The Atlanta Falcons preseason came to a humbling conclusion as they fell 17-6 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night. While the result isn’t worth focusing on, the performance was uninspiring at best. Keep in mind, the team is coming off back-to-back postseasons including a 2017 Wild Card berth after going 0-4 in the preseason. As good as this roster is as a whole, there are some serious questions heading into Week One.
Atlanta Falcons Preseason Ends for Starters With Underwhelming Performance in Jacksonville
Please keep in mind that the fourth week of the preseason is nothing more than one last chance for Matt Ryan and company to make sure their uniforms still fit during warmups. No actual football will be played. That said, here are a few of the most important questions remaining for the 2018 Falcons as we head into the regular season.
Will the Offense Resemble 2016 or 2017?
One of the biggest question marks heading into the Falcons September 6th rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles is the interior offensive line. The Jaguars possess one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the NFL and flexed their muscle frequently. Atlanta did have some early success by coming out passing on their first drive. A beautiful catch and run from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu on the first play from scrimmage got the Falcons started on a drive that would reach the Jags 29-yard line before sputtering out. It was a great way to put the Jags on their heels right from the start.
They didn’t face a single third down until being stopped on third and 10 before Matt Bryant‘s 47-yard field goal. I don’t mind that version of Steve Sarkisian. That marks a rare appearance in this preseason for ‘Good Sark.’ I often criticize him for being too predictable. The Falcons had success on multiple occasions last season when they opened up the offense on early downs so I’d love to see more of it. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. He settled into his ‘Bad Sark’ persona in a borderline unwatchable first half from that point on.
Have the Falcons Solved Their Woes at Guard?
While it may be tempting to excuse the performance of a less than 100 percent Falcons offense against an elite level defense, there is genuine cause for concern. Brandon Fusco, the Falcons presumed starter at right guard, was beaten on multiple occasions in pass protection. The line as a whole struggled to generate any push in the run game. Ryan took way too many hits, especially for a preseason game. All in all, the team has too much talent to look this inept against anyone. Look for Sarkisian to find a more creative approach to solve these issues. The Falcons offensive line is a solid unit. They also aren’t so talented that they can simply line up and win against the stronger competition they will face. The road to the NFC title will go through teams like Philly, Minnesota, and LA that rival even the Jags up front.
Is the Defensive Line Ready for Primetime?
The other concern coming out of last night’s game was the defensive line play. Despite logging 39 sacks in 2017, the Falcons pass rush was inconsistent at key moments. Nick Foles picked them apart with a steady, unspectacular performance last postseason. They were able to affect Blake Bortles on a handful of plays last night, but often he had too much time with plenty of room to navigate the pocket. For a team that plays as much zone as the Falcons do, quarterback pressure is mandatory. The defense showed legitimate improvement in 2017. In order to take the next step, the pass rush will need to show up even more. I was critical of their choice not to add another pass rushing option at defensive tackle. Nothing we saw in the preseason has changed my mind.
There were some positive performances against the Jags. Damontae Kazee was an absolute monster in the secondary. His instincts have taken him to new heights this preseason. He had his hands on at least two potential interceptions while contributing a handful of sure tackles. He looks right at home at the free safety position and would probably be a starter in an alternate universe where Ricardo Allen didn’t exist. It’s impossible to imagine him not having some sort of role on this defense early in the season. Calvin Ridley continues to impress with his route running chops even as the drops mount. He has a knack for getting open. He’s simply a mismatch even without Julio Jones on the field. His rookie potential with number 11 lined up outside might be downright scary
All in all, this game didn’t mean much. You can never truly analyze Atlanta’s offense without Jones and Devonta Freeman. The Falcons and Jags are two very good teams. Both squads are probably comfortable with what they’ve got at this point. This was a dress rehearsal at best. Hopefully, the Falcons are able to win enough battles in the trenches this season. It will require a better mix of playcalling and formations to keep defenses on their toes. The talent is there, as is the depth. The real test comes in September against an Eagles’ team that is very formidable in the trenches.
Please keep an eye out for my week 1 preview of the matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.