1. Falcons O-Line Holds its Own: Against a defensive front that includes the likes of Pro Bowler JJ Watt, first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and linebackers Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing, the Falcons offensive line was in for a tough test as the Texans hosted Atlanta for combined practices Wednesday morning. The two units met up several times Wednesday, once for one-on-ones, then again for special categories sessions before going into half-line drills and finally team period.
There were some standouts among the group. Rookie Jake Matthews performed admirably against Watt, Clowney and Reed. Matthews won more battles than he lost and he once again showed some veteran ability against some of the league's best.
"I think Jake's done a great job. He's probably one of the most impressive rookies that I've ever seen," quarterback Matt Ryan said after Wednesday's session. "Just to come in, his maturity, his skillset — He's as talented a player as I've seen."
Guard Jon Asamoah also impressed as he worked with Matthews during half-line drills. Asamoah at one point got Watt so frustrated that the Pro Bowler had a brief verbal outburst. Backup offensive lineman Harland Gunn also stood out as he took on the Texans' defensive tackles.
2. Quizz Embracing Expanded Role: Jacquizz Rodgers is no stranger to being asked to do a little bit more every now and again. When Steven Jackson went down with a hamstring injury last season, it was Rodgers who picked up the slack. He's doing that again as Jackson recovers from another injury, only this time it's mostly extra practice reps he's benefitting from and he's enjoying the added looks: "It's always good. It helps me get a feel for the game and helps me build my confidence up so I can be ready when that time comes."
3. Wednesday's Practice Brings Competitiveness: Whenever two teams get together for practice sessions, there's always the possibility of fireworks, and although the Falcons have had their share of dust-ups during camp, Wednesday came and went without incident. The morning's session did, however, offer plenty of competitiveness among both sides of the ball. The intensity level was high as players embraced the ability to test one another in an atmosphere that encouraged everything except full tackling. "Last year was not up to our expectations and we're busting our butts out here every day to get back to where we we're supposed to be with the type of team that we're able to put on the field," guard Justin Blalock said. "A day like (Wednesday) is a great building block for something like that. This is a great team that we're going against. They had a similar record last year, but they have the personnel to field a hell of a team and this week is going to be a great opportunity to get excellent work against a top-notch defensive front for us."
4. Red Zone Work Improving: Inside the red zone last week, the Falcons came away with points but not the type of points they want. Touchdowns over field goals has been preached by Smith and his coaching staff for years and stalling on drives is something the team has tried to avoid by putting a lot of emphasis on red zone work in practices. On Wednesday, the two teams each had their offense take the ball at the 25-yard line. The team to score in the fewest would be declared the winner of the practice. Houston took several plays before they punched it into the end zone. The Falcons offense needed just one as Ryan hit Harry Douglas, who made a spectacular catch, over the middle to end the practice session.
"The biggest thing is consistency. I think you have to be consistent across the front offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers," Ryan said. "Everybody's gotta be on the same page, and I think when you look at what happened last week, some of the things were just a little bit of a miscommunication between different sets, so that's one of the things we've gotta be better at this week."
The Falcons met the Houston Texans for the first day of combined practice sessions Wednesday just outside NRG Stadium
5. Texas Ties: There were a lot of Falcons family members in attendance during Wednesday's practice, and even those who hail from Texas and didn't have family members at practice felt right at home. Jake Matthews' father, Bruce Matthews, and some of his family members took in the session. Jonathan Babineaux — from Port Arthur, Texas, not far from Houston — had family members there. Joplo Bartu (Waller, Texas), Justin Blalock (Dallas), Nosa Eguae (Mansfield, Texas), Stansly Maponga (Carrollton, Texas), Jacquizz Rodgers (Richmond, Texas) and Matt Bryant (Orange, Texas) all call towns in the Lone Star State their homes.