Monday, August 17, 2015

Atlanta Opens The Pre-Season With A Win against the Tennessee Titans

Atlanta Falcons players prior to the win against Tennessee

As the 2015 NFL season draws closer, the new era in Atlanta under head coach Dan Quinn started on Friday Night with a 31-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the Georgia Dome. Dan Quinn was selected as the Falcons 16th head coach in franchise history replacing Mike Smith after a dismal 6-10 season. 

After the many changes, solid draft class, and new faces have went through a successful off-season and enters their final days of training camp, it was time for the fans to get a first glimpse of the Atlanta Falcons. We are a little under a month until the Falcons open their season on Monday Night Football, and all eyes were on the new look offensive and defensive schemes as well as how the team's draft picks would perform in their first game action of their young NFL careers.


Julio Jones first quarter touchdown vs Tennessee

Atlanta’s first string offense opened the game with an outstanding display of their passing attack under new coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme as the Falcons executed a 10 play, 91 yard drive in 4:50 as Matt Ryan completed a 13 yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones at the 10:10 mark and the Falcons took a 7-0 lead. Matt Ryan was very efficient in his opening drive, going 6 for 6, 86 yards passing and a touchdown pass, pretty awesome for one drive. Julio Jones had a tremendous drive as well, catching four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. 

Justin Durant's interception on Marcus Mariotta

On Tennessee’s first possession, the Falcons defense held rookie quarterback Marcus Mariotta to six plays for only 15 yards of offense and newly acquired linebacker Justin Durant intercepted a screen pass intended for Bishop Sankey and returned to the Titans 9 yard line. The Falcons second offensive unit would not capitalize on the drive due to an offensive pass interference and a bad snap by Mike Person. Matt Bryant would nail a 45 yard field goal attempt to give the Falcons a 10-0 lead with 6:25 remaining in the quarter. Atlanta’s first unit defense would continue to excite the Georgia Dome crowd one more time as Jonathan Babineaux forced a fumble from Marcus Mariota leading to a Paul Worrilow touchdown on a 14 yard fumble recovery as the Falcons took a 17-0 lead with 3:22 remaining in the period. Atlanta’s second team defense would take the field and Mariota began driving the Titans down the field on his final drive of the game. 

Robenson Theresie's interception late in the 2nd quarter

Tennessee would continue to drive and capitalize for the first time in the game on a 10 play, 80 yard drive which ended on a Dexter Mccluster six yard touchdown run to trim the deficit to 17-7 with 13:06 remaining in the quarter. On the next Falcons possession, their drive would stall on a costly mistake as a six play, 34 yard drive would halt on a Coty Sensabaugh interception on a T.J. Yates pass intended for the 4th round selection Justin Hardy at Tennessee’s 44 yard line. 

Backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Tennessee’s second unit would again capitalize on a 7 play, 60 yards drive which took 3:51 as Rico Richardson would catch a 30 yard touchdown pass from Zach Mettenberger and the new 15-yard line PAT took effect as Ryan Succop missed his attempt trimming Atlanta’s lead down to 17-13 with 5:34 remaining in the half. Atlanta would finish the quarter strong with a 11 plays, 80 yard drive accumulating 3:57 as Antone Smith scored on a one yard touchdown run as the Falcons took a 24-13 lead with 1:37 remaining in the half. Tennessee’s next possession ended quickly after successfully converting two plays to put the Titans at Atlanta’s 48. Zach Mettenberger would throw an interception to Falcons safety Robenson Therezie at the Falcons 5 yard line before the half.


Allen Bradford tackle vs the Tennessee Titans in the 3rd quarter

Zach Mettenberger and the Titans offense would successfully move the football again on a 13 plays, 88 yard drive, which took away nearly half of the quarter with 7:19 as Antonio Andrews scored on a 1 Yard Rushing touchdown and Antonio Andrews rushed for a two point conversion as well trimming the Falcons lead to 24-21 with 7:41 remaining in the period. Atlanta’s offense would go three and out on their first possession of the half. Charlie Whitehurst would respond by leading the Titans offense into Atlanta’s territory on a 10 play, 44 yard drive that lasted for 6:04, taking up the remainder of the quarter as Ryan Succop executed 28 yard field goal to tie the game at 24-24 with 0:16 to go until the final period.


Tyson Jackson's sack on Marcus Mariota 

As the Falcons opened the fourth quarter with the football, Sean Renfree and company led Atlanta down the field on a 16 play, 86 yard drive which accounted for  7:41 and ended with a Michael Ford 1 Yard Rushing Touchdown to give the Falcons a 31-24 lead with 7:35 remaining in the quarter. On Tennessee’s following possession, the Titans offense led by Alex Tanney would advance to Atlanta’s 41 yard line only to end with a Stansley Maponga sack and a punt to the Falcons as well. The Falcons would run the clock out and secure their first pre-season win under new head coach Dan Quinn and staff. Now, we will take a look at some of the key takeways of Friday’s win, things to improve, and players to watch.


The Matt Ryan and Julio Jones show

Julio Jones touchdown reception in the first quarter

Ryan only played for one possession in Friday’s win, however, he made many fans proud with his stellar passing display. Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed all six passes for 86 yards on his only possession, including a 13-yard touchdown to Julio Jones. Yes, it’s pre-season and yes, it’s against the Titans; however, considering you have a new offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan and a new coach in Dan Quinn at the helm, we saw a glimpse of Atlanta’s offense continuing their stellar play as the 2015 season approaches. 

