The Atlanta Falcons face the Tennessee Titans in the third preseason of the 2014 summer later tonight. Tge third preseason is often termed the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season because teams typically play their starters for the majority of the game.
The Falcons are likely to be no different with their starters playing the entire first half and at least one series of the third quarter. That puts a lot of focus on said starters as they should have plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills.
The Falcons have a few question marks among their starting group, and hopefully they’ll get the answers they seek tonight against the Titans. Thusly, there’s more Falcon players to keep your eyes on tonight as opposed to past preseason games, as this may be the last opportunity you get to watch many of them.
The Falcons top pick in 2014 will be making his professional debut at left tackle. He’ll be tasked with blocking the likes of Kamerion Wimbley, Jurrell Casey and Akeem Ayers on the right side of the Titans defense, all three being capable and established players. Matthews has had more ups than downs thus far this preseason. Despite a penalty-laden debut against the Dolphins, Matthews held his own against one of the league’s premier pass-rushers in Cameron Wake in that game. Last week, Matthews had no major issue dealing with the Texans pass-rushers. But it also probably helped that he didn’t have to face JaDeveon Clowney, as Sam Baker had.
This week will be a big test for Matthews, to see how quickly he can transition to playing the more difficult spot on the left side. If he fares well against the capable pass-rushers the Titans feature on his side of the line, things will be looking very promising heading into the regular season. If Matthews struggles, then it may signal another year or inconsistent offensive line play for the Falcons.
It’s not an exaggeration that Matthews’ performance this year will be a huge factor in whether the team will be back in the playoff hunt once again.
On the opposite side of the line, the Falcons have even a bigger question mark in Holmes. Even in Matthews manages to struggle this year, the expectations will remain that he’ll eventually be a good player. The same can’t be said for Holmes. While Holmes has shown improvement from a year ago, it remains to be seen if he’s improved to a level where he won’t be considered a liability up front. Holmes will be squaring off against a familiar opponent in Derrick Morgan, who along with other Titans defenders readily abused him last summer via stunts. Holmes looked lost being plugged into the lineup to replace Mike Johnson last year. This year’s re-match against the Titans will test whether Holmes is any better prepared for another trial-by-fire year.