Friday, August 19, 2011
Observations on the Atlanta Falcons
By Pat Yasinskas
If you think the Atlanta Falcons player who will benefit most from the arrival of rookie receiver Julio Jones will be quarterback Matt Ryan, you might be wrong.
It could end up being Harry Douglas. If you didn’t see the Falcons' 15-13 preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday night and don’t know what I’m talking about, catch a replay of the game.
There’s a second-quarter play that demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a 76-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Douglas.
It’s the kind of play the Falcons didn’t have nearly enough of last season. In fact, Douglas probably couldn’t have made the same play last season. The difference is the presence of Jones.
With Jones and Roddy White lined up at wide receiver, Douglas lined up in the slot. He ran a slant route and never really was covered. He caught it in the middle of the field and headed for the sideline. He never was touched. But, just in case he needed help, Jones was downfield and ready to throw a block. That wasn’t needed.
Douglas was with the Falcons last season, but he didn’t supply the kind of big plays the Falcons wanted. That’s partly because former starter Michael Jenkins was hurt early in the season and Douglas had to play his position. Douglas isn’t a big guy and isn’t the kind of receiver who can help you as a run blocker and he really isn’t a possession receiver.
The Falcons believe he’s a natural slot guy. That’s where Douglas is playing now and the difference is significant. With White and Jones on the outside, there are going to be plenty of times when Douglas doesn’t draw much coverage. If he makes a few big plays, he’ll get more coverage and that will mean less attention on White.
That will mean more big plays and that’s exactly what the Falcons want.
A few other observations on the Falcons.
- Defensive end Ray Edwards, who is coming off knee surgery, sat out his second straight preseason game. Without him, the Falcons still got some pressure on the quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux stood out.
- Scary moment in the first half when defensive tackle Peria Jerry had to leave the game after colliding with teammate Trey Lewis. Jerry missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury and wasn’t at full strength last season. But the good news is Jerry was just shaken up and returned to the game a bit later. He had one play where he got good pressure on Blaine Gabbert in the second half.
- Cornerback Brent Grimes continues to have a strong preseason. He had an over-the-shoulder interception deep in the end zone in the first half. He took it out and made several athletic moves before getting stopped around midfield. Although undersized, Grimes might be the best natural athlete to come through Atlanta since Deion Sanders.
- With cornerback Dunta Robinson sitting out, Chris Owens and Dominique Franks, who are competing for the starting job at nickel back, each got a lot of playing time. Although I was also keeping a close eye on Cam Newton in the Carolina-Miami game, I also kept a watch on Owens and Franks. I saw some good coverage from both at times. Franks did fall in coverage once. But he also knocked down a pass near the line of scrimmage.
- Second-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had a very active outing, highlighted by his fumble recovery in the first quarter. He also looked good in pass coverage several times.
- Outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas also looked good and may have a chance to take the starting job from veteran Mike Peterson. That’s a bit ironic because Nicholas was playing in his hometown and against a team that many speculated he’d jump to as a free agent.