The first preseason game has come and gone, and the second preseason game is right around the corner. Real football is so close I can almost taste it, but we still have a few more exhibition games to go. This week’s contest features a match-up with the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs, a squad overflowing with talent at the offensive skill positions that can attack a defense in many different ways. The Falcons’ offense should also have an interesting test against a strong pass rush that is backed up by a rather questionable secondary.
There are tons of players to watch in this game—even after the starters have exited the field—but here are some of the most intriguing names to watch when the Falcons take on the Chiefs on Friday.
The first team offense & defense
We got little more than a peek at the first team offense during the Falcons’ first preseason game, and what we saw was pretty uninteresting. Mostly, we saw sloppy play and penalties—not entirely unexpected from the first preseason game, but still painful to watch. Against the Chiefs, we should see Atlanta’s starters for most of the first quarter. Kansas City should provide a decent test for the offensive line and running game. Ideally, we should also see the Falcons take advantage of a relatively weak CB group outside of Kendall Fuller.
The first team defense should also get a nice warm-up against a new-look offense featuring sophomore QB Pat Mahomes and recently-signed WR Sammy Watkins. Kansas City is bristling with weapons, which should give the Atlanta defense plenty of practice against the likes of WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce, and RB Kareem Hunt. It’s rumored that the Chiefs plan to play their starters for the entire first half, which should give the second string unit a stiff test.
Duke Riley vs. Foye Oluokun
Perhaps the most concerning development from the first preseason game was the lack of growth from sophomore LB Duke Riley. Riley had a very bad game, taking poor angles in run support and giving up a TD in coverage. He was slotted in as the starting WLB in the base defense, but that job appears to be in serious jeopardy after a very concerning performance on Friday. We need to see Riley take some positive steps against the Chiefs—and he should get every opportunity to do so.
The other side of the coin is that while Riley struggled, rookie LB Foye Oluokun looked pretty darn impressive. Oluokun made several plays in both run support and coverage, and appeared to have put on some good weight over the offseason. He was one of the highest-graded Falcons during the Jets game, according to PFF. It’ll be very interesting to see if Oluokun can build on his strong training camp and early preseason success against the Chiefs. If Riley continues to falter and Oluokun continues to shine, don’t be surprised if the rookie overtakes the second-year player.
We didn’t see a whole lot from first-round pick Calvin Ridley during the game against the Jets. Some of that likely had to do with the offense’s inability to stay on the field—the first string had only a handful of plays and went three-and-out. Ridley also didn’t get more than a snap or two with the second string, which is an encouraging sign for his progress. The team seems to view him as a starter very early in the preseason.
In this week’s game against the Chiefs, expect Ridley to be heavily involved while the starters are on the field. As the Falcons are likely to play the first string offense throughout the first quarter of Friday’s game, we should see Ridley get a handful of targets. Hopefully the majority of those won’t be bubble screens (thanks for that one, Sark). At any rate, this is a great opportunity to see what Ridley can do against a rather weak secondary—particularly with Eric Berry’s status up in the air. Kansas City has a good CB1 in Kendall Fuller, but the rest of that group are question marks at best.
Offensive line battles
While four of five starters on the offensive line are completely settled, there are still two battles worth monitoring: the right guard competition between Wes Schweitzer and Brandon Fusco, and the swing tackle competition between Austin Pasztor, Ty Sambrailo, and Matt Gono. Schweitzer saw the majority of snaps with the first string during the Jets game, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod against the Chiefs. Both Schweitzer and Fusco looked good in limited action last week, but I’m still of the mind that Fusco is a better option this season. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to work with the starters this week.
Meanwhile, the swing tackle battle has been a bit less exciting than we anticipated. Presumptive favorite Ty Sambrailo has been out with a hand injury for some time, which has given veteran Austin Pasztor and UDFA Matt Gono great opportunities to make their cases. Pasztor and Gono were both largely up-and-down during extensive work against the Jets, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Sambrailo hasn’t had much of a track record of success either, but he does have youth and athleticism on his side. We’ll see if any of these players can distance themselves from the pack against the Chiefs.
The DT rotation
All of us know that Grady Jarrett is a beast, but the other faces at DT are all relative unknowns. We didn’t get to see much of Jack Crawford in his nickel pass rushing role, and Terrell McClain only played a handful of snaps against New York. What we did see was rookie DT Deadrin Senat looking like a dominant force on the interior at times. His strength and burst off the line of scrimmage were simply too much for the second string offensive line of the Jets. That’s a very encouraging start for a young player who will likely grow into a significant role with the team in a very short time.
As for the other names at DT, the only one that really stood out was UDFA Jon Cunningham. He had a dominant game in run support against the Jets’ third string, which should hopefully lead to him getting some opportunities against second string players this week. Veteran Garrison Smith and sophomore UDFA Justin Zimmer had a few decent plays as well. It’ll be interesting to see if one of these players can make a case for a roster spot over the next few weeks.
Kansas City should provide a great test for the Falcons’ defense, particularly with the buzz that the team is planning to play their starters throughout the first half. That’s likely to produce a scenario where Atlanta gets into an early hole score-wise, but will give us a really good look at some of our defensive depth pieces against a top-flight NFL offense.
Who are some of the players that you’ll be watching closely during Friday’s game? Any position battles that have captured your attention? What would you like to see from the starters against the Chiefs?