Offensive Struggles Hinder Falcons in Preseason Loss to Jacksonville

Written by Erik Slaby

Jacksonville, FL – Offense has been a problem for the Atlanta Falcons this preseason no matter what players have been on the field. Last week, with the starting offense playing for two drives, it appeared the problems were fixed after they scored two touchdowns. The problems came back in full force in tonight’s game as they were not able to get anything going offensively for most of the night. The Falcons lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a final score of 17-6.

At the start of the game, things looked promising for Atlanta as they were able to move down the field with ease, only stalling after a sack and an incomplete pass. Kicker Matt Bryant though was able to come out and drill a 47-yard field goal, giving the Falcons an early 3-0 lead and showing that more points would be coming on the ensuing drives. That was not to be. The vaunted Jacksonville defense stepped up and applied copious amount of pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throughout the first half, forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly or get sacked. In fact, the Falcons were not able to convert on third-down until the third quarter. They went 0-5 on third down before finally converting one. Ryan spoke after the game about the sacks and the Jacksonville defensive front.

I mean, it’s a good front seven for sure” said Ryan. “Talented, they’re deep, they have a good rotation where they can rotate guys in. A good scheme, they are aggressive, I thought they did a nice job. I thought our offensive line did a nice job, I mean, playing against a good defense like that, they are going to make some plays, they’re going to have their chances, and we had some of our chances too. We didn’t hit on enough of them.” He also added that, “you know, you have to understand that going into a game like that, when you’re at third and 6, third and 7-plus, that’s not where you want to be. We have to be productive on first and second down — when you go against a defense like the [Jaguars].”

Ryan and the starting offense, without wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman for the second straight week, played the entire first half and were only able to generate six points against the Jacksonville defense. Ryan completed 5 of 12 passes for 57 yards and was sacked three times. Running back Tevin Coleman led the team in rushing with 38 yards on seven carries. Third string quarterback Kurt Benkert led the team in passing, completing 6 of 14 passes for 89 yards.

Though the offense as a whole struggled, the defense played with an almost bend-but-don’t-break mentality. They were able to hold the Jaguars to 17 points and were able to intercept Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles twice, once on a tipped pass and another on an errant throw with the Jaguars in the red zone. Atlanta cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted the pass in the red zone and spoke about the play and how team chemistry enables the defense to be successful.

“We were in man to man, and I was watching his eyes,” said Wreh-Wilson. “I was able to make a play on the ball. That was something we needed coming out of the half down.” On team chemistry he stated, “we play fast. We get after it and do what we do. We are an attacking, aggressive-style defense. We try to impact the ball, take shots and try to get the ball on every play.”

Even though the Atlanta defense intercepted Bortles twice, they struggled to contain the Jacksonville running backs in both the running and passing games. The running backs combined to rush for 122 yards on 24 carries and catch 13 passes for 120 yards. Whenever Bortles or backup quarterback Cody Kessler had no receiving options down the field, there always seemed to be an open running back in the flat for a big gain. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett stated after the game, “We’re not where we want to be yet (as a defense). That’s good because we can only get better.”

Bortles led the Jaguars in passing, completing 17 of 23 passes for 204 yards, but also two interceptions. Kessler had an efficient night against the Atlanta backups, completing 7 of 7 passes for 79 yards and also rushing for a touchdown. Though Bortles had the two interceptions, he was consistent for the most part and was able to lead the Jaguars down the field multiple times and put them in scoring range. He spoke after the game about the interceptions.

“Stuff’s going to happen,” said Bortles. “There’s going to be tipped picks and stuff like that. The one down in the red zone, you can’t do that. You’ve got to get at least get 3 points out of there. It’s tough to throw an interception there on the 2 or the 3 or wherever he caught that ball. So, we’ve just got to make better decisions as far as taking care of it.”

Even with their struggles offensively this preseason, Ryan spoke optimistically about the offense saying, “I think we created some explosive plays, which has been good, you want to create those throughout the year. And I think that as we game plan a little bit better, and we get into more of that mode as we get into the regular season, those points are going to come.”

Next week in the final preseason game, the Falcons will be back at home in Atlanta to face off against the Miami Dolphins on August 30th at 7PM. After that, they will have some important decisions to make in cutting the roster down to 53 players before the opening game of the NFL season, on the road, against the defending Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles.

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