The second preseason game couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Falcons. After a lackluster opening loss to the Jets, they will be edging to get on the front foot and play their starters more. Matt Ryan and company should play for at least a quarter. It can be longer for the first-team defense, as Dan Quinn may want to test them against an offense filled with playmakers. Trying to get safety Damontae Kazee, who is coming off an outstanding performance, on the field will be something to monitor versus Kansas City.
There is always more excitement going into the second week of preseason. The high draft picks will receive more playing time, while positional battles are going to pick up. Both the right guard and returner battles look like a complete toss up at the moment. Learn more about each competition, along with how the defensive line rotation shakes up are some of the many storylines heading into tonight’s game.
Front four challenge
The most compelling news entering tonight’s matchup is based on a surprising decision made by Andy Reid. The starters are going to play the entire first half on offense for the Chiefs.
It shouldn’t come as a shock for them to increase Patrick Mahomes’ workload. The young gunslinger needs all the reps he can get heading into a pivotal season for Reid. Playing stars like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt is what caught many off guard. Not many teams feature their stars or even their entire starting offensive line for that long in the second week of preseason.
That makes an already attractive matchup more thrilling. Nobody knows how long Quinn will keep the first-team defense out there, but they will at least use their entire defensive line rotation against Mahomes.
Coaches often use a conservative game plan during pre-season, as they don’t want to give teams much indication of their plans going into the first month of the season. Reid is experienced and credentialed enough to be more creative. How Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley perform will be crucial against one of the most option-heavy offenses in the league. Who stands out between Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford, and Deadrin Senat is another notable part to figuring out what the defensive rotation will look like on opening night.
Can Duke Riley rebound?
In a game of few standouts and disappointments, Riley’s poor showing against the Jets was one of the major talking points. The second-year player looked indecisive in all areas of the field. From taking poor angles in pursuit to blowing coverage assignments, it was a nightmarish first game. Riley’s tendency of not finishing plays flashed repeatedly as well. Although he still lacks experience, the embattled linebacker will need to acclimate quickly in order to secure his role in the base defense.
Quinn should look to play Riley as much as possible. In a conference filled with dynamic offenses, he must be prepared to face premier competition. Battling with Kelce and tackling Hunt in the open field are two immediate ways he can prove that he is able to play significant snaps in a talent-rich defense. Riley has all the athletic traits that you want in a linebacker in today’s modern game. It’s time for him to show them on the field. That will be the difference in determining whether he can ascend towards the path of Deion Jones or fade away like Jalen Collins (without the substance issues).
Calvin Ridley’s increased workload
The first-team offense will look to gel within the next two games. One of the biggest tasks for Steve Sarkisian has to be integrating Ridley into the offense. They designed one play for him last week, which resulted in a two-yard loss off a screen pass. It was very reminiscent of how Sarkisian used Taylor Gabriel. The play call wasn’t necessarily bad, as Austin Hooper hesitated for a split second and missed the block. That is still where Sarkisian and Ridley need to get on the same page.
With Julio Jones expected to play, it gives them an opportunity to utilize all three wide receivers at the same time. Mohamed Sanu will likely play line up more often in the slot. They can still rotate around and capitalize on Ridley’s terrific route-running ability. His blistering speed and footwork presents severe issues for slot corners. Lining him up alongside Jones should generate plenty of big plays. The possibilities are endless between all three wide receivers. That makes playing Ridley as much as possible imperative going into these next few weeks. The same notion applies to using him as a returner, which Quinn confirmed would likely be happening.
Clarity at right guard
Based on the signing and details behind the contract, it appeared that Brandon Fusco was going to be the default starter. That didn’t prove to be the case with Wes Schweitzer receiving plenty of first-team reps. His play didn’t resemble a starting-caliber guard last year, as Schweitzer struggled for the majority of the season. The young right guard was regularly overpowered in pass protection and missed blocks at the second level ruining promising running plays, but the team is still running him out there.
Signing Fusco in free agency showed that the Falcons wanted to add stability at a problematic position. Fusco is a capable veteran, who has excelled in a zone-blocking scheme. There are some concerns about him holding up in pass protection. For all his shortcomings in that area, he was expected to be a sizable upgrade over Schweitzer. That will need to be proven over the next two weeks. Both guards will receive plenty of first team reps. How they fare against a subpar Chiefs’ front can play a deciding factor in determining who lines up in between Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder.