As the two top quarterback prospects of 2008, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will forever be linked together. Ryan was the pro-ready prospect while Flacco was viewed as a quarterback with huge potential and a big arm, but was unpolished coming out of Delaware.
While both started from day one and enjoyed success with talented supporting casts, Flacco is the only one to experience any success in the postseason. After their Thursday night preseason matchup, it was Ryan’s Falcons, not Flacco’s Ravens, that appeared to be the team that narrowly missed a trip to the Super Bowl.
Ryan began the game marching the Falcons down the field in their well-oiled no-huddle attack, showing off a much-improved Julio Jones while completing all five attempts with four completions to Jones, including a touchdown reception.
The Ravens also began the game in a no-huddle attack, a newer wrinkle for Cam Cameron’s offense. Their initial series resulted in a three-and-out.
The Falcons’ first-team defense did an outstanding job in their run fits and played disciplined on the back side of running plays, eliminating cutback lanes for the shifty Ray Rice. The Ravens are sporting a patchwork offensive line that needs to show a great deal of improvement before the regular season kicks off.
Furthering the game manager reputation that he has earned, Flacco began the game tentatively, throwing mostly check-downs and short passes. Early on, new acquisition Jacoby Jones beat the Falcons' secondary over the top, but Flacco put too much air underneath the pass, missing what would have been a touchdown.
Eventually he became more assertive at the line of scrimmage, checking out of plays in reaction to the different Falcons' pressure packages. The Falcons' secondary played tight coverage all game, but Flacco managed to set up Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to catch passes and gain large chunks of yards after the catch, taking advantage of their speed and the opportunities underneath.
The drive culminated in a touchdown pass to Ed Dickson, who found a hole in the coverage and Flacco put the ball where only Dickson could get to it. Dickson hurt his shoulder on the touchdown, however, putting him on the shelf with fellow tight end Dennis Pitta (broken hand).
While Ryan finished with a spectacular line of 9-13 for 155 yards and a touchdown thanks to the sparkling performance of Julio Jones, he will likely be kicking himself all week for his red-zone interception on the team’s third drive. He lost track of underneath coverage on a slant that would have set up a goal-line situation if Ryan had thrown it over Brandon Ayabandejo.
Overall, the Falcons' offense appeared more explosive under new coordinator Dirk Koetter, with Jones ending the first drive with four receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown, opening up the intermediate range for Roddy White, who has the intelligence and route-running ability to excel in the middle of the field. Ryan was more aggressive downfield than he has been in the past, allowing him to not rely on tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The biggest statement on the Falcons’ offense was from running back Jacquizz Rodgers, showing the explosive big-play potential that has disappeared from Michael Turner’s game. Koetter utilized Rodgers in the same manner that he used Maurice Jones-Drew
in Jacksonville, and Rodgers joined Jones as a second-year player ready to have a breakout season.
The Ravens' defense has been scrambling to replace Terrell Suggs’ pass-rushing productivity, but were largely stonewalled by the Falcons’ offensive line. The Ravens did not use many blitz packages, but whether this is a result of using mainly base packages in the preseason or a change in philosophy with the departure of former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano remains to be seen.
Haloti Ngata did manage to collapse the pocket a couple of times and a slimmed-down Terrence Cody was able to generate penetration from his new position at defensive end.
There are many practices before the games actually count, and it is difficult to determine too much from pure base sets in an environment not designed to be competitive as much as it is meant to practice different looks against live competition.
With that in mind, it does appear that the Falcons made a loud statement about their intentions to kick down the door on the NFC playoffs. The Ravens, on the other hand, have a few concerns to address if they plan on improving upon last season’s disappointing finish.
Falcons ILB Akeem Dent began the game well, proving that he is ready to assume the starting spot with his solid running game play and a sack off a delayed blitz playing off a defensive line stunt. On the ensuing punt coverage Dent was knocked out cold. Young linebacker Robert James and long-time veteran Mike Peterson alleviated some concerns with solid play in relief, but the Falcons will be anxious for Dent to return.
The Ravens’ defensive line might not have generated much pressure, but they showed good awareness by knocking down several passes at the line of scrimmage.
Falcons defensive tackle Peira Jerry took advantage of the Ravens’ interior line by getting penetration on multiple plays. He looks on track to finally begin making good on his big-time potential.
Baltimore’s rookie running back, Bobby Rainey, was impressive in his debut. Unheralded coming out of Western Kentucky, he showed elusiveness, toughness between the tackles, and ability to catch the ball well out of the backfield. The 5-8, 212-pound back has similar skill set as Ray Rice, so he might not be used as a complement, but the Ravens will find a way to utilize him in special teams.
Cornerback Dominique Franks appeared to be on the roster bubble for Atlanta after the acquisition of Asante Samuel, but after nearly returning a punt for a touchdown he is feeling a little security.
Baltimore quarterback Curtis Painter dominated against third-stringers and rookies, but it is an indication of last year's abysmal performance that he is fighting for a backup job with the Ravens.