Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 2 vs. Texans
August 17th, 2014
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Just like last week, I’m breaking down any and every player that stood out to me (or didn’t) in the Atlanta Falcons preseason loss to the Houston Texans. Since there are so many players, I’ve separated them by position group. Brew a cup of coffee and sit back, because we’re going to be here for a while.
What I Saw: It’s hard to be critical of Matt Ryan’s performance in this game. His numbers weren’t good, but he didn’t play poorly. He missed on the first big throw to Julio Jones down the sideline, throwing too far outside which made it hard for Julio to keep both feet in bounds. He then had two more incompletions because of what I’d call lackadaisical effort by Roddy White. His last incompletion wasn’t an ideally placed pass on an in cut by Jones, but more often than not, Julio wins in those sort of traffic situations.
The Falcons backup quarterback play was erratic at best, and just plain horrible at worst. Sean Renfree had a nice stat-line, but got help from defensive penalties that nullified a couple of bad throws and decisions. Renfree had a couple of overthrows and inaccurate passes that he should have hit on. But he fared much better than T.J. Yates, who had a very rough game with two picks. The first, a pick-six, I’d blame mainly on Julian Jones who didn’t even look for the ball on a miscommunication. The second pick was 100 percent on Yates. It was a 2nd-and-18, and Yates was looking for a first down from Jabin Sambrano, throwing late over the middle. Texans linebacker Max Bullough read the throw the entire way and made an easy pick. On that play, Yates had easier completions on check downs to Tramaine Thompson, Jerome Smith or Brian Wozniak that could have gained a few easy yards and set up a more manageable third down. Obviously, Yates got too aggressive and the Falcons paid for it.
Jeff Mathews saw his first action of the summer, and got to show off his arm talent. But on just a handful of plays, it’s not fair to be too judgmental of his play. He had a dropped pass from Freddie Martino and a poorly run route by Thompson that counted as two incompletions. And also had a completed pass to Martino wiped out by a blocking penalty on Mike Johnson. He’ll need to earn more reps to really give a fair evaluation.
Conclusion: Overall, it was a rough night for Falcons quarterbacks. While one can certainly say Renfree is ahead in the backup quarterback competition with Yates playing so poorly, I would not say that Renfree has played at a level where he’s deserving of being the No. 2 right now. At this juncture, the Falcons need to begin to explore their options elsewhere, unless someone makes a major leap forward over the next two games. I do believe that Renfree and Yates respective work with the second and third teams did have an impact on their performances. But I won’t deny that I’m a bit of a Yates apologist. Hopefully he’ll play much better next week if given the chance.
What I Saw: Jacquizz Rodgers seemingly didn’t get a ton of work, with the Falcons content to give Antone Smith longer looks with the first-team offense. Rodgers did a fine job on his three runs.
As for Smith, he had a couple of nice runs, but I did notice that he didn’t seem to get extra yards beyond his blocking. Smith is a speed freak that is dangerous in space, but may not have the sort of lateral agility and vision that will make him more than a change-of-pace, situational runner.
Josh Vaughan looked a little better than he did last week, but still needs to improve in pass protection. Jerome Smith got some late work, but like Mathews, not enough to really draw any major conclusions from. Hopefully he’ll last until the fourth preseason game, where he might have a chance to shine.
Devonta Freeman was the most impressive of the running backs, making several nice runs where he did get yardage beyond his blocking. He had a 23-yard touchdown wiped off the board, which was one of those plays, making an impressive cut and breaking a tackle downfield. Freeman looked more explosive and showed better lateral agility than he did in his first action. His only mistake in the game was seemingly whiffing on the block that led to the blocked punt. I cannot confirm if Freeman was the culprit on that play, as the angle of the TV broadcast I saw was inconclusive, but it looked like him. Based off that play alone, I think it’s like that Quizz will be the up-back on the punt team once again this season.
Conclusion: Freeman is moving up the depth chart and I’d like to see him get real reps with the first-team offensive line next week against the Tennessee Titans. You’re not going to find a bigger Antone Smith fan than myself. But getting him preseason reps isn’t the problem, it’s the regular season reps that we need to see more of. It’s his fifth season, we should know what he is at this point. Let Quizz and Devonta get the bulk of next week’s workload, and hopefully give Jerome Smith more second-half work.
