Following an impressive performance against Tennessee, the Atlanta Falcons hit the road to take on the New York Jets. The second week of pre-season usually showcases the starters for at least one-and-half quarters. They will play more aggressive and look to find their rhythm on both sides of the ball.
With several players trying to move themselves up the depth chart, Atlanta’s fan base finds themselves in a unique situation, where these pre-season games will determine several key positions and major personnel decisions. From the offensive line gelling in a new scheme to the cornerbacks facing taller wide receivers, many players will be tested at a high level against an undervalued Jets squad. Both teams will feature first-year head coaches that will be looking to make an impression themselves.
A daunting task for the interior offensive line
When it comes to evaluating the Jets, it’s hard to look past their monstrous defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson took over during the last meeting between both teams. Sheldon Richardson is one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the league. While he doesn’t possess much pass-rushing ability, Leonard Williams is one of the most NFL-ready prospects. They present an excellent test for the Falcons, although Wilkerson may not play.
To nobody’s surprise, Jon Asamoah stood out last week. It’s well documented that he faced second-string defensive tackles throughout the second and third quarter. The battle for the starting guard positions could potentially take a turn here. James Stone held his own in limited reps, although didn’t make an impact in the run-blocking department. Chris Chester had a similar performance as well. Since the first-team offense usually receives around three drives in the second week of pre-season, we should obtain a more realistic outlook of the offensive line’s capabilities. After watching Mike Person struggle significantly last week, Joe Hawley’s starting job should be secure.
Cornerbacks matching up against a sizable wide receiver duo
Tampa Bay and Carolina have massive wide receivers that will be depended on to carry their passing attack this season. Without being successful in the division last year, the Falcons would have been the worst team in the NFL. The quarterback situation in New York is far from ideal. That doesn’t discount Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker from causing significant problems. Robert Alford struggled heavily against Marshall and Mike Evans last year. After being penalized for holding penalties, Alford started to become conservative in coverage and allowed uncontested catches in order not to get beat deep.
This will be a stern test for him, along with the rest of the cornerback rotation. Jalen Collins can only improve following an abysmal debut against Tennessee. He desperately needs to improve on hip movement and footwork in order to contribute this season. Phillip Adams will be facing his former team as well. With the front seven showing signs of playing "fast and physical", it’s time for the secondary to hold up to their end of the slogan.
The defensive line’s continued development
This will be a repeated topic throughout the season. With so much overhaul and pressure for this unit to produce, it’s impossible to ignore this subject. Vic Beasley will surely receive reps, along with Ra’Shede Hageman and Adrian Clayborn. It’s safe to say those three players have the highest ceiling amongst the defensive line. They will be counted on to play the most snaps this season. We may even see all three players utilized in a sub nickel formation at some point. That won’t happen on Friday, as Hageman won’t play due to a concussion.
Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson looked far more agile last week. It’ll be interesting to see how they can handle the Jets’ nasty interior line. Willie Colon and Nick Mangold may be aging, but they are proven maulers in the run-blocking department. Soliai stood out in particular through blistering past Brian Schwenke on an outside run last week. Obviously he played a part in Jackson’s sack, but Soliai showed some penetration against the run as well. It will take a collective team effort for the defensive line to be successful. With the exception of Beasley and Hageman, no other lineman looks to be a potential Pro Bowler. Every player in this crowded rotation will have to contribute under some capacity in restoring this mangled defense.
Ricardo Allen solidifying himself at free safety
Through limited reps, Allen looked quite comfortable at free safety. He completed multiple open-field tackles and didn’t look fazed in run support. Atlanta has dealt with poor tackling at the free safety position for several years. Allen has shown glimpses of being an upgrade from a tackling perspective. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t necessarily a quarterback that will fully test his ability in coverage. We may see the former cornerback line up against Jace Amaro on a few occasions. It’s highly unlikely that he will be tested deep, given that Chan Gailey’s game plan relies on three to five step drops.
Allen’s coverage ability is so vital, due to Quinn’s cover three scheme. Earl Thomas was heavily depended on to play in a center field role and cover acres of space. William Moore can be considered as a poor man’s Kam Chancellor from excelling inside the box and being an overall enforcer. If Allen can become anywhere close to a poor man’s Thomas, the coaching staff deserves massive praise for converting him into a free safety. Let’s not forget that the past coaching staff cut Allen last summer. In a matter of one season, he is on the verge of starting at free safety.
Backup quarterback battle has become a priority
TJ Yates’ appalling display on Friday has made the backup quarterback clash more imperative. Although Yates was pressured on a consistent basis from Tyler Polumbus’ side, his inaccuracy was apparent. Even when Nick Williams was wide open in the middle of the field, Yates managed to force him into making a difficult catch. Yates missed key third-down passes to Justin Hardy and Tony Moeaki as well. Most professional quarterbacks complete these throws without much resistance.
His poor performance and Sean Renfree’s solid fourth quarter performance has produced more interest about this competition. Fans haven’t forgotten about Yates’ poor performance throughout last pre-season. Renfree was mostly conservative through his brief appearance against Tennessee. He looked comfortable moving outside the pocket and completing out-routes in securing Atlanta’s victory. The former seventh round pick has recently started to practice with the second team. It will be interesting to see who will play first on Friday. This battle could spark actual interest about the final pre-season game.