The Atlanta Falcons began the preseason with two strong outings but ended it with a 24-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers
Sure, the Falcons didn’t play many starters and the Steelers did. But it doesn’t change the fact that it seemed like only one team was prepared Thursday.
Maybe that translates to the regular season, maybe it doesn’t. But it does mean there were a lot more losers to choose from than winners from the game for the Falcons.
Falcons Winners from Preseason Finale
- Logan Woodside, Quarterback
Yours truly was not a fan of Arthur Smith placing the Atlanta Falcons starters in bubble wrap this preseason. But the one advantage to that decision was the extended look Woodside received.
He had another solid performance on Thursday, completing 24 of 31 passes for 196 yards. He did take 4 sacks, but the Steelers defensive line crushed the Falcons front most of the night. Woodside didn’t make any major mistakes and often avoided the rush with his legs.
Woodside did suffer an injury on a strip sack late in the fourth quarter, but he returned to the game. Throughout the preseason, Woodside made a strong argument that the Falcons should keep him as the team’s No. 3 quarterback.
- J.J. Arcia-Whiteside, Wide Receiver
One of the biggest question marks with the Falcons upcoming roster cuts is what the team will do at receiver. Drake London and Mack Hollins are obvious locks while Scott Miller and KhaDarel Hodge will likely make the team.
Arcega-Whiteside made a strong argument on Thursday that he should be the fifth receiver on Atlanta’s roster. He recorded 3 catches for 27 yards versus the Steelers. Arcega-Whiteside made impressive adjustments — one to his right and the other above his head — on two of those three receptions.
The 26-year-old finished the preseason with 6 catches and 86 receiving yards.
- DeMarcco Hellams, Safety
The seventh-round pick was all over the field for the Falcons defense. He finished the contest with 8 total tackles, including 5 solos, which led the team.
Hellams recorded a tackle against Steelers starting running back Najee Harris early in the game. He also made a tackle on special teams.
The rookie finished first or second on the team in tackles in all three preseason games. That tackling ability could be very useful for the Falcons defense off the bench and on special teams.
Inside linebackers Tae Davis and Mike Jones Jr. also played well on Thursday.
Falcons Losers From Preseason Finale
- Breon Borders, Cornerback
A week after Borders played well against the Cincinnati Bengals, he really struggled versus Pittsburgh. He allowed Diontae Johnson to get past him for a 33-yard catch on the first third-down attempt of the game. In the second quarter, he committed a pass interference penalty on another third down.
Borders also struggled in the run game. He over pursued, losing contain on the edge of a run to the left, which allowed Anthony McFarland to scamper for a 31-yard gain.
Borders is suspended the first two games of the 2023 season. If the Falcons get healthy and play well at cornerback in the first two weeks, it’s possible Borders never plays for Atlanta again.
- Jalen Mayfield, Offensive Tackle
Falcons fans have seen the 2021 third-round pick miss blocks throughout his young career. Thursday was no different.
Steelers rookie Nick Herbig schooled Mayfield a couple times in the third quarter. Once, Mayfield completely whiffed on a block attempt against Herbig, which resulted in a sack.
Mayfield’s best hope of making the Falcons roster is as a backup swing tackle. But he has been replacement-level at best while playing right tackle and simply can’t play left tackle or any other position well.
To be a good NFL backup offensive lineman, Mayfield must become competent at least two offensive line positions.
- Jaylinn Hawkins, Safety
Hawkins isn’t in danger of getting cut, but he didn’t have good positioning in run defense Thursday. He missed plugging a hole on a Harris run early in the game. He also made contact with Jaylen Warren at the 2-yard line, but allowed Warren to fight through his tackle attempt to reach the goal line.
Hawkins finish the night with 2 tackles, including 1 solo. The Steelers had 128 rushing yards in the first half.
It just wasn’t a good night for the Falcons secondary overall on Thursday. While cornerback Natrone Brooks registered 5 tackles, he committed a holding penalty on third-and-long away from the play, extending a drive for Pittsburgh in the second quarter. He also couldn’t defend George Pickens on Kenny Pickett’s other long pass attempt on the game’s first drive.
Fellow cornerback Clark Phillips missed a tackle on a third-and-5 attempt right before the two-minute warning in the first half.
On offense, running back Carlos Washington blew Atlanta’s best scoring chance with a lost fumble in the red zone.