What I Saw: Patrick DiMarco made a couple of nice blocks on the second series of the game. He did a nice job picking up Jadeveon Clowney to prevent a loss of yardage on Quizz’s four-yard run. He then got a nice key block in the hole on a six-yard run by Antone Smith two plays later. He did miss a block against Justin Tuggle in the second quarter, which held Smith to a one-yard gain. But his blocking was effective for the most part, and he seems to have a firmer grasp on the starting fullback gig.
I didn’t notice much impactful blocking from Maurice Hagens on the night, but he did have a nice catch on a roll-out.
Conclusion: Seems like DiMarco created some separation after this performance. But I think Hagens still has a chance if he can put together a strong performance next week. But it’s likelier that at this point, he’s competing for a practice squad spot in the hope that the team will groom him and potentially turn over the keys next year.
What I Saw: It was nice to see Julio Jones return to the lineup. He made a nice grab in traffic while taking a hit from D.J. Swearinger over the middle. I think the Falcons are easing him back in, and hopefully we’ll see that trademark flash of brilliance next week against the Titans. Roddy White looked a bit slow and lazy with his cuts and burst. I’m guessing from post-game comments, White wasn’t really going full speed in the game. He should have been able to make a diving grab on a third down at the start of the second quarter.
Harry Douglas wasn’t targeted at all. Devin Hester had a drop, but made up for it with a great slashing run on the Falcons’ lone touchdown of the game.
No targets for Bernard Reedy, as Geraldo Boldewijn, Jeremy Ebert, Freddie Martino and Julian Jones saw the bulk of throws with the backups. None really stood out, although Jones had a chance to if a Yates pass on a go route wasn’t half a foot too far in front of him. That would’ve been a touchdown if the two had connected. As mentioned before, Jones was to blame on Yates’ first interception.
As was the case last week, I’m watching our backup quarterbacks struggle with our backup wide receivers while the Texan’s reserve receivers seem to be making plays. Tramaine Thompson quit on a route on his lone target, and Jabin Sambrano’s was an interception on a bad throw by Yates. Besides Boldewijn having an excellent block on Hester’s touchdown run, there isn’t much positive to say about the performance of the reserve receivers.
Conclusion: I don’t want to be too judgmental of White because I can certainly understand why he’s not exactly going all out in the preseason as he approaches age 33. But his subpar effort does smack somewhat of the sort of complacency that this team says it’s trying to eliminate. If he’s not going to go full-speed, then the Falcons might as well just keep him on the sideline and give somebody else the much-needed reps with Ryan and the starters. I’m not worried one bit about whether Roddy is going to bring it all Week 1, so I say give Reedy those snaps with the ones.
At this point, Boldewijn has probably stood out from the rest of the wide receivers, but that’s not really saying a whole lot since they’ve done relatively little to date. He’s probably got the inside track to a practice squad, but I’m not going to hold my breath that he’ll be a successful developmental talent anymore so than Brandyn Harvey was.
What I Saw: Levine Toilolo only saw one target, which was a poor throw by Renfree on a quick curl that Swearinger nearly picked off. He had a nice block on the edge on a five-yard run by Antone Smith on the Falcons final drive of the first half. But otherwise, it was a quiet night.
Bear Pascoe didn’t do much. I only noticed him when he missed on a chip on Lawrence Sidbury that led to Yates taking a big hit in the end zone. Mickey Shuler had a pair of nice catches, but also dropped a pass. I did not notice any standout blocking plays. Jacob Pedersen caught a pass, but took a big shot from a trio of defenders near the end of the game.
Conclusion: Pascoe’s lackluster play means that Shuler is closing the gap, and may have already leap-frogged him as I believe Pascoe saws most of his work with the third team rather than the second, but I could be wrong about that. And while Shuler has been solid, at this point, he doesn’t seem to be any better an option than Michael Palmer was. Like Palmer, he might be a functional No. 2 tight end, but probably ideally would be a No. 3 on most teams. If Pascoe doesn’t step up, I have to believe the Falcons will look elsewhere to add another blocker to the mix.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Baker leaves the field with knee injury
What I Saw: The injury to Sam Baker appears to be a season-ending one, although that hasn’t been confirmed as I’m writing this. It’s a significant blow to the Falcons offensive line, but not an insurmountable one. The Falcons should be able to flip Jake Matthews to the left side, the position he is destined to play for the remainder of his career. It just now comes a year earlier than planned.
