Each week in the preseason there have been key moments that have been encouraging and individual performances that are worth raving about. Atlanta's 34-16 loss on the surface is a frustrating one and while there are a lot of things the Falcons came away saying they want to work on, there were also a few positives that can not be overlooked. Jacquizz Rodgers and Ray Edwards were among the bright spots the Falcons were talking about in their post-game comments.
The Falcons weren't able to walk away with the points they wanted, unable to capitalize on opportunities inside the 20. Instead of touchdowns, they had to settle for field goals and quarterback Matt Ryan was not satisfied. He identified that as the thing he and the entire offense needs to improve on quickly before Week 1 of the regular season: "I thought the biggest thing, at least offensively, I thought we moved the ball pretty well in the first half up and down the field. We've got to be better in the red zone. That's something that we can work on and work on those types of throws. I need to be better in the red zone. I think if we can work on that and tidy that up in the next two weeks before we head up to Chicago, we'll be ready to go." *
Typically the preseason's fourth game is for backups to earn jobs. Much of the playing time goes to them and roster cuts come a few short days later. Head Coach Mike Smith said that may change a little next week, but it's unlikely since they want to make sure they use as much of their efforts to begin preparations for their Week 1 opponent: "We're going to have to watch the tape because I'm sure there will be some guys that we'll need to get a good strong look at. But we've got to get prepared, first and foremost, for the season opener up in Chicago." *
Even though Ray Edwards had a quiet night, he showed his impact. The bookend pass rush by him and Vic Beasley Jr. helped the middle of the line crash the pocket, resulting in two defensive tackle sacks. Edwards didn't record any sacks on the evening but Jonathan Babineaux did and he recognized the help he got from his new teammate: "Ray's a great pass rusher. He's got a solid game as a pass rusher. He's all fundamentals. I think he's going to be a force on the end. Abe and him will have a great year and I'll be pushing up the middle. Us working together consistently I think we'll be happy with the sacks we get this year." *
One of the stars of the evening was rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers gained fifty yards through the air and on the ground in mostly a second half of work. The quick and instinctive back has more than enough talent to make plays with the ball in his hands, but the thing the Falcons must make sure of is his durability as a blocker on third downs. In Atlanta's offense that role is critical and Smith and Ryan both cited Rodgers' work on this throughout training camp. Saturday night he held his own, proving that he's made significant strides and will not be a liability: ""When you practice for this long the game kind of slows for you. Blitz protection becomes a lot easier. Pittsburgh runs a tough defense with guys moving everywhere. You've got to know who they identity as the Mike and just block your person."