There's little question the Falcons head into this third preseason game with added pressure to perform well, from the coaching staff on down to the fans. When your starters haven't truly impressed and they are expected to play most of the first half before ceding to a bunch of dudes who are fighting just to keep a roster spot, you anticipate a little more urgency.
Eternal optimist I am, I anticipate that is what we will see. Here's a guide to five matchups I'll be watching closely for these Falcons and Titans. As always, share what you'll have your eye on in tonight's
epic battle hopefully decent game.
Falcons Pass Rush vs. Jake Locker
I will push this boulder uphill all day, or my name isn't Sisyphus.
The first-team pass rush has been fairly weak the first two weeks of the season, and Jake Locker provides the team with another test. Atlanta struggled to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick in the pocket last Saturday, and Locker's arguably a better scrambler, one with an incredibly strong arm that allows him to push throws downfield. Thankfully, from the perspective of Jonathan Massaquoi and company, Locker doesn't make the best decisions in the pocket and is susceptible to pressure when and if it materializes.
I'm not anticipating the Falcons getting tangible pressure on every play. Our expectations for the pass rush hover between average and distinctly mediocre, as they should. What I want to see is more pressure applied, a little bit of creativity from Mike Nolan even as he keeps most of it in reserve for the Saints, and definitely players like Massaquoi and Prince Shembo doing work. The Titans have a stout set of tackles, too, so it will be a challenge that I hope the team is ready to take on.
Kamerion Wimbley vs. Jake Matthews
Matthews will play his first preseason game as the Falcons' new starting left tackle, and he'll likely see plenty of Kamerion Wimbly and the Titans' stout defensive ends. Wimbley is far from a great pass rusher, but he's likely to be the stiffest challenge of the game for the rookie.
I'll be watching Matthews to see how his footwork, technique and strength play on the left side, and whether he'll take to the position with the same ease he had taken to right tackle thus far. You've got to expect hiccups from any rookie tackle on the left side, but if he locks up with Wimbley and friends and comes out looking good, we'll all have a little more confidence.
Devonta Freeman vs. Titans Defense
Freeman has been truly impressive as a runner through the first couple of preseason games, albeit against backups. Coaches just keep justifiably harping on his blocking, but that will come with time. Right now, Freeman needs reps and an opportunity to prove his worth against a first team defense.
Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I believe he'll get it against the Titans. If he does, watch and see if Freeman's able to take on a fairly average defense and make his mark, because if he can, it bodes well for his chances to get significant snaps in the season ahead.
Young Falcons Cornerbacks vs. Young Titans Receivers
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford each had a bone-headed play or two in the last game, which happens to young corners in preseason. They'll get the chance to bounce back against players like Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, young receivers with real promise who are fighting for opportunities in the Titans offense.
It's not exactly the stiffest challenge in the world, but it's good preparation, and two of the team's most important defenders could use the tune-up.
Falcons Special Teams vs. Themselves, Keith Armstrong, Titans Special Teams
Seriously, get it together, guys.