Does that title count as burying the lead, a backhanded compliment, or simply the optimistic viewpoint of this game? I’m not sure, but whatever it was the Titans were outscored in the first half matchup’s of mostly starters, 17-10, but held the Falcons scoreless in the second half while putting up 14 points of their own, for a preseason victory.
The big news probably remains the first-team defense, which played into the third quarter because they pissed off Ken Whisenhunt with their slow start after the Falcons became the third (of three) preseason opponent to turn their first possession into a touchdown against the Titans. Matt Ryan’s decidedly casual day continued from there, as he finished 18-23 for 224 yards and two scores. Both scores came from beyond 30 yards but were off quick passes-the first against Jason McCourty, who slipped covering Devin Hester, and the second against Coty Sensabaugh, who Julio Jones was able to outmuscle-and featured Bernard Pollard in space as an additional culprit. It wasn’t all bad, as the Titans stiffened up to hold Ryan and the Falcons on downs late in the first half (credit Sammie Hill, who gave the Falcons troubles at times, on the fourth down stop) and to a three-and-out at the start of the second half before Ryan departed.
The Falcons’ early success (and lack of dunking over the goalpost) put the Titans’ first-team offense in a field position hole, as their average starting field position on Jake Locker’s six drives was their own 18. The first-team offense managed a field goal and a touchdown out of that. The field goal drive’s biggest plays, one completion and one pass interference call, came on passes to Justin Hunter, who continued to play with the first team in three wide receiver sets. The touchdown came on a big play to Nate Washington, who Locker had missed in the end zone on the field goal drive but who he didn’t miss on a deep post route with the safety nowhere to be round for a 63 yard catch and run. Locker, who finished 12-17 for 188 yards and the score, was for the most part reasonably efficient and effective. The most concerting thing was the pressure he got, including a couple sacks you’d like to see Shonn Greene do better on; Greene also struggled to find running room (6-15) against a Falcons defense that I find lacking in personnel undergoing their own scheme modification.
What changed in the second half? For one, Sean Renfree and T.J. Yates in the game instead of Matt Ryan, plus Atlanta’s second-team offensive line. The first one held up okay, at least in the pass game (Jurrell Casey flushed Ryan for a Hill sack on a 3-man rush on one play). Karl Klug is still better than your backup offensive linemen. Plus, it was the Falcons’ turn to have bad field position, as they started at or inside their own 21 on all five second half possessions. The Zach Mettenberger-led offense was part of that, as after a holding-related three-and-out his first possession he led three scoring drives, only one of which included a drive-extending penalty unrelated to the play after a third down stop. (Both teams ended with 10 penalties for around 100 yards, practically a flag-free game by last week’s standards.) On the whole, it was more of the same from Zach, thankfully minus the turnovers. He let the ball loose, finding the tight ends frequently (Taylor Thompson and Chase Coffman each had a pair of grabs that gained at least 10 yards from Mettenberger). His first two drives ended in field goals, while his third ended in a score on the ground by Bishop Sankey, who also scored on the two-point conversion. I thought Sankey, who wasn’t targeted with a catchable pass but who did draw a third-down defensive holding penalty right before his TD run, looked about how you’d expect a back who gained 44 yards on 16 carries to look.
What about the kickers? Travis Coons was one-for-two on field goals, hitting from 39 and missing well short from 63 at the end of the first half. Maikon Bonani hit both of his attempts, from 44 and 51. On kickoffs, Bonani seemed better than Coons, who didn’t force any touchbacks and saw one long Devin Hester return. The Titans will do things like chart kickoff times and have a more formal evaluation process, but on my tentative battle chart, push Coons down, Bonani and “Field” up.
Just for the record, my live viewing notes had the Titans generally sticking to the same outside linebacker rotation, with Ayers on the right and Phillips on the left with the second team and Ayers also playing with Copeland. I didn’t notice Patrick Bailey playing OLB, though I wouldn’t swear he didn’t.
Much more on this game later, after I spend my normal couple hours rewatching it in excessive detail.