With the Atlanta Falcons sitting their young guns on offense, the team’s other units had a chance to steal the headlines in Week 1 of the preseason. Those units didn’t disappoint.
The Falcons defense recorded 5 sacks and forced 4 turnovers while holding the Miami Dolphins to only three points at Hard Rock Stadium. The Falcons also scored two non-offensive touchdowns — one on a punt return and another on an interception return.
Behind those scores, the Falcons pulled away from the Dolphins to win, 19-3, on Friday night.
As he has done previously as Atlanta head coach, Arthur Smith sat his entire projected first-team offense in Week 1 of the preseason. That included 23-year-old quarterback Desmond Ridder, who didn’t play a single snap on Friday.
In addition to Ridder, Kyle Pitts, Drake London and rookie running back Bijan Robinson didn’t play. Also, backup signal caller Taylor Heinicke didn’t play either.
But the young players the team hopes will make the Falcons defense a much better unit in 2023 were on the field. Some of the team’s defensive starters received extensive snaps.
Projected starting outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie played on the final series in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Albert Huggins, who could play a role in the defensive line rotation, started and played late into the fourth quarter too.
Atlanta’s relentless defensive approach allowed the Falcons to pull away late in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Breon Borders returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown to give Atlanta a 16-point lead with 2:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Borders’ interception came a series after Dee Alford returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.
For Falcons fans, those plays were sights for sore eyes. Atlanta had just one pick-six last season. The Falcons haven’t had a punt returned for a touchdown since 2019.
Alford’s score on special teams is particularly noteworthy. The team’s 2022 punt returner, Avery Williams, is out for the season with an ACL injury. With his performance in Week 1, Alford appears to have an early lead on securing the role for this season.
On offense, without Ridder or Heinicke, Logan Woodside was left to take every snap behind center. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 146 yards. Wideout Xavier Malone led the team with 50 receiving yards.
But the real standout on offense was running back Godwin Igwebuike. He rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. All in all, he averaged 5.4 yards per rush.
Next week, the Falcons will face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the preseason.