In the Falcons opening game of the 2012 preseason, the starters blew the doors off the Baltimore Ravens, clearly outperforming their adversary for a little over a quarter of play. Atlanta’s second-string unit? Not so much.
It was comforting to witness the starting lineups perform so well right out of the gates. The reserves did not hold up well throughout the remainder of the contest, but there’s still plenty of time to improve upon this area. Depth chart battles continue to be a focal point of each game, while keeping everyone healthy will be another ultimate goal this week.
Here’s a list of what you should watch for in the Falcons second preseason matchup:
1) Offensive line play: Mike Smith stated after practice on Monday that the O-line starters would see a little extra time together against Cincinnati. “We would like to keep our offensive line in there together for the first 25 or 30 snaps,” said Smith in regards to the starting offense. Matt Ryan was forced to scramble a few times in last week’s game, but the Ravens were unable to knock down No. 2. We’ll see if his front five can keep it up this time around. The Bengals ranked fifth in the league in total sacks in 2011, giving Atlanta another fierce pass rush to prepare for.
2) Harry Douglas returns: The fourth-year receiver sat out this past Thursday’s game with an injury he suffered in practice two weeks ago. It appears he is back at it now, and will play in the second game of preseason. Julio Jones and Roddy White were the only two who really received any attention from Ryan against Baltimore. Douglas needs to get involved in the offense as soon as possible, so it would be beneficial for him to receive a few targets here and there.
3) Secondary vs. A.J. Green: The Falcons are no strangers to second-year superstars (see:Julio Jones). Green was a nightmare for opponents as a rookie, ranking towards the top of the league in yards per catch and receptions of 20+ yards. It will be interesting to see who lines up against Green, and how they perform. Brent Grimes has been impressive taking on some of the top receivers in the league, and Asante Samuel surely is open to any competition.
4) Battle for fifth receiver: Drew Davis and Kevin Cone continue to lead the way in the fight for the last wide out spot on the depth chart. Davis appears to be emerging as the front-runner between the two, but there’s still a ways to go before a decision is made.
5) Backup QB battle: Let’s face it, the Falcons have limited options once you get past Ryan at quarterback. Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson were each unimpressive in action against the Ravens. Dominique Davis, a rising fan favorite, has shown promising potential at times, but he will have to keep stringing strong performances together to supplant anyone ahead of him.
6) Mike Peterson playing MLB: With Akeem Dent out, Mike Peterson takes over the starting duties right now. The 36-year-old veteran played middle linebacker extensively during his tenure in Jacksonville, but questions remain in regards to how well he can handle this role. Dent should be ready for regular season action, given his recovery progress. For now though, we’ll see how effective Peterson can be.
7) Improvement of reserves: This aforementioned issue is no secret to anyone who witnessed the Ravens game. Second-string couldn’t hold its own. As satisfying as it is to see the starters dominate, the backups need to prove they can keep it together.