for the Titans, setting up a 1st & 20 from their own 20-yard line to start the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick would scramble 19 yards to convert a 3rd & 14 three plays later. He would then scramble again for a 10-yard gain on the next play putting the ball in Falcons’ territory. But the Falcons defense would hold and force a Titans punt. On the second play of the Falcons ensuing series, Dominique Davis threw an ill-advised pass over the middle to Chase Coffman, which was picked off by Jonathan Willard. That gave the Titans great field position at the Falcons own 22-yard line. The Titans then relied on the legs of running back Jackie Battle who had five straight carries to get the ball to the Falcons’ 6-yard line. Then Fitzpatrick found Preston for the score, beating Alford for the third touchdown on the evening on another slant.

Down 27-16, the Falcons took over with less than eight minutes to go in the game. On the fifth play of the drive, Davis found Coffman down the seam for a 19-yard gain that put the ball into Titans’ territory. Davis then hooked up with Darius Johnson twice for a pair of 6-yard catches. But the Falcons didn’t move the ball further, as on the ensuing third down Davis was sacked by Kadarron Anderson, forcing a Bosher punt. That punt was however downed by Jacquizz Rodgers at the Titans’ 3-yard line after a fortuitous bounce. But the Titans with less than 4 minutes remaining opted to run out the clock. Battle got a trio of carries to run the clock down to the two-minute warning. After another rush for a single yard, the Titans knelt twice to end the game.

The Falcons will follow up for their preseason finale at home this Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will mark the third time the Falcons have faced the Jaguars in the preseason finale under Mike Smith. Both previous matchups resulted in Falcons losses.

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