The Atlanta Falcons first team offense got their groove back and at least temporarily put at ease worries (despite it being only preseason) that things will be back to relatively normal s they downed the Cleveland Browns Thursday 24-13
Matt Ryan looked crisp as he completed his first passes of 2016 after being shutout in his debut last week. The Falcons took the opening kickoff and marched 71 yards capping the drive with a 19-yard scamper by Devonta Freeman.
“I thought it was good. It was obviously a good drive for us on that first one. We had some opportunities on the second and third drives, too to come up with some points, but we fell a little bit short. But I thought it was good. We ran the ball really well all night which is encouraging to see. I thought we made some plays in the pass game. I thought we were a little bit more sharp than we were the first week,” said Ryan about the opening drive.
Despite the win the night actually belonged to Robert Griffin III. Griffin looked to show old form, something he hadn’t since prior to his injury his rookie season in 2012. The former second overall draft pick (behind Andrew Luck) put on a passing and running clinic giving the home crowd hope that they may have finally found a stable starting quarterback – something they haven’t had since they returned to town in 1999.
Griffin, who played most of the first half threw for 96 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 36 on three carries as she showed poise, mobility and a little more maturity in the pocket than in recent years. His coring strikes came from 50 yards out as rookie Terrelle Pryor scorched the Falcons secondary catching the bal in full stride and a 29 yard strike to Gary Barnidge that made the score at that point 13-7.
But that was all she wrote for the Brown as the Falcons reeled off 17 unanswered points to win going away to improve to 2-0 in preseason.
Matt Simms, competing for the number three spot on the roster behind Ryan and Matt Schaub was impressive as he completed 10-of-13 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown as he hit Devin Fuller along the right sideline to cap the scoring.
The Atlanta offense was on fire as they rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense, 224 of it on the ground. Rookie Brandon Wilds proved once again the depth in the Falcon running game as the rookie scored from 32 yards out in the third quarter to put Atlanta ahead. Wilds gained 49 yards on eight carries. Falcon QBs spread the ball around to 13 different receivers. Expensive free agent Mohamed Sanu looked good catching three passes for 45 yards as hopes are he will fill the void left by Roddy White. Julio Jones also got his first reception of the season for 20 yards.
The team proved adept at keeping the chains moving as they were 10 of 13 in third down conversions through the first three quarters. Ryan and the first team were three of three. “The running backs, the offensive line, I thought they stole the show tonight,” Quinn said. “I was pleased with the running backs; they were totally pulling for one another,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
The Atlanta pass rush that debuted last week with three QB sacks was quiet Thursday as they put little pressure on Browns. Griffin seemed to have all the time in the world and when he didn’t he ran for a large gain. Granted, the Brown QBs are more mobile than last week’s opponents, but with the first team getting more reps this week it only highlights a nagging problem that has plagued the Falcons since the release of John Abraham after the 2012 season. They did manage two sacks on the night as the reserves seem to be getting off the tackle better than the first team.
Special teams who made waves last week took a step back this week. Nick Rose, who is supposedly competing with Matt Bryant as place kicker did not do himself any favors this week as he missed two generally close field goals and then found himself subbing for punter Matt Bosher who was injured on a cheap shot during a kickoff. One of Rose’s punts was for only 16 yards.
The Falcons will be in full dress rehearsal mode Thursday night as they travel to South Beach to take on the Miami Dolphins. The first team will take a majority of the reps before giving way to the second team in the third quarter.
The Falcons return home for their preseason finale on September 1 where they will host Jacksonville.
– Dave Weinthal
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