The Atlanta Falcons are back in the Georgia Dome Friday night to kick off the 2014 preseason against the Miami Dolphins.
1. Ryan Efficient in Opener: The Falcons' offense looked sharp in a 15-play opening drive that saw the entire first-team sans Julio Jones getting snaps. It took 77 yards but the Falcons got into the end zone on a 2-yard run by Jacquizz Rodgers, but it was Matt Ryan's prowess that got them there. Ryan was 7-for-7 on the drive for 53 yards and found Julio Jones for three third-down conversion passes to keep the drive going. The scoring drive lasted 9 minutes, 16 seconds. Ryan was pulled in favor of TJ Yates after the drive.
2. Devonta Freeman Racks Up Yards — Sort Of: If the NFL was a penalty-free league, Antone Smith's yardage Friday night would have been off the charts. Alas, that's not the world we live in and Smith was plenty of his efforts being called back due to penalties — 100 yards, in fact. Smith caught a pass from Ryan on the opening drive for 36 yards but was called back due to illegal formation. On the next drive, he took off for a 76 yards touchdown run that caused fans to ooh and ahh, but the only sound by the end was that of the head official announcing a hold on the play. Still, for those Smith fans who want to see more of him this year, his looks during the first-team snaps and his progress regardless of penalties should be encouraging.
3. Defense Struggles Then Responds: The first-team defense had a slow start out of the gate as the Dolphins' offense led by QB Ryan Tannehill stormed down the field for their first touchdown of the preseason. In 12 plays, the Dolphins were able to convert two third downs as the Falcons defense tried to get its footing. On the next Miami drive, the Falcon defense stood tough, forcing a three-and-out with most of the first crew still on the field.
4. Rookie Roundup: It was a first chance to see some exciting rookies on the field Friday and they didn't disappoint. Offensive tackle Jake Matthews looked solid, but had a few rookie hiccups with two penalties in an altogether good first performance, especially against Pro Bowler Cameron Wake. Devonta Freeman stood out in the second half as he got more chances, dancing up the middle on a pretty 14-yard gain and taking an over-the-shoulder pass from Sean Renfree 57 yards to put the Falcons in scoring position. Ra'Shede Hageman had two tackles and LB Prince Shembo added two assists along with the only sack of the night for the Falcons. Undrafted wideout Geraldo Boldewijn was targeted a lot during his time but caught one pass. Fellow undrafted wide receiver Bernard Reedy had two catches for 61 yards.
5. Under-the-Radar Standouts: Cornerback Javier Arenas, mired in the tight competition at nickel, had a strong night, leading the team in tackles with three and getting in on a couple of breakups. Backup quarterbacks TJ Yates and Sean Refree each looked promising after they settled in, and while the Falcons didn't get into the end zone the rest of the night, the two looked stoic in the pocket and made some good decisions. Second-year safety Sean Baker, who spent much of 2013 on the Falcons practice squad, also had a nice night, and while it won't show up in the box score, he was markedly physical on his opportunities.