The Falcons will play the fourth of five preseason games on Thursday against the Washington Redskins inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta’s starters got a long look during the first half of the third preseason game against the New York Jets, and it remains unclear how many of them will play in the upcoming contest.
Regardless of how many big-name Falcons are out on the field Thursday night, there’s plenty to keep an eye on when the Redskins come to town.
Can the offensive line rebound?
It wasn’t the best showing for Atlanta’s offensive line in their first home game of the preseason. Matt Ryan was under constant pressure throughout the first half and was sacked three times. Veteran left guard James Carpenter will be back and healthy for the first time in two games, so perhaps his presence will provide a bit more stability.
Right tackle Ty Sambrailo, who looked to be on his heels at times against the Jets, has been ruled out for this week’s preseason game, but first-round draft pick Kaleb McGary still isn’t cleared for contact and won’t be making his first appearance of the preseason. With those two out, we arrive at the second thing to watch on Thursday …
How does Matt Gono look?
The second-year lineman spent the entirety of his rookie season on the active roster, but he was inactive for the duration of the year. By keeping him off the practice squad, and thus away from any team looking to add him to their own active roster, the Falcons showed that they think highly of Matt Gono. On Thursday, he will have his chance to shine.
Coach Dan Quinn expressed plenty of confidence in Gono this week, and he looked solid throughout training camp.
“This is a guy that has put it in,” Quinn said of Gono. “Couldn’t have been more pleased with his development so far. Not only is he stronger, but his communication, his technique, all where he’s at.”
A rebound from Giorgio Tavecchio
While filling in for Matt Bryant last season, kicker Giorgio Tavecchio didn’t miss a single kick – field goals (5 of 5) or extra point attempts (8 of 8). This preseason, however, he’s been a little less on point, missing on three field goal attempts. All three were from 50-plus yards away – 54, 52, and 52. One of Tavecchio’s 52-yard attempts against the Jets was tipped, so that blame shouldn’t fall on him, but his second such attempt missed the mark.
The Falcons remain confident in Tavecchio’s ability, and he’s backed up that confidence in practice. But to win over the fan base, Tavecchio could use a perfect outing against the Redskins.
The running backs continue to excite
Atlanta’s running back group has been by far the most entertaining position to watch since training camp started. Between Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Kenjon Barner and rookie Qadree Ollison, there have been no shortage of big plays. In fact, each touchdown the Falcons have scored this preseason has come courtesy of a running back.
With only two games remaining, can one of these players begin to separate himself and make a case for a roster spot. All of them appear to be deserving, but the team may be able to keep only so many guys behind starter Devonta Freeman. Smith has done everything asked of him in the games so far, and both Hill and Ollison are running like they’ve got something to prove. Keep an eye on these guys Thursday night.
Can the team stay healthy?
This should probably be at the top spot on this list, because it’s ultimately all that matters in the preseason. The Falcons had three players leave last week’s game due to injury, and Sambrailo has been ruled out this week after sustaining a shoulder injury against the Jets. After what happened in 2018, the Falcons want to enter the year as healthy as possible.