5 things we learned from the Falcons’ 32-7 loss to the Texans

Falcons coach Mike Smith didn’t sugar-coat the team’s woeful showing in the 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday.

“We had breakdowns in all three phases,” Smith said. “(We’re) not anywhere close to the level that we need to play and perform at. We’ve got to get much better.”

The game was costly for the Falcons, who are trying to rebound from a 4-12 season.

While they welcomed back wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons loss left tackle Sam Baker, who likely out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

Here are five things we learned from the second exhibition game:

1. Jones looked good: He was a little rusty, but that's to be expected after not being able to anything for six months after foot surgery.

He played 19 snaps officially and caught two passes for 20 yards. You can see that his timing with quarterback Matt Ryan was a little off when he caught an apparent first down out of bounds.

“I thought Julio (Jones) looked good,” Ryan said. “It’s good to have him back. Obviously, he’s a dynamic player for our offense and somebody we feel like is a game-changer. I thought he did a nice job out there tonight.”

Wide receiver Roddy White, who played 17 snaps, admits that the offense is still working out some kinks.

“We have a ways to go,” White said. “We missed some things out there on the field, we made some bad reads from the wide receiver position and the quarterback position, so we have to fix those things.”

2. First-team defense: Most of the key first-teams played between 16 snaps (Osi Umenyiora) to 35 snaps (linebackers Joplo Bartu, Kroy Bierman and Paul Worrilow).

For the second consecutive game, the unit gave up a long touchdown drive. Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took the Texans on a 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. Last week, the first-team gave up a 10-play, 73- yard drive to Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.

In both cases, we are not talking about elite quarterbacks.

Tackling remains an issue.

“We didn’t tackle well,” Smith said.

The big play in the drive was a 19-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to DeAndre Hopkins, but Texans also averaged 5 yards per carry on seven rushes. Also, on third down-and-8, Fitzpatrick scrambled for 10 yards.

But this time the starters were more concerned about this effort.

“We’re trying, but judging off (Saturday’s) performance, I think we’re going to have to get better in every area,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said.

3. Free safety battle heats up: With Dwight Lowery and Kemal Ishmael getting most of the work, rookie free safety Dezmen Southward made a move against the Texans.

“From my standpoint, you have to include Southward also,” strong safety William Moore said. “All of those guys stepped up and played.”

Ishmael had an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for a loss in 27 snaps. Lowery played 34 snaps and had two tackles. Southward played 21 snaps and had three tackles.

“Kemal has been stepping in,” Moore said. “He came into OTAs and I told him this is not down time. He came in and it’s like a whole other Kemal. It looks like he’s been in the NFL for four or five years. He is showing so much experience right now. The interception was a prime example. That was a tough interception, to catch through a tight end’s hand. Kemal (has made) tremendous strides.”

4. Pass rush showed signs of life: While the Falcons are still waiting on their first sack by a defensive lineman, the pass rush showed a pulse against the Texans.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins had the lone sack, but Umenyiora, the designated pass rusher, broke free and chased the quarterback of his mark.

Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo has the only other sack.

“I think yes, there was more probably pass-rush in this game than last week,” Smith said.

5. Special teams woes: Things just down right messy for the special-teams units.

Here’s the quick summary: blocked punt that was returned for a touchdowns, a blocked field goal attempt and the Texans averaged 12.3 yards per punt return.

“Right now, we are giving a lot of guys opportunities on special teams,” Smith said. “We want to see roles they can handle. We had some issues on special teams and that will definitely be addressed.”

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