You could see the influence of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan right from the start of Atlanta’s 31-17 preseason loss against Baltimore.
The offense came out looking explosive, which was the buzzword at the start of last season, but ended up backfiring on the Falcons. Instead, there were jokes about how they weren’t explosive at all. Maybe the jokes will end now. Matt Ryan completed his first five passes for 71 yards, including four to Julio Jones for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jones left the game after the first quarter with six catches for 109 yards.
The climate change on defense also was noticeable. The Ravens went three-and-out on their first drive and the Atlanta defense looked more aggressive than it has in recent years. Almost all of Baltimore’s offensive production came long after the starters left the game.
Lots of fans said the Falcons should have done more in acquiring personnel during the offseason. Maybe they did all they needed by adding the two new coordinators.
Some other observations on the Falcons:
Don’t be fooled by the final score. The Atlanta offense and defense clearly dominated while the starters were in the game.
Akeem Dent, who pretty much had been anointed as the starting middle linebacker, suffered an apparent head injury in the second quarter. Dent appeared to hit helmets with the ball carrier. He left the game and was replaced by veteran Mike Peterson. We still don’t know the extent of Dent’s injury, but it’s a concern. Peterson is a nice veteran backup, but I don’t think the Falcons want him starting if Dent is out for a long time. If Dent is going to miss significant playing time, the Falcons could be on the market for a new middle linebacker.
Speaking of injuries, rookie fullback Bradie Ewing, who is competing for the starting job, went down with an a knee injury in the first half. It’s unclear how serious Ewing’s injury is. Mike Cox is his competition at fullback.
The Falcons have talked a lot about how they believe second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers can run between the tackles. As if to prove a point, they had Rodgers running up the middle often, including a short touchdown run.
If you still don’t think Ryan has a strong arm, go back and look at the pass he threw to Jones with 1:49 left in the first quarter. Ryan hit the receiver in stride on a deep out pattern.
Cornerback Dominique Franks could be on the bubble if he was viewed only as a cornerback. But Franks is getting the first crack at the job as the punt returner and he’s making the most of his opportunity. Franks had a 45-yard punt return in the first quarter and that could go a long way in keeping him on the roster.
Linebacker Robert James has been with the Falcons in the past, but never has been a factor. He showed some pass-rush skills against Baltimore and that could make him valuable in Nolan’s defense. At 224 pounds, James is undersized, but he has some quickness, which could be very useful as a situational player in the pass rush.