Potential Super Bowl? A recap of Falcons vs. Ravens preseason

The Atlanta Falcons finally resembled something close to a preseason Super Bowl contender in their 27-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night. The second game of the preseason showcased more of the starters’ talent as well as the backup players’ potential.

The Atlanta Falcons starters truly out-shined the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, outscoring them 20-7 in the first half. Both the Falcons offense and defense took two steps forward after last week’s disappointing performance against the Bengals.

Overall, the Falcons out-gained the Ravens by 173 total yards and racked up 422 yards of total offense. They had 27 first downs including a sixteen-minute span where they had eleven first downs. The running game was the most significant improvement from last week as the Falcons offense gained 170 yards on 40 rushes, which averaged out to 5.1 yards per carry.

Last season, the Atlanta Falcons running game struggled immensely, especially in short down situations and in the red zone.  After last week’s preseason game against the Bengals, many were questioning the impact of the Falcons’ signing of Steven Jackson. Even though this was largely due to the poor effort from the offensive line, people were hoping for a better performance from the veteran running back who came to Atlanta knowing this was his chance for a Super Bowl ring.

This week against the Ravens, Jackson rushed for 42 yards on eight carries and he even tacked on one reception for thirteen yards demonstrating some of his versatility as a running back. Jackson is the NFL’s current leading active rusher and is also the leader in receptions and receiving yards among all running backs.

Not only did Jackson finally perform to his expected level of play but also his performance was complimented by the outstanding improvement in play from the Falcons offensive line. All eyes were on offensive linemen Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder to see how they would match up with fantastic pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumeril. While the offensive line is definitely still a huge question mark for the Falcons, its performance tonight allowed everyone to rest a little easier.

Atlanta Falcons

from AtlantaFalcons.com

With improved protection from the O-line, Matt Ryan continued to prove why he gets paid the big bucks, as he was 8/15 passing for 97 yards with a QB rating of 95.7. Ryan’s chemistry with one of the most exciting wide receivers in the league, Julio Jones, continued to impress as they connected for an eight-yard touchdown pass. Speaking of the talented wide receiver, Jones, who didn’t play last week due to hamstring tightness, looked to be in midseason form as he caught three passes for 55 yards.

Last week, Falcons fans and coaches were extremely worried about the depth at the quarterback position after the disastrous performance by Dominique Davis. The coaching staff noted that he made some stupid mistakes; however, they also credited his poor performance to some unfortunate circumstances as well as the crop of talent he was working with. Davis definitely showed improvement against the Ravens as he led the Falcons on three scoring drives. The young QB was 8/10 passing finishing with 98 yards and a QB rating of 107.5.

On the other side of the ball, the Atlanta Falcons defense showed drastic improvement. The first team defense played the entire first half and held reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco’s offense to 131 total yards. The only downside of the performance by the Atlanta Falcons’ defense was the 77-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith caused by defensive back William Moore’s inability to tackle in the backfield.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux continued to do his part as a defensive leader ending the game with two tackles for a loss as well as three solo tackles. Babineaux has always been a reliable defensive option for the Falcons but his performance this season will be interesting to watch as his contract is up for extension at the end of the season.

Before last week’s preseason game against the Bengals, no one had uttered the name Paul Worrilow. However, after the rookie linebacker led the team in tackles last week, his performance against the Ravens was thoroughly scrutinized. The kid continued to impress with another team-best six solo tackles. Keep looking out for the ex- University of Delaware walk-on as he continues to fight for a spot.

Finally, the Atlanta Falcons special teams were absolutely outstanding as always when it comes to kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher but drastically needs improvement when it comes to punt defense and someone who can return punts. Corner back Robert Alford is still showing the most promise as a punt returner but there needs to be a lot of growth before he will be successful.

These were the few takeaways from an overall exciting game against two potential Super Bowl contenders. For Falcons fans, it was especially noteworthy that the Falcons starters definitely played better and competed with the Ravens starters proving the amount of potential for this 2013 season. The only news to be on the lookout for regarding Falcons is the apparent ankle injury of veteran wide receiver Roddy White. The seriousness of the injury has not been released but did not seem to be something too worrisome.

What did you think? Did the Falcons truly play that well or did the Ravens perform at a lower level of play? What are the biggest concerns for both teams heading into the last few weeks of the preseason? As always, voice your opinions in the comment section below.

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