It’s the final gameday of the preseason. From here, there’s more than two weeks until the regular season actually kicks off, but there will be plenty to discuss as the team cuts down to a 53 man roster, combs other teams’ cuts for additions to a roster that will still have some holes, and tries to set themselves up to exceed modest expectations in 2022.
What should you be looking for in this preseason final as the Jaguars come to town? Let’s go through a few of them before kickoff at 3 p.m.
Who seems to have sewn up jobs
We’ll know this early, in all likelihood. The Falcons may well play starters for a final tuneup, but they’ve come this far as a relatively healthy squad and will likely limit critical players as much as possible. If someone like Matt Hennessy comes in and only plays a handful of snaps before exiting, we’ll likely know he’s the starter. If MyCole Pruitt or Parker Hesse comes in early and exits early, they’re probably settled in as the third tight end. And so on.
We won’t be able to print a set 53 man roster right after the game based on this, but chances are we’ll have the starting lineup pretty much locked down by 6 p.m. or earlier. There’s really only a couple of spots truly up for grabs, after all.
The final proving ground for roster hopefuls
I wrote about this earlier in the week, but there are many places where the team’s depth remains unsettled and players have one final shot to make a case. That’s particularly true at wide receiver, where the battle for one or two spots feels pretty wide open, and at tight end, where the third spot on the depth chart is a duel between MyCole Pruitt and Parker Hesse.
Chances are good there’s anywhere from 5-15 spots truly open on this roster without a firm decision made from the coaching staff and front office, and excellence in the final preseason game might help tips the scales in the end. Watch to see who distinguishes themselves in their last and arguably most important chance.
Continued defensive improvement
We saw the Falcons’ first-team (and really, second-team) defenses hold the line effectively against the Jets’ second-and-third stringers. Ideally, we’ll see more of the same, however limited the time ends up being for the starters.
Atlanta’s defense should be improved from a year ago, perhaps greatly, because there’s more young talent at outside linebacker, more talent at cornerback, and there are young players dotting every position group who have a real shot to step up. We can’t take that for granted, though, because however badly Dean Pees and fans alike might want this to be a great unit, they have a lot to prove. Stringing together a couple of quality preseason performances after a mighty shaky one against the Lions would go a long way toward helping us feel ready for the Saints.
The offensive line holding up
Finally, the note that has been humming like a menacing bug in the background all these many months.
The Falcons’ offensive line has been a trouble spot for years now, and last year it was a particular problem for late-career Matt Ryan, Mike Davis, and the offense more generally. This year, Atlanta made modest investments in the line and could well be running it back at four of five starting spots, with a journeyman left guard taking over who has never played the position in a regular season game and the center battle between two players who were here last year. Skepticism is warranted based on past results.
The first team offensive line has looked pretty solid, though, and the backups have been a mixed bag. As is the case with the defense, a strong effort to close things out will help us feel better about the unit still most likely to derail this offense, so let’s hope we see it.