Winning and losing in the preseason typically has no bearing on foreshadowing how a team will turn out in the regular season, but blowing the doors off an opponent with your first-string lineup certainly bodes well going forward. The Falcons did just that, as their starters impressed everyone on Thursday night.
The scoreboard read 31-17 in favor of the Baltimore Ravens when the contest came to a close, yet that shouldn’t resonate in the minds of Atlanta fans. What matters is that fact that Matt Ryan and his offense looked stellar in one quarter of play, and the Falcons starting defense put in an impressive performance as well. So, what did we really learn?
To start off, Julio Jones is phenomenal. He caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown all in the first quarter. Critics and fans have continued to build up their hopes about Jones for his second pro season, and somehow he managed to surpass all expectations in less than 15 minutes of action against the Ravens starters. Jones appears to be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants on the field. If there’s a jump ball or deep pass headed his way, you can basically bank on him coming down with it.
Not to be overlooked, Roddy White added three receptions for 46 yards of his own. Matt Ryan can surely still rely on White, even if Julio is the flashier player now. No. 84 will continue to be a safety valve whenever Ryan needs him, which is comforting to know. The combo of White and Julio should intimidate every defense out there, no exceptions.
Ryan, aside from one extremely poor decision, was terrific. He was basically playing pitch and catch out there. He had decent blocking, and thankfully went untouched through several series. Jacquizz Rodgers provided a nice change of pace from Michael Turner’s standard pounding the ball up the gut style. The two will likely be utilized often, especially with the plan to limit The Burner’s workload.
You couldn’t ask for much more out of the Falcons first-string defense. They barely let Ray Rice make it past the line of scrimmage, and Joe Flacco couldn’t get anything going. Throw in two sacks on the Ravens main man and it looked like a nice start to the year.
It was impossible to tell that both offense and defense were under new management. Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan used their starters to their full capabilities, a promising note as we move one step closer to the regular season.
Dominique Franks got the nod for punt return duties, which shouldn’t have surprised fans. The depth chart isn’t set in stone once it’s first released. Franks proved his worth as he took a punt from Sam Koch 45 yards down to the Baltimore 15-yard line. He’s the man for this job. They don’t need Harry Douglas, who already missed the first game, out there risking further injury.
Second and third-string became pretty lackluster after awhile. There were some bright spots, like Jonathan Massaquoi’s two tackles for losses, but ultimately Baltimore’s backups proved to have the upper hand. Atlanta still has plenty of time to improve upon its depth, though. Several positions remain to be won before Week 1.
Another linebacker might need to be added if Akeem Dent’s injury is serious. The team is already thin here with the loss of Lofa Tatupu for the year. Mike Peterson is not going to hold down the middle spot for an entire season.
Overall, the Falcons can feel confident about the starting cast already, which is a huge positive. The lower ranks of the depth chart need to improve, but for now everyone can rest assured about first-string, at least until next week when the Cincinnati Bengals roll into town.