Head coach Mike Smith won't come out and say exactly if or for how long starters may play in Thursday's preseason finale, but history is usually an indicator in such matters, and Smith said as much on Monday.
"Our plan is to do just what we've done in the past. We're not going to change how we've done it," Smith said. "We've never had a game where we've gone out there and made a statement that the starters aren't going to play. We're going to play the game this week in terms of our substitution patterns just like we have the last two or three years."
In last year's preseason finale, it was unclear what starters wouldn't play until the game began. Key players like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Jonathan Babineaux didn't start the game. The entire starting offensive line and six starters on defense played one series before being removed for the depth of the roster to take over, as is traditionally the case in the fourth preseason game.
Key reserves last year like Peter Konz, Robert McClain, Drew Davis and Cliff Matthews played significant portions of the game, each logging 60 percent of the snaps or more.
With the loss of Thursday's third preseason game as their last performance before the regular season begins, many of the starters are taking a game week approach to this week, despite it's billing as the last week of the preseason and one that likely won't see many of them play much, if at all.
After the game Saturday, Ryan said this week and next week's season-opening game planning is critical if they want to right what went wrong and start 2013 off with a win.
"They are huge. I am a big believer in preparation. That is, to me, the formula for success," Ryan said. "You have to prepare really well. We have an opportunity this week with three practices before we play Jacksonville again. During those three practices we have to get better. We have to go out there and we have to work. We have to sure up some of our timing and work on protections and do all of those things that we can do to become a better football team. So I think the mindset has to be that we have to have a great week of practice."
That mentality doesn't end with Ryan. Monday's practice looked no different than any other. The starters appeared to take as many snaps as always and Harry Douglas said no one on the team, starters or otherwise, is taking the week off.
"For me, I approach everything the same," Douglas said. "When I came out to practice today I wanted to work on my technique and get better at things I didn't do so well in the game last week. That's pretty much our team's mindset."