ReFo: ATL @ BAL, Preseason, Wk 2
It may only be preseason but it’s still nice to be able to measure contenders up against each other. This was exactly the opportunity we got when the Baltimore Ravens hosted the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, as the defending Super Bowl champions squared off with one of the teams hungry to knock them off their perch in February. Both teams have a lot of building to do before then but both will have been able to take away positives and negatives from this game as they look to refine their squads before the real business starts in a few weeks.
The Falcons led 10-7 when they pulled their starters during the second quarter, and held a 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter, before the Ravens fringe players mounted a comeback that is sure to endear them to their coaching staff and teammates alike. Both teams’ young and precociously talented receivers made their mark on the game and both defenses showed signs of coming together as well.
For those keeping a record the Ravens now move to 2-0 and the Falcons 0-2, but it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to say that the Falcons walk away from this game happier with their progress than the host champions will.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Struggling to Hold the Edge
One key area of concern for the Falcons has to be their run blocking to the outside of the formation. Everybody knows that at this stage of his career Tony Gonzalez isn’t going to provide a forceful presence in the run game (-18.1 run block in 2012), but the apparent lack of a presence behind him has to be a grave concern. Up against a physical run defense reserve tight ends Chase Coffman (-1.5) and Levin Toilolo (-3.4) were frequently and comprehensively outmatched by the Ravens edge defenders. Facing up with the likes of Chris Canty, Courtney Upshaw and even Adrian Hamilton, on the reserve defense, the Falcons’ tight ends couldn’t win their individual matchups. Even Lamar Holmes (-3.9) didn’t help matters getting bested by Arthur Jones on a couple of occasions and failing to locate and block Marc Anthony as he ambled in front of a third down run early in the third quarter. The Falcons only averaged 4.1 yards per carry when they went off tackle or wider last season. Without improvements in blocking it will be tough to improve just off the back of Steven Jackson’s arrival.
Vaughan Makes the Most of his Chances
The Falcons longest rush off end came from Josh Vaughan who, in spite of only four carries, was the brightest spark either team showed at running back. Vaughan got the Falcons’ second drive of the third quarter started with a bang, making Albert McLellan miss in the backfield after the Ravens’ linebacker got a free run through the left A-gap. He outran Matt Elam’s inside pursuit angle to challenge Asa Jackson to the corner, driving to the left sideline for a 20 yard gain. That wasn’t Vaughan’s only live-wire run though, later in the third quarter he again turned a potential loss into a positive play — shaking away from Adrian Hamilton before again working out to the left sideline for a 13 yard pick up. Across his two preseason games Vaughan has received precisely 0 yards before contact from his offensive line, this week he showed that he can still pick up yards and make defenders miss without that help.
Lockdown Defense Up Front
As much as the Falcons’ offense had some troubles to the outside in the ground game, their defense ensured that the Ravens ground game never got out of first gear. While the Falcons ground their way to 170 yards on 40 carries, they limited the Ravens to 61 yards on 26 carries with the starting defense in particular putting in a good showing. Jonathan Babineaux (+2.3 run defense) showed well at both defensive tackle and defensive end with three stops in the ground game. Of the starting defense the only player to grade negatively against the run was Corey Peters, thougt at -0.2 you could hardly say he had a poor showing. This was a concerted group effort, with even the usually lightweight Osi Umenyiora providing difficulty for Visanthe Shiancoe and Billy Bajema on occasion. With depth defenders like Malliciah Goodman (+1.5), Joplu Bartu (+1.7) and Paul Worrilow showing well the reserves didn’t let the standards slip when the starters took their leave.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Daryl Smith Shines in Home Debut
While Arthur Brown got his first preseason start and registered a pair of stops in 39 snaps it was Daryl Smith (+3.4) who stamped his authority on this game for the Ravens at linebacker. Both players registered a pair of stops but it was Smith’s work leading the charge to lay waste to the Falcons’ screen game that stood out in particular in this game. Smith registered a third down stop on a screen to Harry Douglas, and just past the midway point in the first quarter combined forces with Elvis Dumervil to shutdown another Atlanta attempt at a third down screen. While Dumervil got around Lamar Holmes to knock down Matt Ryan, Smith attacked Jacquizz Rodgers –knocking him down as he looked to release to the flat, cutting off the screen at the source. Combined all of that with a pass defense on the Atlanta starters’ final drive and this was an extremely encouraging display as Smith prepares for his first Week 1 game since 2011.
Big PlayPapering Over the Cracks
The biggest positive the Ravens’ offense takes away from this game is that the big play threat of Torrey Smith is not just limited to the go route. Smith’s long score came on a play that never should have hurt the Falcons as badly as it did. The Falcons played soft, to ward against the deep ball, and one bad angle later Smith was able to turn the jets on and torch the Falcons’ defense. However, outside of that one play the Ravens’ offense did very little. The starting offensive line laid waste to its own ground game and the passing game was entirely predicated on the sort of short passing that the Ravens simply do not operate well (particularly with the loss of the likes of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. That Flacco didn’t attempt a single pass of more than 10 yards shows how close the Ravens kept their cards to their chest. That they failed to generate any sort of rhythm outside of the big play could prove to be a persistent weakness for this offense.
Defensive Line Looks Ready to Go
While the Ravens are looking to bring in new personnel at linebacker, their defensive line personnel looks to be one of the most stable areas on the roster. That stability yielded some quality performances against Atlanta. Midway through the first quarter Haloti Ngata had “one of those plays” in run defense, defeating a double team by taking out both offensive linemen individually with his rare blend of size, strength and speed. Meanwhile Chris Canty, one of the few new faces, profited from facing up against tight ends in the ground game and got his hurry against Garrett Reynolds at guard. The depth performed too with Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson combining for a +4.5 run defense grade in their 35 combined run defense snaps. The rookie in the group, Brandon Williams, showed his ability as well notching five tackles (tied for third most on the team), three of which were stops tying him for the team lead. Personnel turnover may dictate a slow start for the linebackers but right now this defensive line group looks fresh, hungry and ready to hit the ground running in September.
– The Falcons’ response to Vonta Leach entering the game was to move Kroy Biermann to strong side linebacker, with Jonathan Babineaux kicking out to defensive end and (but for one snap against 3 wide) Peria Jerry coming in to play defensive tackle next to Corey Peters.
– Arthur Jones’ strong start to preseason continued as he backed up a three stop display in Tampa Bay last week with a further three stops against the Falcons.
– With two forced missed tackles on four carries Josh Vaughan forced more missed tackles than every other runner in the game combined.
PFF Game Ball
In light of the injury to Roddy White it will have been refreshing for Falcons fans to see Julio Jones (+1.2) pop up with a reminder that if White should miss time he is ready to carry the load. The Falcons turned their attention to Jones against Jimmy Smith for a concerted period and Jones came away the victor each time.
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