ReFo: ATL @ TEN, Preseason Wk 3
This was a fun game to watch as the Titans beat the Falcons in what is generally considered the dress rehearsal game for the regular season. Atlanta probably came away a bit disappointed with their inability to push the ball into the end zone, though they had to overcome shoddy pass protection and a few drops from the receivers. The Titans, on the other hand, should be satisfied as they took down a likely playoff contender while getting their first win of the preseason.
It is preseason, though, and we have one more week to go before the real action starts. Let’s take a look at this game’s eye-catching performances.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
While Dunta Robinson’s tenure with the Falcons ended up being rather lousy, it’s tough to rely on a pair of rookies to pick up the slack in the secondary opposite Asante Samuel, and it’s worth checking on in their progress. Looking at their grades, both Robert Alford (-0.1) and Desmond Trufant (-0.3) had pretty ordinary performances against the Titans. That’s probably a fair statement in the case of Trufant, who, in 22 coverage snaps gave up three catches, two of them resulting in first downs.
Conversely, Alford was much more involved than his grade suggests. He was targeted on a third of his 30 snaps in coverage, surrendering seven catches, three of them touchdowns and another three giving the offense a first down. In his defense, there wasn’t much safety help on two of his allowed touchdowns — William Moore and Thomas DeCoud each bit hard on play action, opening up the middle of the field for in-breaking routes. And he did redeem himself, as his grade suggests, with an impressive interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick and two other pass defenses. It’s encouraging that he’s shown an ability to make plays on the ball. However, there’s also cause for concern if he’s going to be expected to log heavy playing time early in the season; the Titans went after him relentlessly and saw a lot of success throwing his way.
Ryan Under Pressure
Probably a factor in the underwhelming performance by the Falcon first team offense was the fact that Matt Ryan was pressured on a third of his drop-backs and sacked five times. On the three plays where he did manage to get the ball off, Ryan completed just one pass and had a paltry 1.7 YPA. The offensive line, particularly right tackle, is a position under the spotlight for the Falcons this preseason with the departure of Tyson Clabo, who’s graded positively in every season of the PFF era (since 2008) and came in below +20.0 overall just once. Mike Johnson was thought to be the replacement early, but will miss the season on IR.
Thus far, it’s fallen on Lamar Holmes to be the guy opposite Sam Baker, and the results have been mixed. He started the preseason well with a clean sheet in pass protection, but followed up with three pressures a week ago and was even worse in run blocking with a -3.9 grade against Baltimore. This week he continued to struggle, allowing two of the Titans’ five sacks, and an additional three hurries. The Falcons really struggled to pick up the various stunts that Tennessee employed up front, though fortunately that seems to be as much of a communication issue as it is physical – and the team still has some time to clean it up before Week 1.
Replacing John Abraham
Not a good day for the player expected to replace the production of departed defensive end John Abraham. Osi Umenyiora’s -3.4 was the team’s lowest grade, as he failed to register a pressure in 22 pass rushes, the majority of them coming against Michael Roos (+2.2). With no tackles or defensive stops, he was equally invisible in run defense – in terms of negative plays, he was sealed inside twice on outside runs, and missed a tackle from behind in downfield pursuit. His grade was more about what he didn’t do (i.e. pressure) than his actual play. This shouldn’t be too big of a concern for the Falcons, though, as Umenyiora finished with a grade of at least +1.3 in the team’s first two preseason games, albeit more of his impact has come against the run.
More so than looking at his grade, it’s interesting to compare Umenyiora’s usage so far to what we saw with Abraham. Against the Titans, he played 30 of his 37 snaps lined up on the defensive right side, which is also where Abraham spent most of his time. Looking at stance, though, there’s a pretty significant difference. In this game he only played standing up in a two-point stance a handful of times, and through three preseason games he’s lined up in a two-point stance just 13 times, less than 20% of his total snaps. Conversely, Abraham lined up in a standing, linebacker position more than 75% of the time. It is preseason, with Mike Nolan likely withholding a lot of the Falcon’s less vanilla portions of the playbook. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting trend, and we’ll be watching to see whether it affects the Falcons’ defense.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Against one of the league’s heavyweights, Jake Locker had his first positively graded game, and best passing performance of the preseason. He played just 36 snaps – the same number as last week – but compiled a +1.6 passing grade in that time. Locker completed 11 of his 13 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. What I found most notable, though, was his willingness to pull the trigger on deep and intermediate throws; nine of his passes traveled over 10 yards in the air. He was also noticeably better on play action, an observation that’s supported by the stats. The Titans used play action on 42% of Locker’s drop-backs (only Michael Vick had a higher rate). He completed all seven of his passes on those plays with a 146.7 QB rating, compared to a 102.8 rating and 66% completion rate on plays where they didn’t use play action. If he can continue to do this during the regular season, the Titans could surprise. Chris Johnson is a good threat to have in the backfield, and combined with pulling lineman defenses will bite pretty hard on PA, which the Falcons did a number of times.
As evidenced by their five sacks versus the Falcon first team offense, the Titans’ defensive line had a pretty solid game, especially in the interior. They were led by Jurrell Casey, who continued his strong preseason, compiling four quarterback disruptions, including two sacks. As mentioned above, the Falcons clearly had a lot of trouble dealing with the Titans’ blitzes and stunts, as three of those pressures came when Casey stunted with another defensive lineman. Stout as always in the run game, he added a stop to his stat sheet, though he wasn’t involved too much there, as the Falcons directed most of their runs to the outside.
Likewise, tackle Mike Martin had a strong game rushing the passer, as he picked up a sack and two pressures in 21 passing snaps. He forced a holding penalty on Sam Baker. Martin will be a player to watch going forward to see how he improves on his +12.2 graded rookie season, and if this game is any indication, he should continue to be a handful as a pass rusher.
After a standout performance a week ago, Titan’s rookie guard Chance Warmack (-0.9) came down to earth a bit against the Falcons. He followed up his clean sheet with two pressures allowed in pass protection, though neither was as bad as you’ll see often see from rookie guards: on one, he got bulled inside by Travian Robertson, while the other was more of a miscommunication. On that play he was caught inside and failed to engage a blocker the center was trying to pass off.
In terms of his run blocking, where he really excelled in his last game, Warmack was up and down. For instance, on one play he successfully sealed Peria Jerry to the inside, but on the very next play allowed Jerry to reach the ball carrier for a tackle for short gain. He similarly traded blows with Kroy Biermann, impressively knocking the Falcon down on a pull block on one play, while being bested later in the game when Biermann won outside to force a cut.
I found it interesting that, given Warmack’s athleticism, the team didn’t use him very often on pull blocks. They more often went with Andy Levitre, though on those plays they ran to Warmack’s right side, where they were also more successful – the team averaged five yards per carry on 20 attempts to the right of center, versus just 2.5 YPC on nine carries to the left.
– Two of the three passes thrown to Drew Davis resulted in drops. Not what the Falcons want to see with Roddy White out.
– Dominique Davis’ -3.3 passing grade won’t do anything to comfort the Falcon coaches should Matt Ryan ever go down, but he did show off some impressive athleticism on a 43 yard scramble, which was the game’s longest run.
– Titans kicker Rob Bironas bounced back to hit field goals from 39 and 53 yards, after missing two of his three attempts a week ago.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Jurell Casey, who led the way in holding the Falcons’ first-team offense to just six points.
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