Let’s take a quick look back at Atlanta’s 20-10 victory against Kansas City on Friday night. As always, it is merely preseason football, so the score and a lot of other things don't really matter. But let’s sort through what does matter.
The biggest question mark about the Falcons is the defense. Well, the early impressions were positive. The first-team defense held the Kansas City offense to just 15 yards on eight plays in the first quarter. Yes, it’s the Chiefs, but this was still a nice start for the defense.
The pass rush is the portion of that defense that everyone’s most concerned about. The early results on that were good, too. Kroy Biermann had a sack/fumble against Matt Cassel and Kansas City’s first-team offense. The Falcons have been talking a lot about how they’re going to rotate defensive linemen a lot this season. Biermann might not be a starter, but I think he and John Abraham will be the defensive ends in most passing situations.
Sticking with the defense, Cassel was accurate in the first quarter, completing six of eight passes. But that went for a total of 25 yards. In other words, Atlanta’s secondary wasn’t giving up any deep plays.
Speaking of the secondary, there’s been a quiet buzz around Atlanta’s camp about safety Shann Schillinger. That got louder against the Chiefs as Schillinger intercepted a pass and returned it 29 yards to set up Atlanta’s first touchdown. As a sixth-round pick, Schillinger was a guy the Falcons thought they might stash on the practice squad when they first drafted him. Now, they’re thinking he’s got a real shot at making the roster as a backup safety with a chance to be a real force on special teams.
One subtle thing that I thought was a very encouraging sign was that the Falcons used the no-huddle offense on their second series. I don’t have stats to back this up, but my general sense is they used that system a fair amount in quarterback Matt Ryan’s rookie year and seemed to have success with it. Last season, the Falcons seemed to get away from using it. I think Ryan’s a very sharp guy and would like to see him allowed to run the no-huddle offense a lot more this season.
Coach Mike Smith sounded happy with the debut of rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He started on the weak side as Mike Peterson sat out. Weatherspoon has been working on the strong side also. Everyone keeps asking if he’ll take Peterson’s place or be on the strong side in place of Stephen Nicholas. I don’t think the Falcons have really decided yet. But I think you still will see a lot of all three of those guys, because it sounds like the Falcons plan to rotate linebackers just like they’re going to do with defensive linemen.