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Falcons will play starters against Bengals in Week 2 of preseason

Arthur Smith confirms the total reserve effort against the Dolphins was a product of circumstance.

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Falcons mildly surprised us by choosing to park all their starters last night, with the possible exception of Arnold Ebiketie and Dee Alford. That didn’t make a difference in the outcome at all, as the Falcons won 19-3 thanks to an impressive effort by the reserves.

It did spark some questions and grumbling from fans and national analysts alike who were particularly surprised not to see Desmond Ridder, the team’s young starter at quarterback and a player Falcons fans are keen to see more of in game action. Despite Arthur Smith saying earlier this week that starters would play in preseason at some point, there was the question of whether Atlanta would repeat their starter-parking ways from 2021 preseason, where the team looked rusty out of the gate in the regular season.

We needn’t worry, apparently. With two joint practices on the week and the Dolphins also sitting almost all their starters, the Falcons just elected to go with the backups. Smith had previously said that if Ridder played, it would be with the full first-team offense.

While we’re all keen to avoid injuries and I think extended exposure for the starters in preseason can be overrated, it’ll be good to see the starting offense in particular get some time together in a live game situation this coming Friday. For all the talent on hand, cohesion is still an important piece of the puzzle, and seeing Ridder and company do good things and operate cleanly against a quality Bengals defense will be an encouraging sign for the Panthers game in Week 1.

I wouldn’t expect the starters to pull down more snaps over the next couple of weeks than the bulk of them received in 2022. In three games last year, Marcus Mariota, the starting offense line and several skill position starters on offense got a combined 28 snaps and sat for the preseason finale, and I’d wager you’ll see something like 12-20 plays for them next week and a handful against the Steelers when all is said and done. The numbers matter less than the readiness, obviously, so we’ll be looking for the team to show well and hit the ground running in the regular season.

Regardless of how long the starters play next Friday, expect another extended audition for the team’s reserves. There are backup offensive line roles to be decided, a punt returner job to be won, and a ton of depth spots still unsettled, after all, and those reserves put on a great show against Miami’s depth. It’ll still be great to get at least a glimpse of what this squad might look like when its at full power with starters on the field, especially with our heightened expectations for 2023.