The Atlanta Falcons turn the difficulty level up from rookie – practicing the Jaguars and playing the Chiefs – to All-Madden, when they welcome the New England Patriots to the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.
If there’s a team in the NFL the Falcons should mold themselves after, it’s the Patriots. Three Super Bowl titles and seven playoff appearances in the decade of the aughts earned the Patriots the mantle of Team of the Decade.
Now, with a new decade upon us, the Falcons appear ready to etch their name among the all-time great teams. It all starts tonight. Alright, it’s only preseason and it doesn’t mean THAT much in the scheme of things. But there’s still a lot of questions.
Hit the jump to see what I’ll be watching for when the Falcons and Patriots trade in their practice uniforms for game ones.
Four Things I’ll be Watching
The Ground Game – After last week, all my Michael Turner concerns have been laid to rest. He’s ready to go. The same applies to Jason Snelling. As long as they stop calling sweeps for Snelling, he’ll be a serviceable backup to the Burner. The rest of the running back depth chart is where my curiosity is peaked.
Jerious Norwood will see his first game action after missing the Kansas City game with a hip flexor injury. He has game-breaking speed but his injury history could fill several phone books. I’m not expecting a lot from him this year – he’s never had more than 14 carries in a game – but I am expecting him to be healthy. If he makes through this game without flexing his hip, there won’t be any room for Dimitri Nance and Antone Smith on the roster.
I know there was a fervor over Nance and his two touchdown runs – including a long touchdown pass erased by penalty – but he’s a better fit on the practice squad. His 0.9 yards per carry didn’t exactly instill fear in opposing defenses.
The Rookies - This category will be here all preseason. These games tell us so much about how the newest Falcons are progressing. Seeing how their used in these games tell us which rookies the coaching staff has confidence in and which ones they have questions about. Sean Weatherspoon is a lock to start on the weakside. He’s a natural talent. Very, very good player.
Shann Schillinger likely earned a spot on the final roster with his performance last week. Dominique Franks will see more time with Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes out. Kerry Meier and Corey Peters figure to see lots of snaps while Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley continue to provide o-line depth.
The Secondary – Robinson and Grimes are out so Christopher Owens, Franks and Chevis Jackson will get the call to try and contain Tom Brady-Randy Moss. This will be a huge yardstick for the Falcons’ DBs. Will they be able to match up with one of the best QB-WR combos? With their two best corners on the sideline it may not end up meaning that much, but for the young seconday it will be a great opportunity to show how far they’ve come in a year. Moss lit up the Falcons up for 10 catches and 110 yards in their only meeting last season.
Attitude – We’ve talked about swagger and what it means to an NFL team. The Patriots are the epitome of swagger. They expect to win when they step on the field. Right now, the Falcons think they can win. It’s the difference between thinking and expecting that makes a champion. I will be looking to see how the Falcons respond if the Patriots make a big play. Talent-wise, this Falcons team can play with anyone in the league. Now, it’s time to show it.
Will you be watching?
What will you be looking for? What are your expectations for this game? Does getting a win against the Patriots in the preseason matter? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or start the conversation on Twitter.