The Texans were blown off the field a week ago, while the Falcons managed a 16-10 win over the Miami Dolphins. I'd fully anticipate the Falcons will win this one, but the W will be much less important than what those players competing for jobs can accomplish, as well as the fortunes of the offensive line and pass rush.
Let's delve more deeply into five matchups worth monitoring in the game ahead. Join me, won't you?
Houston Quarterbacks vs. Falcons Pass Rush
All eyes will be on this one. The Texans have a decent offensive line with some holes, most specifically at right tackle, and an extremely mediocre cluster of quarterbacks. The Falcons, meanwhile, have questions to answer about their pass rush, particularly after the first unit barely mustered one in limited chances against the Miami Dolphins a week ago.
The Falcons need to be able to show that they can generate real pressure from the first and second units. No one expects them to have a top ten pass rush, but it'll need to be a hell of a lot closer to league average to make a difference this season, and the Texans provide an excellent opportunity to take some more aggressive rushes out for a spin. If the Texans completely stonewall the Falcons, even accounting for the likely vanilla scheming Mike Nolan will be bringing, that's a major concern.
If you're looking for specific players to watch, Jonathan Massaquoi, Prince Shembo, Paul Worrilow, and Ra'Shede Hageman fit the bill.
Offensive Line vs. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney
On the flip side, the Falcons will need to protect Matt Ryan, T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree from the scourage of the Texans' pas rushers. This will be an excellent test of the line, but particularly Sam Baker and Jake Matthews, who will likely see plenty of J.J. Watt and Clowney on the first drive or two of the game.
Look to see how well the Falcons keep Ryan clean. They won't be facing too many pass rushes with as much firepower as the Texans can bring to bear, so if they manage to keep a relatively intact pocket, it's a great sign even in preseason.
Devonta Freeman vs. Jacquizz Rodgers
For this battle, we look within. Devonta Freeman impressed in his first action, albeit running against backups. Rodgers showed his usual toughness near the goal line, and whichever one of these backs performs well today could start to pull away from the other a bit.
I'm hopeful the Falcons will give Freeman some first-team snaps to see how he holds up, and then let Rodgers run wild against the backups. Balance those two games out, try to get both involved in the third game and then you can make your depth chart decision with clearer eyes.
Antone Smith will continue to do his Antone Smith things, like rattling off absurdly long runs, but I don't expect it to move the needle for him. He's going to get a handful of carries and that's about it.
Desmond Trufant vs. DeAndre Hopkins
One of the best young cornerbacks in the game against one of the most promising young wide receivers. I've got Trufant, but it should be a worthwhile battle while the two of them are out there, to say the least.
Falcons Special Teams vs. Houston Special Teams
The Atlanta special teams unit more or less defecated on the mattress a week ago, earning the calm fury of Keith Armstrong. You do not want to earn that.
With Marquis Spruill gone, he of the likely key special teams role, the Falcons will need to show they're not going to be a walking disaster when blocking for Devin Hester or trying to stop opposing returners. Look for improvement this week, or Armstrong may have to kill a man.
Your matchups to watch?