Matthews had a solid performance in this game, and other than giving up a sack to Quentin Groves, blocked fairly well. His run-blocking even seemed to be a little better this week. Baker was having a fine game up until his injury. Sure, he got beat badly by Clowney on that one sack of Ryan, but that’s what happens sometimes when you’re facing a guy with an otherworldly first step.
Backups Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder struggled once more, and the concern now is taht one is expected to fill in at right tackle with Baker out. Holmes allowed two pressures, both to Whitney Mercilus. Schraeder gave up a sack and hit, but also gave too much ground on several other plays. The Falcons gave him work at both left and right tackle, I guess for the sake of comparison so that he and Holmes could be judged on relatively equal footing.
Schraeder did some nice things as a run blocker, showing he can get out in space and block on the move. The Falcons have utilized quite a bit of pulling this summer, and if that is going to be a regular feature of the blocking scheme this season, then Schraeder appears to be much more effective there. Holmes looks sluggish and slow when being asked to move and get out in space.
At the end of the game when Schraeder was manning left tackle, Mike Johnson was slotted in at right tackle. Johnson struggled, giving up a pressure on a speed rush. Terren Jones once again spent the entire game on the sideline. Hopefully he’ll be fully recovered from his concussion and ready for action next week. I’m curious to see how much, if any, improvement he’s made from last summer.
Conclusion: The Falcons might opt to keep Matthews at right tackle, although I think at this point that would just be downright silly. He’s the left tackle of the future, and with Baker out, the future is now. But with the Falcons, you never know. The big question is whether the team will turn to Holmes or Schraeder first to plug into the other tackle spot. Holmes has performed a bit more ably as a pass protector this summer, but has been anything but good in that realm. But he’s been somewhat competent there. Schraeder’s pass protection has been more suspect, but he showed some nice things as a run blocker in this game. It’s an interesting dilemma to see which direction the Falcons go. While Holmes likely gives the team a better pass protection, he’s by no means good there. He’s a serviceable pass protector and a mediocre run-blocker. Schraeder on the other hand is a competent to good run blocker, but a poor pass protector. So, it’s a matter of the Falcons asking themselves whether they want to strive to be good at one aspect (i.e. run blocking), but risk suffering in pass protector with Schraeder versus settling at just being just mediocre at both since Holmes isn’t going to really add anything.
The Falcons could gain some clarity at this position, if Gabe Carimi can return from an ankle injury next week and play some right tackle.
What I Saw: There were a couple of times where Justin Blalock looked a bit slow when asked to block on the move. He didn’t get out in front of Clowney on a trap block that led to Antone Smith getting blasted in the backfield was one prominent example. He also looked sluggish at times trying to pull. But he was also effective on a couple of runs pulling, and otherwise was solid in pass protection.
Jon Asamoah may have had the best game of any blocker up front, showing solid ability both as a run blocker and pass protector. He too missed a trap block against Mercilus, but otherwise is looking rock-solid.
Harland Gunn was once again the best backup, although he got beat on a power move by Julius Warmsley. But Warmsley was giving all of the Falcons backup linemen all kinds of fits. Mike Johnson didn’t really stand out during his time playing left guard. Adam Replogle got some reps late too. James Stone also played some left guard, but whiffed on a block on a screen pass, letting a defender get penetration too quickly, leading to a Yates throwaway.
Conclusion: Gunn has seemingly run away with the reserve guard spot in Carimi’s absence. Johnson has struggled, and unless he really steps up next week, I think he’s likely to get cut unless there are more injuries. Replogle has flashed enough to make me believe that he could be deserving of a practice squad spot, but I would love to see him get increased reps over the final two games before reaching a real conclusion.
What I Saw: Joe Hawley improved his performance and did a nice job run-blocking on some of the Falcons early drives. He made an excellent downfield cut block that was one of two key blocks on Hester’s touchdown catch and run. He seemed to fare much better against the more unproven nose tackles and defensive tackles of the Texans’ line than he did against the likes of Randy Starks last week versus Miami.
Peter Konz got all the second-team reps and was serviceable. He wasn’t getting great push in the run game, but he was consistently able to get position. His pass protection was fine.
Conclusion: I won’t say Konz played well, but it was at least nice to not see him struggle. Hawley looked better and showed his trademark edge by trying to pick a fight with Kendrick Lewis, who was jawing with Roddy White after breaking up a pass. The team is pretty settled here, with the question being whether Hawley and Konz can at least maintain this level of play, if not show improvement from this point onward.
