There were some explosive plays on offense, a turnover created by the first-team defense, some steady pressure by defensive end Ray Edwards and even a few screen passes.
Quarterback Matt Ryan played until midway through the second quarter and the rest of the starters were done by halftime when the Falcons led 13-10. Not much mattered after that, but there were lots of encouraging signs from the starters. Let’s run through some observations:
Ryan’s numbers (18-of-21 for 174 yards and a touchdown) look spectacular and he completed his first 11 pass attempts. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ryan’s first eight passes were mostly short ones and he didn’t have a long completion until connecting with Roddy White for a 24-yard gain on his ninth pass. He followed that with a 21-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez and later had a downfield completion in traffic to Julio Jones. Ryan seemed under pressure early, but the offensive line seemed to settle down as time went on. Ryan also missed slightly on a deep throw for Jones. The ball was well thrown, but it went off Jones’ fingertips.
In his first two preseason games, Ryan has completed 27 of 34 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking of the offensive line, Garrett Reynolds got another start at right guard and it looks like he could remain there. There had been thought that rookie Peter Konz would overtake him. But Konz went down with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter. Konz did return to the game, but it remains to be seen if he'll be healthy enough to play in the third preseason game. If Konz doesn't start in the third preseason game, then the starting job likely belongs to Reynolds.
Ewards, who played hurt and wasn’t productive last year, was a definite factor against the Bengals. I saw him get good pressure on Andy Dalton once and he also chased down a ball carrier in the backfield.
Speaking of maligned defensive linemen, former first-round pick Peria Jerry continues to play well. He’s starting in place of the injured Corey Peters. Jerry had a sack on Dalton, although he did get called for a late hit two plays earlier. Still, it was nice to see Jerry show some of the skills that made him a first-round pick. If he keeps playing the way he has been, he might have a chance to move ahead of Peters or at least get significant time in the rotation.
Jerry wasn’t the only interior lineman producing pressure. Jonathan Babineaux sacked Dalton, but the play was nullified when Babineaux was called for a face-mask penalty. I watched the replay several times and saw no indication that Babineaux’s hand ever got close to Dalton’s face mask. I think the replacement refs botched that call.
Thomas DeCoud and William Moore have made some noise that they believe they can be one of the best safety tandems in the league this year. That seems like a long shot, if you go simply by what they’ve done in the past. But there was a moment against the Bengals when it looked like that could become a reality. Moore stripped the ball from running back Brian Leonard and DeCoud quickly pounced on the fumble.
The Falcons appear to be very serious about throwing more to their running backs. Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Lousaka Polite each caught passes. Polite, who recently was signed to provide depth at fullback, caught a short touchdown pass. I’m not sure I want to see too many passes to Turner and Polite in the regular season because I don’t see either of the making big plays after the catch. But I think Rodgers has the skill to do that and he should be targeted often. Also, Rodgers had a very nice run between the tackles in the second quarter. A lot of people think Rodgers can’t run between the tackles because he’s short. But the Falcons believe Rodgers is thick enough to run up the middle and I think you’ll see a fair amount of that this year.
Speaking of Rodgers, he also got a long look at punt returner and kickoff returner. The highlight was a 29-yard punt returner, before giving way to Dominique Franks, who is competing for the job as the punt returner. Rodgers is competing for the kickoff return job with his brother, James.
I saw some good and bad things out of cornerback Asante Samuel. He did a nice job going up with A.J. Green for a pass and breaking it up. But Samuel also got beat badly by Green on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Samuel sat on a short route, looking like he thought he could jump in and intercept. But Green took off downfield and left Samuels to chase him.
I keep liking what I see out of undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis. He throws well and is athletic. He might be raw, but I think the Falcons could develop him into something if they keep him around. I think Davis could be an upgrade over No. 3 quarterback John Parker Wilson. Davis looked great with the fourth team. The Falcons might be wise to give him a look with the second or third team in the final two preseason games.