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Observation Deck: Atlanta Falcons

8/9/2014



ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons were itching to hit someone else in live action after delivering plenty of hits on each other during several training camp fights.

The Miami Dolphins provided the opposition Friday night at the Georgia Dome in both team's exhibition opener. The game, which was tied 10-10 at halftime, ended up a 16-10 triumph for the Falcons.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sharp in one series of work, completing all seven of his passes for 53 yards. He engineered a 15-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by starting running back Jacquizz Rodgers' 2-yard touchdown run.

"Good play for us," Ryan said of the scoring drive. "A good job by us. We were able to run the ball pretty effectively, and when we did have the opportunity to throw, we were able to move the chains."

Ryan was impressed with the offensive line.

"I thought they did a great job up front," Ryan said. "One of things [head coach Mike Smith] has preached from the beginning of camp is that we want to set the tone for both side of the ball in the front four [on defense], front five of the offensive line. And I think we did that tonight."

Here are some other thoughts on the Falcons' first preseason game:

  • Speaking of that first drive, the Falcons showed great balance with eight running plays and Ryan's seven pass attempts. The pass protection was better than the run blocking, however. Center Joe Hawley missed his man near the goal line on Rodgers' touchdown run, but he also did some good things pulling and blocking down the field. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said his line still has to make up ground with its run blocking. The right side certainly look solid with guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Jake Matthews. Steve Jackson, who continues to recover from a hamstring injury and didn't play Friday, should be a lot more effective running behind this line once the regular season begins.

  • The defense got off to a bad start. The Falcons began the game in the nickel defense and yielded six yards on their first play. They allowed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to march his team down on a 10-play, 73-yard drive, capped by Tannehill's 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Gibson. It looked like free safety Kemal Ishmael, starting for the injured Dwight Lowery (concussion), got caught flat-footed on the play action and missed his assignment on Gibson. Fellow safety William Moore admitted there was miscommunication with the first-team defense, but Moore said to keep in mind that the Falcons didn't have game tape on the Dolphins. But there was no excuse for the lack of pressure by the first unit. The most consistent pressure came from outside linebacker Stansly Maponga with the second unit. A least the run defense indeed looked better with Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson up front. Jonathan Massaquoi had a nice tackle for loss.

  • The rookies made their mark, led by Matthews. More impressive than anything was how Matthews stood his ground working against Miami's Cameron Wake, one of the best pass-rushers in the league. However, Matthews did pick up a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown. Running back Devonta Freeman ran hard and showed his ability to catch out of the backfield with a 57-yard reception from Sean Renfree. He also tried to take someone's head off with a chip block. Linebacker Prince Shembo had a sack in the fourth quarter and cornerback Ricardo Allen made an outstanding break on the ball to cause an incomplete pass. Wide receiver Bernard Reedy showed the fans flashes of his great speed and unique ability -- he had a team-leading 61 receiving yards on two catches. Outside linebacker Jacques Smith had his night cut short by a lat injury.

  • Roddy White was impressive in his brief stint. He had four catches for 27 yards, including a 12-yard gain. It was no surprise he was Ryan's primary target, considering the Falcons opted to hold Julio Jones out. "It's like riding a bike with him," Ryan said of White. "We've done this together for a long time. Roddy just has knack for getting up and making plays."

  • Antone Smith showed why he deserves a more serious look at running back. He busted loose for a 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter, only to have it called back by Matthews' holding penalty. He also had a 34-yard gain off a pass play from Ryan, but that play was wiped out by illegal formation on Harry Douglas. Yes, Smith's plays didn't count in the stat book, but his explosive ability had to count for something in the eyes of the coaches.