What I Saw: I did not see a lot of Jonathan Massaquoi on the night, although he did manage to get the first pressure of the game by beating tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on the second series. Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora took a lot of reps. Biermann was in position to make a couple of plays, but didn’t. My hope is that his large amount of playing time this summer is the team’s efforts to try and get him back into shape, not a sign of how they plan on utilizing their edge-rushers in the regular season. Because at this point, it’s hard to believe that Massaquoi isn’t the team’s pass-rusher by a significant stretch.
Osi managed to use his first step to beat backup left tackle Derek Newton a couple of times. He did a good job tipping a pass on a third down, although it was on a screen pass, so it was sort of the point to let him into the backfield.
Stansly Maponga made a few nice plays towards the end of the game, earning himself a pressure. Jacques Smith got a nice hit on the quarterback on the same play, with both guys meeting in the backfield. Smith also showed some nice things in run defense, showing the ability to set the edge against bigger offensive tackles. Tyler Starr also had a chance to make a couple of stops in the backfield against the run, but whiffed on the tackles because he was tackling too high.
Conclusion: I’ll repeat, Massaquoi is the team’s best pass-rusher and should be seeing more snaps with the first team. Maponga, Starr and Smith are all showing enough flashes to make the roster, although purely from a pass-rush standpoint, Maponga seems to be slightly ahead. I think all three might be able to make the team, it’ll just depend on how the rest of the summer plays out.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
What I Saw: I’ll consider the team’s 3-4 defensive ends here since they also saw plenty of reps inside at defensive tackle in four-man fronts. Jonathan Babineaux didn’t have a great game, but did some nice things against the run, and getting some pressure on one of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s scrambles. Tyson Jackson had another quiet game, showing minimal first-step quickness and an inability to get off blocks. Here’s hoping he’s taking it easy this preseason just like Roddy.
Paul Soliai didn’t get a ton of work and seemed to get shaken up a bit on one play. But he showed some disruptive abilities in the game. Travian Robertson replaced him at the nose and had a nice game, doing a good job controlling the likes of Texans backup center James Ferentz for most of the night.
Ra’Shede Hageman had a bit of a slow start, but things started to pick up with more reps he had. He got key blocked on the one-yard touchdown run by Alfred Blue, getting knocked back by Ben Jones at the point of attack. Hageman needs to be a little bit more consistent, but he flashed power and strength which attracted Falcons scouts to him to begin with.
But Malliciah Goodman was probably the star of the night, showing that he can be very effective getting leverage at the point of attack and collapsing the pocket with his power move. Goodman simply is outplaying Jackson, at least in preseason games, and it would be a mistake for the Falcons to bury him in the rotation this year. His only bad play was whiffing completely on the blocked field goal.
Donte Rumph struggled playing the nose late the game, getting pushed around by Ferentz. Cliff Matthews showed some upfield quickness, but also got pushed around a couple of times in the run game.
Conclusion: Right now, I’d say Goodman deserves to start over Jackson. And if not, then the Falcons need to figure out a way where he’s heavily featured in the rotation. Jackson looks sluggish and overweight, and of course Babineaux is no spring chicken, so if Goodman can carry over this solid play against starters in the regular season, it could be a significant boost to their defensive line. Hageman looks like he’s going to be a fine piece of the rotation, but just needs to refine his skills to the point where he’s more consistent snap-to-snap. Matthews looks better this sumemr than he did a year ago, but probably loses out in the numbers game. His best hope of making the roster is a delayed recovery by Corey Peters that prevents him from being ready in September.
What I Saw: Too many missed tackles from the starters. Joplo Bartu got ran over by Blue on a 10-yard run in the first quarter that led to the Texans’ first score. It was overall a bit better showing than last week, but there were still too many weaknesses in the running game. Paul Worrilow also had his fair share of problems. Worrilow showed good recognition and instincts, sniffing out a couple of plays. The problem was that he was unable to finish on several of them, and rolled off a few too many tackles. One-on-one tackling was a weakness of his last season, and it doesn’t appear the added bulk from this year has eliminated that issue.
Prince Shembo had a solid game, not really standing out, but also not really making any major mistakes. He got beat a couple of times in coverage, but nothing glaring.
Pat Angerer looked the best of the rest of the inside linebackers, making several stops in the fourth quarter when he was working with the third string. He looked instinctual and physical.
Tim Dobbins was fairly quiet. Yawin Smallwood and Brenden Daley got playing time late. Daley made a nice hit on the final play of the game, but otherwise neither really did much.
