This is the day. Tonight at 7:30, the Atlanta Falcons will face the Baltimore Ravens in the Georgia Dome to open preseason football. Even though this football doesn’t count and the starters probably won’t play much more than one or two series, I am still fired up for it. And here’s why.
Tonight we will see if the guys that we have lined up to play right guard, center, and left tackle are going to be answers, or if they will be huge problems throughout the season. Right now, it’s looking like Todd McClure will be the 2012 starter at center– at least initially. But do we really want Garrett Reynolds starting at right guard after his dismal performance at the position in 2011? I know that I don’t want to tempt fate by starting him in the regular season; that’s exactly why we are using this preseason game as an audition for the starting jobs. We will get to see Peter Konz and Joe Hawley compete for starting jobs as well, at the guard and center positions respectively. I hope we see really good things out of all these guys, because we need all of the offensive line protection we can get.
The Baltimore defense is a good one to test our o-line against. They are extremely big up front which allows their linebackers to move freely and fluidly to the ball in their 3-4 scheme. Having Haloti Ngata and (Mount) Terrance Cody up front allows the linebackers the freedom to do a lot. The one thing that the Ravens are missing is their pass-rusher extraordinaire Terrell Suggs who is out for a good amount of time with a torn Achilles tendon. The Ravens do have rookie Courtney Upshaw who might be used as a big time pass-rusher against the Falcons, but the point is the pass rush won’t be quite as good as when Suggs is in the Ravens lineup. If the Ravens still get a bundle of pressure on Matt Ryan or are harassing the running backs in the backfield without Suggs, the offensive line is performing horribly. I expect us to do a good job of keeping Ryan/the backups clean. However, it is unrealistic to expect zero pressure.
There are other things to be looking at in the preseason game, but I think the offensive line competition is the most important. I would also keep an eye on how the Falcons defensive backs play against Torrey Smith. He is the Ravens deep threat wide-receiver, and they like to line him up in the slot and let Flacco sling the ball to him down the field. I think it will be interesting to see if the Falcons “premiere” cornerback trio can prevent the deep ball to Smith, or if they implode like we have seen in the past.
The third thing I will look for is how Akeem Dent plays the MLB position. If he is at least a very solid tackler and can work through traffic, he will work out just fine. If he looks like rubbish though, the Falcons could be in trouble. They really don’t have much true MLB depth. Mike Peterson is a fine player with veteran experience, but I’m not convinced I want him starting at MLB from day one. I really will be looking for Dent to step up.
The final thing that I will be looking for at the Georgia Dome tonight is if the pass-rush gets to Flacco. The Ravens don’t have a fantastic offensive line, so we should be able to get some pressure on Flacco/the backups. If not, we might be in hotter water than we previously believed in the pass-rush department.
What will you be looking for?