The Atlanta Falcons failed to impress in their dress rehearsal on Saturday night as they lost 13-9 to the Dolphins in Miami.
Starting quarterback Matt Ryan completed 3-of-7 pass attempts for 49 yards as he was sacked three times in four total drives. Ryan has completed 13-of-18 pass attempts for 210 yards and two touchdowns this preseason. He played without his top two receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White against the Dolphins as Leonard Hankerson led the Falcons with three catches for 50 yards.
Jones, who agreed to a five-year, $71.25 million deal with $47.5 million in guaranteed money on Saturday is the most important pass catcher on Atlanta’s roster. His contract is similar to the ones Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Dallas’ Dez Bryant signed earlier this offseason.
“I’m probably the happiest person in the organization to have him back,” Matt Ryan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Falcons had two drives that ended in three-and-outs as the first-team offense generated a field goal under Ryan in their four drives.
Overall, Atlanta’s running game compiled 50 yards on 24 carries, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry. Jerome Smith finished with a team-high 20 rushing yards on six carries and a long of nine yards. Second-year FSU product Devonta Freeman (hamstring) didn’t suit up, but rookie Tevin Coleman made his preseason debut totaling carrying the ball four times for two yards.
“It’s a really important part of what we want to do,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s a real emphasis for us. We really feel like for us to be able to run the ball closes the circle of toughness on our team. For us to win it at the end of games, there will be times when we have to run it and finish.”
The offensive line was an issue for Atlanta on Saturday night as Ryan didn’t have much time in the pocket in his four drives and neither did backup T.J. Yates, who was sacked three times in their final eight drives of the game.
At left guard, there is a battle between second-year man James Stone and sixth-year Illinois product Jon Asamoah. Stone ran with the first-team on Saturday night. He made nine starts a year ago and is in the lead for the starting left guard job. Asamoah has 56 starts in five seasons, including 15 a year ago in Atlanta.
The Falcons have allowed 11 sacks in three preseason games with five coming in the first two weeks. Backup left tackle Tyler Polumbus (knee) left the game and was out for the rest of the night.
At tight end, Atlanta still haven’t figured out their starters. In total, the Falcons’ tight ends caught two passes for 17 yards on four targets with Tony Moeaki reeling in a catch for nine yards and Levine Toilolo adding a catch for eight yards. Moeaki later left the game with an ankle injury and sat out.
“Tight end wise, we are still evaluating all of them,” Quinn told the AJC. “That position is something that we are looking at hard.”
Atlanta’s offense will be the team’s bloodline as Quinn continues to reshape his defense starting up front.
Third-year Texas State product Joplo Bartu made the play of the night when he intercepted Matt Moore’s pass attempt following a pass breakup by Tyler Starr. Bartu took the pick back 41 yards to set the Falcons up in field goal range. Bartu and Starr are competing for a reserve linebacker spot and the fourth preseason game could be where the Falcons figure that race out.
Starting middle linebacker Paul Worrilow led Atlanta in tackles with nine as he added a team-high two tackles for a loss. Free safety Ricardo Allen was also active with seven tackles.
The Falcons play host to Baltimore on Thursday in the preseason finale. Prior to that game, on Tuesday they will have to cut down their roster from 90 to 75 players. Following the game just two days later they will have to get to the 53-man limit.
Atlanta has some tough decisions to make, but they have a chance to be an improved team in the NFC South under Quinn. The Falcons will be ready for the regular season opener against Philadelphia on Monday Night Football despite a poor showing on Saturday.