Conclusion: Bartu hasn’t played like a player that is keen on keeping his job. And I won’t say Shembo has yet played at a level that merits being a starter, but it’s apparent that things are moving in that direction. Angerer did enough towards the end that makes me think he should also be in the mix for the starting spot, but he’s probably more inclined to lock up a backup spot over Dobbins if this keeps up. Smallwood looks very stiff and slow, and probably is destined for a practice squad spot unless he can start making some plays either on defense or special teams.
What I Saw: As I expected, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were tested much more this week than last. Both may not have fared quite as well as hoped with those tests, however. Trufant was manning the left cornerback spot for most of the night and got beat a couple of times and flagged once or twice. Alford got beat a couple of times and drew a flag. He did break up a pass on a deep ball that was well underthrown.
Josh Wilson manned the starting nickel job, and I only really noticed him when he whiffed on an open-field tackle. Robert McClain didn’t fare much better, as he blew two third-down coverages.
Ricardo Allen played, but didn’t do a lot. Javier Arenas stood out on a trio of consecutive quick screens to Keshawn Martin in the third quarter. On the first two, Arenas struggled to get off blocks from the slot receiver which led to two 12-yard gains by Martin. The third one however, Arenas maintained his position and helped string out the play for a minimal two-yard gain.
Conclusion: It would seem that Wilson is the front-runner for the nickel job. McClain hasn’t had a great summer, but still offers plenty of value with his versatility and special teams ability. Arenas showed he’s the team’s most undersized corner and that can be a liability at times in run support, but he’s at least competing. There is still time to figure out whether five or six corners deserve to stick. Trufant and Alford certainly could’ve played better, but I’m not too worried about them. I want to see what they can do against Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter next week before I try to glean too much.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
What I Saw: Dwight Lowery saw his first action of the summer, and it was a less than impressive debut. While he was active and rangy, showing good recognition at times, he missed a few too many tackles. Maybe he was just being a little tentative since he doesn’t want to risk another head injury before the regular season starts. But regardless, it was not a performance that inspires a lot of confidence.
William Moore was very effective against the run in the early going, although a lot of that was trying to clean up missed tackles and mistakes from the guys playing in front of him. But he was effective when he was in the box, and the Falcons may have to tinker with bringing him closer to the line of scrimmage to try and beef up their run support if the play of the linebackers doesn’t improve.
Dezmen Southward got to show his range and speed in the game, although he missed a tackle here and got caught out of position in coverage there. But those mistakes certainly weren’t big deals. He also got the chance to showcase his skills on special teams with some nice work as a gunner. Kemal Ishmael looked a bit hesitant and out of place when working in the deep half in centerfield. Like Moore, he looked a lot more comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage and mixing it up in run support. He did make a nice diving grab on an interception, although the replay seemed to indicate it should have been overturned.
Sean Baker got reps late and made one nice play against the run. Kimario McFadden also got a big hit towards on the penultimate play of the game.
Conclusion: I’m not going to be overly concerned about Lowery’s subpar performance given that he’s a seven-year veteran. Now, if he struggles next week, then there will be some concern. Southward is a work in progress, but it was nice seeing him flash that sideline-to-sideline speed and range. Ishmael is a little iffy in coverage because he doesn’t quite have great range but it was nice to see him make a play. Baker and McFadden have played at a level where they aren’t far behind either, although they’re hurt by the fact that the team doesn’t have a vested interest in either. I still think the smart move is to sign another veteran off the waiver wire later this month, but hopefully the Falcons will get improved play over the next two games that could make such a move unnecessary.
What I Saw: The blocking was poor, leading to two blocked kicks. As mentioned previously, Freeman probably earns blame for the missed assignment on the blocked punt and Goodman gets the blame for the blocked field goal. Other than that, the kicking game was fine. I did however notice at least one low snap on a punt by Josh Harris.
Courtney Roby messed up on the opening punt, as he was unable to beat the double team and left his side of the field open for a big return by Martin. Southward made a couple of nice plays working as a gunner.
Reedy had a couple of nice kickoff returns.
Conclusion: Roby isn’t a bad gunner, but his inability to beat the double team has proved costly in the battle of field position these first two preseason games. Southward’s play showed his potential to be a better gunner, making the need for a wide receiver that can perform those duties fairly unnecessary. As for the rest of the breakdowns on special teams, they should be fairly corrected when the Falcons finalize their roster.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.