The Atlanta Falcons lost their first preseason game Thursday night. Losing is never fun, but in the exhibition season you must look a bit deeper to find out what really happened.
Its a small sample size, but if you watched the game, particularly the first quarter, you know Atlantas first-team offense and defense did well. In fact, they did well enough to make you feel pretty good about what we might see in the regular season.
The defense stood out, and if you did not know the Falcons had a new defensive coordinator, you would have been able to tell by watching the players play. Not one player stood out, but there was a different look to the defense, and it had nothing to do with scheme.
There was an aggressiveness that has been needed for a long time. New coordinator Mike Nolan is more known for running a 3-4 defense, but going to that completely would scrap what head coach Mike Smith has had in place since he took the job. Instead, it was obvious Nolan is looking to be creative to take advantage of the personnel.
Theres no doubt the middle linebacker situation is an issue. Akeem Dent got hurt playing special teams, and he might miss the valuable time he needs to acclimate himself as the replacement for Curtis Lofton. The Falcons need to bring in another veteran, since Mike Peterson mainly has played on the outside, and we still dont know if Dent will be good or not.
But at first glance, Nolans defense looks more like a NFL defense, compared to what weve seen with Brian VanGorder at the helm the past four years.
Offensively, theres still a lot to figure out. Now that draft pick Bradie Ewing is out for the season with a knee injury, the Falcons must bring in someone to help out Mike Cox at fullback. Its a shame they released Ovie Mughelli, who had been the starter for the past five years but was released after Ewing was drafted out of Wisconsin.
The offensive line still must show more, and I am not certain Garrett Reynolds is the answer at guard. He looked better than he did last season, but perhaps I just cant convince myself that someone who looks like a tackle can play guard.
But the new vertical offense installed by new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was enough to get every Atlanta fan excited. Vertical doesnt necessarily mean going long, and with a quarterback who has questionable arm strength, its not necessary anyway.
All Matt Ryan has to do is to throw the ball between 12 to 17 yards and let his speedy receivers take over. Sure, its fun to see a quarterback throw the ball down the field, but Ryan is not Steve Bartkowski. Let Ryan do what he can do best: put a nice touch on the ball and let a 15-yard pass turn into a 30-yard reception.
Thats what we saw Thursday, when Ryan fired a few passes to Julio Jones, who then took off. Jones will make Ryan look like he can throw the ball down the field, as people will see the long receptions and think Ryan threw the ball more than 30 yards. But all Ryan has to do is to get it in Jones hands and let him do most of the work.
Jones and Roddy White arguably make up the best wide receiver duo in the league, and then you add future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, and Ryan has tremendous weapons. What we saw in the first quarter Thursday night told us its unlikely the word boring will be used to describe this offense, as it was too frequently under former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
Again, it was only one quarter. The second- and third-team players didnt look as sharp for Atlanta, and thats why Baltimore won. But for a team in need of a special season, it was good enough to make you want to watch the next exhibition game to see whats next.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.