Instant Analysis: Starters stout, Redskins fall 23-17 to Falcons

Kirk Cousins completed every pass, but the Washington Redskins couldn't complete a late comeback, losing to the Atlanta Falcons 23-17.

The Washington Redskins nearly fielded a comeback against the Atlanta Falcons Thursday night but ultimately lost 23-17. As expected for a preseason opener, there were a lot of penalties. Some of the penalties probably wouldn't have been called in a regular season game. But it's an area the Redskins will have to clean-up this preseason.  

* The starting unit looked crisp in the pass game. Kirk Cousins was efficient going 5/5 for 39 yards. More here on the starters on both sides of the ball.
* Running back Matt Jones had two carries for one yard and really didn't show much. He did end up on the short end of a highlight reel tackle by Falcons' LB Sean Weatherspoon. The size that 6-foot-2, 232-pound Jones packs makes it difficult for him to lower his shoulders. But that play was a prime example of how the low man usually wins. Jones appeared to be hesitant in lowering his shoulder. He has to stop thinking he's a scatback in the open-field and let his God-given size do some damage. 
* The Redskins running game didn't get started until late in the third quarter when rookie Robert Kelley had several good gains. Kelley ran with great decisiveness and finished the drive with Washington's first touchdown of the night.
* Rookie QB Nate Sudfeld started the entire second half and was extremely efficient leading a near comeback. Sudfeld ended the game 10 of 15 for 89 yards and one touchdown.
* Washington's defense had some bright spots. The starting group played well and held Falcons' QB Matt Ryan to zero completions on four attempts. A few standouts in that opening unit included two linebackers: Preston Smith and Will Compton. Josh Norman only played the first series.
* When the second team defense entered, things went downhill. As we noted in our pre-game story, Falcons' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to attack safeties and he did just that against the Redskins. Former Redskins WR Aldrick Robinson had himself a night, hauling in catches of 47 and 68 yards. Both catches were against second year CB Quinton Dunbar, who struggled to find the ball. But it did look as if the safety, Will Blackmon, was out of position on both balls. 
* The Redskins run defense also struggled to stop runs up-the-middle. Falcons' RB Brandon Wilds had a few successful carries including a 15-yarder and scored the team's only offensive touchdown of the night. 
Special Teams: 
* This unit literally had a roller-coaster of a day. The coverage teams had moments, notably rookie Su'a Cravens stopping a returner in the open field. 
* However, they gave up a 101-yard kick return touchdown to open the second half. You never want to see that and it could've been a result of Washington opting for a short kick. The team is considering short kicks on kickoffs to offset the new touchback rule. It's a quality idea, but the coverage team has to be sound. 
* Punter Tress Way was the star of the game and really seems to be getting better at putting air under his kicks. If there has been a negative about his punts the past few years, it's been straight-line kicks. His hang-time has improved. 
Extra point:
* Head coach Jay Gruden said tight end Niles Paul suffered a knee hyperextension, but is expected to be back at practice this weekend.

You can find Emmanual on Twitter @manny_benton.

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