Atlanta opens up its preseason schedule at home against the Baltimore Ravens this Thursday, and there are several storylines floating around that are worth keeping an eye on. Aside from finding out who isn’t healthy enough to play, depth chart battles will be commencing on every side of the ball and new faces will finally be on display to Falcons nation.
Here’s a list of what you should focus on in the Falcons first preseason game of 2012:
1) Starters play time: Just about everyone knows the starting lineup isn’t left in for long during preseason games. However, on Tuesday Mike Smith talked about how long he would leave them in, saying, “We would like to see them go through the first quarter at least, possibly into the second.” If Matt Ryan is still out there slinging the ball in the second quarter, prepare for a media meltdown. While no one believes they’ll stay in this long, it will be interesting to see how Smith handles his lineup throughout the night.
2) Pass blocking: Coach Smith also said the main focus of this game would be protecting the quarterback. While Matt Ryan wasn’t sacked as many times as a lot of other QBs in the league last season, he was constantly on the run, facing pressure from anyone he faced. The Falcons have brought in Pat Hill and some young linemen to help improve upon this soft spot from 2011, so blocking for No. 2 will certainly be a key aspect throughout the entire preseason schedule.
3) Fifth wide receiver: The Falcons kept five receivers with them in every regular season game last year. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas are clearly the top three on the depth chart. Kerry Meier is listed as No. 4 right now, leaving us all to assume one spot remains up for grabs. Kevin Cone and Drew Davis currently lead that race, but it could be anyone’s ballgame depending on how the receiving corps performs in the coming weeks. Cone and Davis look strong so far in camp, and now they have a prime opportunity to lay it all on the line.
4) Screen game: With the arrival of Dirk Koetter came an ongoing promise to run more screen plays in the coming season. Well, so far we haven’t seen much out this plan. The blocking on screen plays in practice has been close to abysmal. This offense is nowhere near ready to run screen passes in the regular season, and it will be interesting to see how they perform in this area in actual games.
5) Asante Samuel: No one has been more energetic at training camp than this guy. “Deuce deuce”, as they like to call him, has been all over the field in Flowery Branch, picking off passes and generally agitating anyone and everyone he can with his confident attitude. The Falcons need a player like Samuel to fire up the troops. We’ll see if he can bring the same hype when they square off against other opponents.
6) Position battles: Yes, an official depth chart has been released. No, it will not look the same when Week 1 rolls around. There are multiple positions without a definitive starter for the regular season, a fact Smith has addressed as well. Peter Konz has a shot at right guard, left tackle hasn’t been a sure thing in quite some time and quite a few second string spots still remain a mystery.
7) Attacking opposing QBs: Atlanta finished 19th in the league in total sacks last year. You can’t expect your secondary to lock down opponents for minutes on end while the opposing QB sits back and scans over the field. They have to get into the backfield more often, and that will all start with Mike Nolan’s new defensive scheme. This will be the first look we get at his defense, and after seeing some outstanding packages in camp, it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of pressure they can put on Joe Flacco and the other passers for Baltimore. Nolan sent guys blitzing from every angle in Miami. Let’s hope we see more of this carrying over to 2012.