The second combined session with the Falcons visiting the Texans got underway Thursday as the two teams prepared for Saturday's preseason game
Just days after arriving in Houston for combined practices with the Texans, the Atlanta Falcons hope to return to the ATL with their second-preseason win in hand. The teams faced each other during practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but the real focus of this week's business trip truly takes place tonight at NRG Stadium, with kickoff set for 8 p.m. ET.
Top Matchup: Falcons OL vs Texans DL
There's too much talent on both lines to isolate a single matchup, especially with names like Falcons top-pick Jake Matthews vs Texans rookie LB Jadeveon Clowney, or a potential matchup of new Falcons guard Jon Asamoah vs Texans Pro Bowl DE J.J. Watt; while the guys have taken reps against each other in practice, as soon as the lights come on, preseason or not, it's a completely different type of competition. NFL games are often said to be decided in the trenches, so we'll see which line made the most progress in the last few days, following Saturday's end-of-the-week exam.
Under-the-Radar Player to Watch: WR Bernard Reedy
All I've seen this rookie receiver do in practice is make plays, with his blazing speed, reliable hands and most recently with his vertical ability that sends his 5-foot-9 frame to great heights for the grab. As all rookies know, every rep counts and Reedy wants to make sure when his number is called, he's going to take advantage and log some strong resume-building game film for Falcons WRs coach Terry Robiskie and company to dissect, over the weekend.
On-the-Radar Player to Watch: DE Ra'Shede Hageman
Countless fans will have their eyes on Hageman on Saturday, thanks in part to his tireless work ethic and drive to improve, paired with the extra attention from another profound episode of Hard Knocks, showcasing Hageman's intensity and the lessons he's learning from Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox. During his first preseason game, Hageman recorded two tackles and used his strength and athleticism to help his teammates make plays as well. Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan believes in Hageman's talent and hopes to see more of it revealed Saturday.
Number of the Game: 38
The Falcons QBs who played in last week's win against the Miami Dolphins (Matt Ryan, T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree) combined for 38 total pass attempts in the 16-10 victory. Entering Week 2, watch to see how that number of attempts compares to the total downfield throws in tonight's game, with the final answer depending on several variables including, whether or not star WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones play in the game, which QBs will get playing time and the quality of protection each QB is given by his offensive line.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Protection Up-Front: It doesn't matter if it's the first offensive series of the game or the last, the Falcons offensive line will be faced with the challenge of providing its QBs with plenty of time and protection to move down the field. Jake Matthews said it best, admitting that "there are a ton of playmakers in this offense and my job is to go out there and give them opportunities to make plays." Should Matthews and company handle their business, their plane ride home could indeed be a victorious one.
2. Pressure-Packed D-Line Play:Two of the biggest factors on the Falcons defensive line this season are DT Paul Soliai and DE Tyson Jackson, who each showcased his power during one-on-one drills against the Texans in practice this week; if their efforts continue, combined with pocket-collapsing moves of Falcons teammates like DT Jonathan Babineaux, DE Malliciah Goodman and others, the game-time temperature on the field may not be the only heat felt by the Texans QBs.
3. Avoid Dirty Laundry:If you talk to any of the Falcons coaches, penalties are like kicks to the gut, taking the life out of any offensive drive and extending life for the opposing offense, when defensive fouls are committed. Focused all week on sound execution, consistency and finishing drives, if the Falcons prevent the officials from throwing the yellow laundry in their direction, they could see more points scored Saturday than the victorious 16 they put up last week.