The Falcons are kicking off against the Jets Monday night, but before that, they’ve been holding joint practices with New York. How did yesterday’s second session go?
The pads-free practice was relatively in line with Friday’s, per reports, which is to say some sterling moments for Atlanta interspersed with rough stretches. For what it’s worth, again, these are just practices, and today’s didn’t even feature pads. That’s part of the reason Arthur Smith is urging observers to add a little sodium to their diets by taking what they see (and for fans, what’s being reported) with a few grains of salt. The bigger concern, as always, comes if we see some of this team’s struggles on defense in particular repeat themselves in the preseason game and beyond, but thankfully it’s hardly all dour notes.
Here are a few selected highlights from camp reports, from both the Falcons and Jets beat perspectives.
Kyle Pitts still looking unstoppable
As Tori McElhaney noted, Pitts scored twice and would’ve had another one if not for an overthrown ball—Arthur Smith seems confident he would anyways in a game situation—and continues to look like he’s gearing up to be one of the most lethal weapons in the NFL. That probably sounds like hyperbole given how early in Pitts’ career it is, but the potential is there for him to be that good, and he’s showing it on the practice field.
First team offense and defense scuffle
It was a lighter practice on Saturday, per observers, so Arthur Smith is standing over you menacingly right now waving salt shakers. Still, the Falcons once again had their difficulties both moving the ball on offense and stopping Joe Flacco with the starters in, something that you have to hope doesn’t repeat itself in game action.
Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, a veteran Jets beat reporter, the New York defense largely held up when not being terrorized by Pitts. Tori McElhaney for Falcons noted that in the two minute drill portion of practice, Mariota couldn’t connect with his receiving options, including on that shot to Pitts in the end zone. The incompletions aren’t something I’m all that concerned about—Mariota has looked consistently sharp in practice and that continued in his limited chances in the first preseason game—but I’d like to see a few big passing plays from the starters on Monday night. You know, for me.
The first team defense didn’t fare any better, allowing Flacco to roll down the field in two plays and then connect for a two point conversion. The defense was not all that sharp against the Lions, either, so ideally we’d see better from them in game action before they have to face off against an intimidating slate of quality offenses to start the regular season.
Kaleb McGary impressing coaching staff
When the Falcons signed Germain Ifedi, the veteran figured to give McGary a good push for the starting job. Neither McGary nor Ifedi had ever held down a starting job at an elite level, but Ifedi was a seasoned player who has had a better showing in pass protection throughout his career.
In a contract year, with Ifedi on board, and with plenty to prove, McGary’s doing well. He reportedly stood out in Friday’s practice, and offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford singled him out for praise. Ifedi has been working strictly as a backup to this point, and it looks like McGary’s going to be out there at right tackle Week 1. If he can carry over the improvement into the regular season, it’d be great news for a Falcons offensive line that needs plenty of it.
"Right now, I’m moving better than I have. I’m feeling better than I have. ... I feel like I have just grown in a lot of good areas, physically and mentally.”— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) August 20, 2022
Kaleb McGary is playing well and in a great space. He and Dwayne Ledford explain why: https://t.co/kFJEReL2wO
We may not see starters Monday night for the Jets
This isn’t strictly a practice update, but it’s a worthwhile one. Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters he’s not certain whether he’s going to roll starters out for the second game, an approach the Panthers elected to take in their second game yesterday. Like Arthur Smith a year ago, Saleh seems to be standing on the strength of a couple of quality joint practices, and he seems concerned about injuries after the team has already lost Mekhi Becton (for the season) and Zach Wilson (for a few weeks).
If Saleh does sit starters, it will be fascinating to see how Smith and company respond. Getting the starters some more run and then parking them for the third game against the Jaguars seems like the likeliest course, but chances are it’ll be a quarter or less of run for most if the Jets go to their backups right away. Keep an eye out for updates here.
Finally, we close out with this note from D. Orlando Ledbetter, who was at both practices and has noted that Jets observers have been underwhelmed by Atlanta to this point. The Falcons can go a long way toward reversing that opinion and gearing up for a solid season with a strong showing Monday night, and we’ll hope to get just that.