Preseason Week 2 Recap: Falcons vs. Browns

On Thursday night, the Atlanta Falcons took on the Cleveland Browns and won their second preseason game 24-13. Devonta Freeman ran in for a 19-yard touchdown on Atlanta’s opening drive. Ryan looked solid, going 6/11 in the game for 78 yards. Schaub followed him, going 8/12 for 78 yards as well. The first-string defense did not look as strong as they allowed Robert Griffin III two touchdown passes. The back-ups, however, stepped up shutting down Cleveland for the rest of the night. Overall, the Falcons had a mixed performance but they should continue to get better, especially defensively.

Takeaways for the Falcons
Low-Quality Kicking
With kicker Matt Bryant already out with leg stiffness, punter Matt Bosher had to leave the game early with a chest injury. Browns’ linebacker Tank Carder floored Bosher, with a blindside shoulder tackle, as Bosher slowed down after a punt.The injury placed the spotlight on rookie kicker Nick Rose. Rose was already on field goal duty in place of Bryant and ended up with all kicking duties. Rose looked overwhelmed most of the night. He pulled a 48-yard field goal far left in his first attempt of the game. This continued a trend that began last week against the Redskins. He made a 30 yarder later in the quarter, but that too was pulled left. The rookie also shanked a 16-yard punt to the right sideline. If Rose hopes to make the team, he needs to show improvement next week. It’s a rarity for teams to carry three kickers, but concerns about Bryant’s age may convince Atlanta to carry an on-squad backup. That won’t matter, though, if Rose continues to be more of a liability than an asset.

Defense
Atlanta’s first-team defense struggled to keep up with Cleveland’s offense, particularly Robert Griffin III. RGIII showed off his running ability on a 22-yard scramble and kept the Browns moving up-tempo on their drives, which Atlanta was not prepared for. Still, there were some positives. Adrian Clayborn recorded a sack and a backfield tackle on consecutive plays. If Clayborn plays with the same tenacity when rotating with Freeney this season, the Falcons should continue to see an improved defensive line. De’Vondre Campbell also impressed with two solo tackles and a deflected pass. Campbell’s coverage as a linebacker is coming along well. If he continues to work hard, he could become the best coverage linebacker on the team.

Quiet Debuts
Both 1st round pick Keanu Neal and recent free agent signee Dwight Freeney played their first game as Falcons. Neither made their presence felt much on the field. Freeney played on obvious passing downs, much like he will throughout the season. He recorded no tackles, but that’s not concerning. Freeney only joined Atlanta just over a week ago. The game was just a formality for him. On the other hand, Neal’s performance is something to watch. Atlanta drafted him for his hard-hitting tackles, which were not on display. Instead, he displayed his issues in coverage. He gave up a touchdown pass from Griffin to Gary Barnidge. The play was partially due to a great throw and catch, but Neal allowed too much separation between himself and Barnidge. Watch for Neal to continue working on his coverage skills in practice and throughout the rest of Training Camp.

Strong Back-up QB play
Despite a slow start from Matt Schaub, he continues to be the best back-up Atlanta has had since his last stint with the Falcons. On his defining drive during the 2nd quarter, Schaub went 8/10, which included a run of 7 consecutive completions. He also showed great patience throughout the drive. His willingness to continue throwing to Nick Williams demonstrated a patience that many back-up quarterbacks lack. Williams, who dropped two passes before the drive, became a key part of the drive. Although it ended in a field goal, the drive was something to build on for Atlanta’s second stringers. It’s been a long time since Atlanta could feel secure with their back-up quarterback situation and it’s reassuring to now have depth at the position.

Wild Running
Atlanta has its 3rd running back in Brandon Wilds. He’s a big, tough runner who will push the pile and provide a change of pace from Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Wilds scored a touchdown early in the third quarter on a 32-yard toss to the left. He also looked solid on the rest of his runs and highlighted that he will fight for yards. Wilds should make the team. Falcons fans shouldn’t be surprised if he gets playing time this season.

Players to Watch For Next Week
Next week will be the crucial 3rd preseason game. Against Miami, expect the starters to see significantly more snaps than they have in the last two games. This could be the game where the Falcons decide between Justin Hardy and Aldrick Robinson for the wide receiver three job. Expect both to get some shots from Ryan. Paul Worrilow will also make his last case to be a starter, while Campbell looks to finish claiming a starting position as well. Of all the preseason games, next week will be the one to watch.

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