ATLANTA – Desmond Ridder has some fun weapons to work with. That was clear during Friday night's opening drive, when Falcons head coach Arthur Smith trotted Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Allgeier and Mack Hollins all out for the first time this preseason.
They were all involved in that first series, whether they had a stat or not. We saw Robinson slash his way through Cincinnati's defensive front seven during the 13-13 tie at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Pitts made a one-handed catch. London used his size to bring down a deep shot and showed smart change-of-direction on a pass thrown behind him to gain extra yards. Hollins made himself quarterback friendly for a pair of first-down catches.
The Falcons moved the ball effectively (despite waaaaaay too many penalty setbacks) until a tipped interception ended the first unit's only drive.
While they were on the field, though, the Falcons looked dangerous. That group of skill players showcased the versatility and talent we've been talking about for months, since these additions started in free agency and the draft.
"We looked very explosive," Robinson said. "I know it didn't end up how we wanted to, but I think going down the whole field how we did -- we got a couple of penalties, but other than that -- I think we looked really explosive for that first drive that we were out there."
Robinson used the term explosive. That's a good one.
I'll use another: threatening. That word fit even without Cordarrelle Patterson, who's sidelined with a soft-tissue injury.
And, yeah. I can hear you already.
It was one drive, Bair. In a preseason game. Oh, and the sequence drew four flags and ended with a pick. Big whoop.
Yep, those points are valid. Can't be ignored.
Now here comes the "but."
This might be the only time we see the first unit play live football together until Week 1. Arthur Smith is still pondering who will play next week.
If they're done for the preseason, what can we take from Friday night?
Early signs are encouraging. I think we can all agree on that.
The Falcons showcased the fact they have physicality and quickness in the backfield. They have size and toughness in the pattern, with more speed that you might think. And they've got the versatility required to run this position-less football stuff we've been hearing so much about, where all these guys we're talking about can line up virtually anywhere out of most any formation. And, as important as anything, they've got a stout line letting them work.
The intriguing part about all this: there's so much new in the group and there's so much Arthur Smith hasn't shown us. He's putting vanilla personnel packages out there in the preseason, as you'd expect. The full power of his scheme will have a profound impact on how these guys play. The system's unpredictability and constant search for mismatches will certainly help accentuate individual talent.
In sum, there's so much we don't know about how these guys are going to be used and how they're going to play off each other. It'll be fascinating to watch how all that comes together.
Ridder, for one, is loves having so many options to work with.
"I'm thrilled," Ridder said. "That's why Mr. (Arthur) Blank and Coach Smith and (GM Terry Fontenot) brought these guys in, to put playmakers around me. My job is to let them go play and find ways to get the ball in their hands. It was great being able to go out and work with them. I just took what the defense gave me.
"…We obviously have some things to clean up pre-snap and post-snap, but it was great to see everyone go out there and work."
Ridder's right. The Falcons must clean up Friday's penalty issues. Considering the Falcons were the least penalized team last season, there's confidence they will.
While there will be tons of focus on Robinson and what he can do, and London and Allgeier building off Year 1, don't you forget about Pitts. He's as important to this offense as anybody, with all the playmaking ability we saw during his rookie year.
Last season should be a virtual wash, after working with a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who struggled to accurately deliver him the ball and injury issues that cropped up before Ridder entered the lineup. Pitts is an elite talent, maybe the best pass catcher on this roster regardless of position. Having him back will provide a huge lift to a potentially dynamic offense with plenty of playmakers.
"It was good for Kyle to get out there, good to get him going to he could feel the speed of the game," Arthur Smith said. "If you use the preseason right, that's what it's for – to ramp up. Everybody needs to go through that."
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Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals during Preseason Week 2.