QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons offense clicking early in preseason action

By Darry Ledbetter, The Sports Xchange   |   Aug. 21, 2017 at 8:15 PM
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons' first-team offense has scored touchdowns on both of their exhibition season possessions.

In the two series, quarterback Matt Ryan has gone 7 of 9 for 88 yards and one touchdown, and a 123.9 passer rating. He's been without wide receiver Julio Jones for both games and running back Devonta Freeman for the last game.

Ryan has clearly adjusted well to new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The issue moving forward will be the health of his two major weapons. Jones is recovering from offseason foot surgery and Freeman is in the league's concussion protocol.

In addition to those two issues, the Falcons must settle on a right guard. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, with the important third exhibition game looming, is not ready to declare a winner in the battle for the starting position.

Quinn clearly is concerned about pass protection from that spot, which became vacant when Chris Chester elected to retire over the offseason. Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer have been rotating at the position throughout the offseason and exhibition season.

Garland started the first game against Miami and Schweitzer started against Pittsburgh.

"I'd rather go through a couple of days here and see how their weeks goes," Quinn said on Monday. "It's kind of that close to say who's battling for it."

Garland played some guard and center against the Steelers. That might be a tip-off because the backup has to able to play both positions, as most teams only carry seven linemen on their game-day 45-man roster.

"Both of them have really good run game stuff where they can get onto the second level and get guys," Quinn said. "Wes is a little bigger and has a little more bulk. Ben has almost the same size, but when he latches on he can really latch onto a guy down the field with his quickness. They are a little different that way. ... We really have two players who are playing at a high level."

Whether Sarkisian ends up upstairs or on the field calling plays, the Falcons are holding back some fireworks for the season.

"We have plenty of things that we are working on to try to improve," Quinn said. "We are not showing everything that will be used in the regular season. Right now, it's about timing and the urgency that we play with without tons of the game plan portions going in.

"In terms of Sark's role with the offense, he's off to a great start. You can tell the leadership that he has with staff and the players. He's off to a really good start here."

Ryan believes the offense is ready to fly. He was proud of the 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive against the Steelers.

"It's always good to have those situations come up this time of year," Ryan said. "(It was) unfortunate with the penalty we had on special teams, but you have to respond. I was proud of the way we converted some third downs on that first drive to keep it going and it's always good when you get in the end zone."

Ryan is fine with Schweizter or Garland at guard.

"Wes has done a good job for us," Ryan said. "Both he and Ben have been competing for that spot and doing a great job all camp. It's hard for me to tell when I'm playing out there, but when we look at the tape, I'm sure that both of those guys will show that they are competing and playing hard."

Things are starting to settle into to place for Ryan, who is set to enter his 10th year in the league.

"I think we were more detailed than we were in Week 1," Ryan said. "There is a calmness in that huddle, especially getting into a longer drive. You kind of see where guys are at with conditioning and that kind of stuff. I thought the guys looked good."

NOTES: FS Damontae Kazee, who's having a strong exhibition season, sustained an ankle injury in the 17-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. "He had an ankle injury," coach Dan Quinn said on Monday. "I'll have an update on him for (Tuesday). We are hopeful that he's in good shape. We really don't have an update." ... WR Reggie Davis caught three passes for 74 yards against the Steelers. ... TE Levine Toilolo missed the game against the Steelers for personal reasons. "It was a personal issue and he'll be back with the team (on Monday)," Quinn said. "He was excused over the weekend due to a personal matter. Everything is fine with him and he'll back at practice." ... LB Kemal Ishmael is making a nice transition from strong safety to linebacker. "He really had a deliberate mindset for the football," Quinn said. "He was somebody who had real intent about him all the way through." ... G Sean Harlow is coming on. "I thought Sean Harlow had an improved his game from an intense and physicality (standpoint)," Quinn said. ... WR Deante Burton missed a tackle on a punt return that went for a touchdown against the Steelers and has dropped two passes. ... WR Marvin Hall dropped a potential touchdown pass on a nice throw from backup quarterback Matt Simms. Hall was targeted eight times and caught only two passes.

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