In the two years that Dan Quinn has been the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, he has never shied away from making what the expectations are for making the roster. Sunday afternoon the second and third units were given plenty of opportunities to standout for better or worse.
“Thomas and I, on the flight back, are going to dig right into the second half before we even watch the first half,” said Quinn. “There are so many guys that we are evaluating and looking to see who can battle and make an impact for this team. We cannot wait to go.”
With two games remaining in the preseason, players are either battling for a roster spot, auditioning for another team, or coming to the brutal realization that the NFL is beyond their capability. It is unlikely any of the returning starters will have to worry about making the team which doesn’t leave a lot of room for additions. The key as always is flexibility.
The starting offense and defense didn’t disappoint in Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Devonta Freeman’s injury gave Terron Ward an opportunity to start. Ward not only started, he played in every quarter and scored the game’s first touchdown. He made the most of playing with the starting line gaining 25 of his 37 yards rushing in the first quarter.
It’s clear Ward’s chances to make the team will be impacted by his ability to play on special teams. He was included on all four special teams. There was no “coach speak” from Quinn when discussing the third-year back. “The third running back is a really important one,” said Quinn. “Not only do you have to say not only do I have to step up and play when capable, but I also have to make an impact on the team.”
There’s no question special teams is an area where the Falcons want to improve over last season. Which made the 64-yard punt return for a touchdown by Steelers return man Trey William all that more problematic. Quinn mentioned “disappointing” along with several statements about “finding out who can cover” in reference to special teams.
Atlanta’s second and third teams didn’t fair well against the Steelers second and third teams. Quarterback Matt Sims, who is likely auditioning for another team, was unable to move the offense in the second half. With Sims at the helm most of the second half, Atlanta’s gained only 59 yards. The four-year pro didn’t help his audition tape by getting picked off by Jordan Dangerfield on the first play from scrimmage after the defense turned over the Steelers.
Defensively, the Falcons played well allowing the Steelers 189 yards of total offense and intercepting both opposing quarterbacks once. Rookie safety Quincy Mauger (Georgia) made a diving interception of an ugly pitch by Steelers rookie starting quarterback Josh Dobbs. “A whole bunch of thoughts went through my head on that play,” said the Alpharetta High School product. “Originally, I was going to run for it. I had the guy in the flat. Then they covered him. And I didn’t think I was going to get tackled and then I was tripping.” Cornerback Akeem King picked off Bart Houston in the end zone to thwart a potential Pittsburgh scoring drive.
Atlanta returns home to prepare for the third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will be the Falcons first game in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.