A major let down in week one of the preseason, the Falcon defense rose to the occasion on Thursday, looking every bit the part of an 11-man, redemption-seeking unit. While things weren’t perfect, the D’s week two performance was certainly strong enough to assuage some of the concerns those following the team saw highlighted in the team’s loss to Baltimore.
The big news from the D’s perspective in Thursday’s loss to Cincinnati was the return of defensive tackle Vance Walker. Walker had been out with a foot injury, and registered a tackle in his first live action of the preseason. Walker’s absence had tested the Falcons’ depth at defensive tackle, something that ultimately granted Peria Jerry the opportunity to impress. Jerry was Atlanta’s best defensive player against the Ravens, and was able to pick up where he left off one week later. Jerry recorded the team’s only sack, bringing down Andy Dalton inside the Cincinnati 20 yard line on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage.
The news wasn’t all good for defensive tackles however, as rookie free agent Elisha Joseph sustained a concussion Thursday, and has entered into the NFL’s concussion protocol, according to the Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. Joseph was initially brought into Falcons’ camp due to depth concerns at DT and isn’t expected to make the 53-man roster.
Taking advantage of a makeshift group of Cincinnati running backs that was without expected starter Benjarvus Green-Ellis, the rest of the Falcons defensive line had a field day stopping the run. Bengal running backs combined for just 27 rushing yards on 23 carries, but were helped out on the stat sheet by a pair of successful carries from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and wide receiver Marvin Jones. Lawrence Sidbury and Ray Edwards each recorded a tackle for loss, and figure to see plenty of time lined up on opposite sides of the line should both stay healthy this year.
Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi both contributed as well, and rookie draft pick Travian Robinson batted down two passed balls from his spot in the center of the line.
After playing sparingly against Baltimore, it wasn’t surprising that Mike Smith kept his starting linebackers in the game for a full half against the Bengals. Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon all played 30 minutes or more, and looked good in pass coverage. Weatherspoon recorded a TFL on Cincinnati’s Mohamed Sanu after the rookie made a short reception in the flat, and the trio made sure big gains through the air were kept to the outside.
In the absence of Akeem Dent, several younger linebackers have had the chance to see more of the field. None have stood out much however, and while the opportunity has been there for Rico Council, Robert James, Pat Schiller, Max Gruder and Jerrell Harris, nobody appears to have the upper hand. Of the five Schiller is the most like Dent in that he is most comfortable in the middle of the field.
Still, this group of five built on their unsatisfactory week one performance in which Curtis Painter threw three second half touchdowns. The Bengals only scored one touchdown through the air in the second half on Thursday.
The weakest group by position was the secondary. The corners were strong for parts of the game, with Darrin Walls leading the team with five tackles and both Dunta Robinson and Chris Hope making plays that yielded negative yards, but were also burned by A.J. Green on his 50 yard touchdown in the second quarter. Asante Samuel was the man in coverage on the play and was beaten down the right sideline.
Falcon defensive backs were also called for three penalties (25 yards) on the Bengals’ fourth quarter touchdown drive; William Moore for holding (declined,) Robert McClain for illegal contact and Darrin Walls for pass interference.
On a positive note all three strong safeties made plays, and the group was highlighted by starter Thomas DeCoud’s forced fumble of Cedric Peerman in the second quarter. The fumble bounced out of bounds however, and went for only a four yard loss.
Shann Schillinger’s week meanwhile was memorable not for what he did against the Bengals (one tackle) but rather for a heavy hit on backup receiver Kevin Cone during Saturday’s practice.
Cone has since been diagnosed with a concussion, and joins Elisha Joseph, Chris Owens, Corey Peters, Kerry Meier and Jason Snelling on the injured list.
Cone’s injury comes just one day after the Falcons waived injured receiver Michael Calvin after the team reached an injury settlement with the rookie. Calvin had been suffering from a leg injury that was apparently serious enough to warrant his dismissal from the team.