Julio Jones, is there anything further we should say about him? Absolutely. Throughout the off-season, we’ve heard many talk about his contract situation and how Arthur Blank would love to have him as a Falcon for life and Friday night, we saw why he’s one of the top receivers in the game on Friday. Similar to Ryan, Jones appeared in one series and had four catches for 61 yards, pretty good day at the office for the fifth year phenom out of Alabama. If this duo can stay healthy, Ryan to Jones will be one of the NFL’s most explosive quarterback-to-wide receiver tandems to watch.

Atlanta’s Starting Defense

Paul Worrilow fumble recovery for a touchdown

Entering Friday’s contest, many fans wanted to get a first glimpse at first round selection Vic Beasley and Dan Quinn’s new look 4-3 defensive scheme. In the first two series, Atlanta’s new look defense pumped the Georgia Dome crowd up as one play after he was sacked early in his first drive, rookie Marcus Mariota's short pass was intercepted by linebacker Justin Durant, whose 20-yard return set up a field goal. On Tennessee's next drive, the ball slipped out of Mariota's hand as he was preparing to pass. Linebacker Paul Worrilow scooped up the loose ball and raced 14 yards for a touchdown giving the Falcons a 17-0 lead. 

Atlanta’s defensive line caused plenty of havoc in the opposing rushing attack and also earned a few sacks, two turnovers, and a touchdown. Again, we know it’s just pre-season but if the Falcons defense, which finished as the league’s worst last season could improve slightly, Atlanta could be in for a nice treat throughout the season. On the defensive line, Vic Beasley wound up with just one tackle, but gave Tennessee’s offensive line a lot of issues even drawing a double team on the ensuing turnover. It's not every day that you hear a rookie defensive lineman receiving attention in his first full game action. 

Also, last season’s second round selection Ra’Shede Hageman caused havoc in the rushing attack and got a good amount of push into Tennessee’s backfield. Linebacker Paul Worrilow made some impressive decisions in his two series on the field as well, including his fumble recovery for a touchdown back in the 1st quarter. 

Atlanta’s Offensive Line

Although we saw the starting offensive line for only one series, the second biggest concern on the Falcons showed signs of improvement on Friday keeping the pocket clean for Matt Ryan his entire first series and only surrendered a sack throughout the game. The Falcons offensive line had many ups and downs during the 2014 season; however, with Shanahan’s zone blocking run scheme and another year of experience from some of Atlanta’s young linemen such as Ryan Schrader and Jake Matthews, a new offensive scheme could play a huge part in protecting Matt Ryan who has taken his fair share of hits throughout the last two seasons. Also, the Falcons offensive line could improve adding veteran Chris Chester during the off-season. The play of both lines will be critical to the success of the 2015 Atlanta Falcons.


Secondary Play

Rico Richardson reception for a touchdown
(Donn Jones Photography, AP Photos) 

Friday night’s game was featured without star cornerback Desmond Trufant who was resting after suffering from a sprained shoulder in Thursday’s training camp practice and his absence was very evident especially after the starting defensive unit sat for the rest of the contest.  Second round selection Jalen Collins from LSU suffered through some rookie pains in his first NFL game as Harry Douglas made a few receptions on him and he surrendered the 30 yard touchdown pass to Rico Richardson in the 2nd quarter. However, he had a few solid tackles in the run defense and also made a key breakup leading to the Robenson Theresie interception before half time. Although he had good and bad moments, he’s a rookie with potential to improve. Remember Desmond Trufant’s first camp?

Jalen Collins breakup leads to an interception
(Donn Jones Photography, AP Photos)

Now, take a look at how dominant of a force he’s been, so keep your hopes up for Collins. Another player whom struggled was second year player Dezmen Southward after making his transition from safety to the cornerback positon.  Southward struggled in coverage all game and that’s not the best way to make an opening impression on Dan Quinn; but, you have three more pre-season games to redeem his efforts. As the season approaches, the secondary will probably be another huge concern; however, with a young secondary, let’s hope for improvements throughout the pre-season.

Backup Quarterback Battle:

Matt Ryan and Sean Renfree talking with Kyle Shanahan

Although T.J Yates number didn’t look too bad as he posted 9 of 15 for 105 yards and an interception, he was not impressive by any means on Friday. From the two mishandled snaps and some awful decision making when throwing the football as well. 

Yates is considered the backup currently due to veteran experience.  However, many Falcons fans, including myself, don’t really trust Yates in the case (let’s hope not) that an injury happened to Matt Ryan.  Sean Renfree, who led the decisive touchdown drive, was 6 of 7 for 68 yards and was impressive throughout his time on the field in Friday’s win. 

From the accuracy to decision making in the game winning drive, Renfree is the guy I would trust to backup Matt Ryan if the season began tomorrow. Coach Dan Quinn said the competition to be Ryan's backup is still close, so that’s a key battle to watch throughout the pre-season. 

Running Back Depth/Injuries:

Aug 14, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith (35) runs past Tennessee Titans linebacker Zach Brown (55) during the first half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Titans 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Friday’s game, Atlanta’s top two options at running back of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were already nursing injuries that both suffered during training camp; unfortunately, the Falcons depth at running back took another hit as Antone Smith did not return after suffering a hamstring injury on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Michael Ford had a decent outing and Jerome Smith did as well. Thankfully, Coach Dan Quinn stated that both were close to returning from their injuries, which is so imperative to Atlanta’s new-look offense under Kyle Shanahan.  


The Falcons opened pre-season with a victory to excite many Falcons fans about the beginning of a new era with Dan Quinn at the helm. It’s a long way to go, a lot to be determined as the season approaches; however, I am confident that the Falcons can build from Friday’s win as the journey to the first game of the NFL season is now three games away. Until next week, RISE UP!!!!

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