ATLANTA – The Falcons dropped their 12th straight preseason game Thursday night. While that streak is mildly interesting (more on that later), there's plenty to unwrap from the Falcons' fourth preseason game of 2019.
As the coaching staff continues to evaluate this roster with one game to go, there were some good – and not-so-good – things that unfolded here during a 19-7 loss to the Washington Redskins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Let’s start with the positives.
Matt Ryan’s protection was much better this week
A week after being sacked three times and pressured on several other dropbacks in just four offensive series of play against the New York Jets, Matt Ryan had a much cleaner pocket to operate with against the Redskins. Ryan wasn’t sacked once as he completed 9 of 14 pass attempts for 74 yards.
It’s worth noting that James Carpenter, who had been out with a hip flexor, made his first appearance of the preseason at left guard. He rotated with Jamon Brown while Ryan was under center. Matt Gono started at right tackle for the injured Ty Sambrailo and while the results were mixed, Falcons coach Dan Quinn seemed pleased afterwards.
“It felt exactly like I’d hoped it would,” Quinn said. “When you’re watching a game and watching the guys and it feels real normal as you’re going through, and especially at that position, that’s what you hope to see.”
Again, it wasn’t a perfect night by any means for the offensive line, but it was a step in the right direction and No. 2 stayed upright.
The Falcons’ defensive front was disruptive at times
The Falcons’ defensive stats weren’t exactly eye-popping – they tallied just one sack and had no interceptions – but they did make a number of key stops and forced a turnover. And, at times, the Falcons defense looked downright disruptive.
Second-year defensive tackle Deadrin Senat, who finished with three tackles, made the defensive play of the night when he sacked Case Keenum and forced the Redskins quarterback to fumble. Takk McKinley scooped up the ball up and returned it 17 yards. Even better, the Falcons cashed in on the turnover when Ito Smith scored on a 5-yard run to put Atlanta up, 7-3.
Ollison closing in on the No. 3 running back spot
When the Falcons opened preseason play against the Broncos in the Hall of Fame Game up in Canton, Ohio, rookie running back Qadree Ollison looked indecisive as he finished with 2 yards on six attempts.
Over the last three games, however, Ollison has made the most of his opportunities. Against the Redskins, the former Pitt standout ran for 42 tough yards on 12 carries. Last week against the Jets, Ollison ran it nine times for 44 yards.
As training camp came to a close, Falcons coach Dan Quinn made it clear that the running back competition was wide open behind lead back Devonta Freeman. Four preseason games later, it appears that a pecking order is taking shape and Ollison is no worse than No. 3, for now.
Jermaine Grace continues to make big plays on defense
Another preseason game, another big night for Jermaine Grace. Let’s look at what the Falcons linebacker has done over the last four preseason games.
- Against the Broncos: Four tackles, a half-sack and a QB hit.
- Against the Dolphins: Tied for a team-high five tackles and had an interception.
- Against the Jets: Team-high six tackles.
- Against the Redskins: Four tackles, a QB hit, a pass break-up at the goal line to prevent a score.
It’s safe to say that Grace is making a strong case to make this 53-man roster. I’d be genuinely surprised if he doesn’t at this point.
Duke Riley shows up in a big way
This time last year, most of us had penciled Duke Riley in as one of the starting linebackers on this unit. Then the 2018 season happened – and then-rookie Foye Oluokun showed up and outplayed Riley.
Riley, who has been battling some injuries this preseason, needed to have a big performance – and delivered. The third-year linebacker out of LSU led the Falcons with six tackles, the biggest coming late in the second quarter when blew up the Redskins’ lead blocker, shed the block and stuffed running back Derrius Guice on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Redskins ultimately settled for a field goal.
Now for five not-so-good things to unfold against the Redskins.
It’s getting harder to defend Giorgio Tavecchio’s misses
The Falcons kicker missed his only attempt of the night – a 39-yarder – and now he’s 4 of 8 during the preseason. Before tonight, I was telling everyone to tap the brakes on Tavecchio, mainly because his three previous misses this preseason were all from distances greater than 52 yards (54, 52 and 52). But Tavecchio must nail that 39-yard attempt instead of missing it wide left.
“I didn’t get all the results I wanted, this team deserves better,” Tavecchio said after the game.
Look, I know everyone is saying the right things at the moment, but the Falcons can’t feel great about that situation right now.
Green, Zaccheaus struggle in return game
Marcus Green and Olamide Zaccheaus are both rookies who are not only trying to make this roster, they're also vying for the return job. Both had forgettable nights, too, as each of them muffed punts resulting in turnovers against the Redskins.
The clear leader in the clubhouse for the return job at this point is Kenjon Barner, and he didn't even play. With one game to go and limited opportunities, it's an uphill battle for each of them right now.
The Falcons were a woeful 3 of 12 on third down
Yes, it’s preseason, but that (25 percent) is not a good conversion rate at all. The offense struggled to move the chains against the Redskins and I only point it out if it continues to be a problem moving forward into the regular season. Against the Jets, the Falcons converted 7 of 18 third-down plays. In Miami against the Dolphins they were 4 of 12 and in their opener up in Canton against the Broncos they converted just 3 of 16. As I sometimes say ...
For now, my advice to Falcons fans is to remember that Julio Jones (and bunch of other starters) aren’t playing and to start counting down the days until the Week 1 opener against the Vikings.
Too many penalties – again
I know, I know. It’s preseason and there’s a bunch of guys who are playing right now that won’t even be in uniform come Sept. 8, but look at the number of penalties through four preseason games:
- Against the Broncos: 12 for 98
- Against the Dolphins: 12 for 97
- Against the Jets: 12 for 118
- Against the Redskins: 9 for 89
Can we get a win already?
OK, the preseason wins and losses don’t really matter – I’ve said it countless times. But the last time the Falcons tasted an exhibition win was Sept. 1, 2016, a 17-15 win over the Jaguars. That’s 1,086 days ago. Losing streaks are no fun, even during the exhibition season. For what it's worth, the Falcons play those same Jaguars next Thursday.
It would be nice for this team to end this skid and head into Week 1 on somewhat of a positive note. And (mostly) because no one wants to be talking about a ridiculous losing streak anymore.
*Editor's note: All opinions here are Matthew Tabeek's unless otherwise noted.