FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons offense, which led the league in scoring last season, looked shaky against in its "dress-rehearsal" game for the regular season.
There was no running back Devonta Freeman, who is in the concussion protocol. They didn't get the ball to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who was making his exhibition debut after offseason foot surgery. And quarterback Matt Ryan, the league's reigning most valuable player, was off the mark on 7 of his 11 passes.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has not been pleased with the offense's rushing attack during the exhibition season.
Freeman is set to return to practice on Monday and should give them a boost in practice.
"Devonta Freeman, you'll see back," Quinn said a day after an exhibition game loss to the Cardinals. "He'll return to play (Monday) in some individual (drills). So, that part is good from an injury standpoint."
Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl player, is in the final stages of the league's five-step concussion protocol. He left practice Aug. 13 and has not practiced since.
"He's still going through the protocol and part of that is returning to practice," Quinn said. "He'll do some individual work. ... He'll start the return-to-play process with us beginning (on Monday)."
The Falcons' exhibition finale is scheduled for Thursday at home against the Jaguars and Quinn has already declared Freeman out for the game.
Freeman agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the league earlier this month. The deal had a $15 million signing bonus and included $22 million in guaranteed money.
Last season, Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 462 receiving yards with two touchdowns. In his three-year career, Freeman has rushed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Running back Brian Hill (ankle), a fifth-round pick from Wyoming, was battling for the third running back spot. He was declared out for the exhibition season finale with an ankle injury.
The injury hurts for Hill, who appears to be behind Terron Ward for the third running back spot.
"Brian, for sure, would have gotten extended carries again (against Jacksonville)," Quinn said. "We tried to feature him in each of the games to see what he can do. Really, in this system, to get more reps."
That Ward is playing better is no surprise to Quinn.
"It's Terron Ward's third year in the system," Quinn said. "That's over 30-something games for him watching and practicing and getting the looks at it. Brian is still gaining experience in it. For him to miss a week, this week, all of it counts, especially when you're first learning."
The Falcons are high on Hill, but he's off to a slow start rushing the football.
"He's improving, Brian is, on special teams," Quinn said. "We are going to keep working like crazy on offense. One of the areas of emphasis heading into the summer was catching out the backfield. It wasn't a big part of what he did at Wyoming. He's certainly improved in that area."
Ryan tried to connect on a couple of deep passes for Jones, but both were off the mark.
"We are going to take some opportunities down the field and give our guys chances," Ryan said. "They didn't work out and that'll be something that we talk about moving forward. That's part of the game. You're going to give your guys chances down the field. Some are going to hit and some don't."