Never has a pre-season game meant so much to the Atlanta Falcons than the one coming up on Saturday at home to the Tennessee Titans, well the first half of it anyway as it was confirmed yesterday that the Falcons would play their starters for the entire first half and the Titans are expected to follow suit.
Why does this game mean so much? Are things currently escalated in Atlanta right now because of Hard Knocks? Maybe, but after the debacle that was the Falcons second pre-season game in Houston last Saturday the Falcons still have plenty of work to do if they are going to get back to contending again in the NFC after only winning 4 games in 2013.
The main focus of this off season was to improve the line play on both sides of the ball and although any improvement won’t happen overnight or in a couple of pre-season games perhaps strangely the line play was not the biggest issue of that terrible performance against the Texans last weekend.
Yes, the line gave up two big plays to one Jadeveon Clowney but the culprit of those plays, left tackle Sam Baker is now lost for season. The bright side of this event is that Jake Matthews will move to left tackle a position he has played before in college and the Falcons look to have one of the top left tackles in football for the next ten years. Lamarr Holmes is now the starting right tackle.
The running game against a very good front seven looked more than ok, and the pass protection held up for the most part when the starting unit was present. It’s not perfect but it’s going in the right direction. Julio Jones was back but due to some vanilla play calling the offense stalled and will need to get some rhythm going in the Georgia Dome this Saturday night.
This offense needs better blocking from fullback Patrick DeMarco and certainly from tight end Levine Toilolo who needs to finish plays better. If the Falcons top brass have the courage to actually demote underperforming players then these two need to step up.
On the defense those whose jobs should also be on the line are defensive end Kroy Biermann who may be better served as a linebacker as he has zero ability at getting to the quarterback and Jonathan Massaquoi is clearly the better option as a pass rusher right now.
I’m not sure why the Falcons are starting games in the nickel formation as opposed to the 3-4 which we were lead to believe that this defense was going to play but Joplo Bartu seems a little lost in this formation and perhaps Prince Shembo should be given the opportunity to play when Atlanta only has two linebackers on the field.
This defense still lacks a genuine threat at pass rush but did at least get some penetration into the backfield against the Texans although was terrible against the run. One positive on the defense is Desmond Trufant, if you want to see a ‘shut down’ corner then you know where to look. Opposing quarterbacks are just not throwing the ball his way although perhaps in a strange way it would be better if they did. For the record I thought the penalty called on Trufant on Saturday was wrong but is a product of a crack down in officiating against DB’s regarding illegal contact. This situation should calm down early in the season.
The less said about special teams the better but Devin Hester needs people to block for him and if this is not going to happen should not try and return kicks from his own end zone.
With all that said it is still pre-season and all the negativity surrounding that last performance will disappear into the Georgia night if the performance and execution is much much better this Saturday night if not perhaps we are in for another long hard season, pre-season never meant so much.