Five Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Texans

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Sam Baker

Unlike last week where the focus was on several young players trying to carve out roles with the team, this week’s Atlanta Falcons players to keep eyes on are mostly established veterans. That is because the Falcons starters will likely play at least the entire first quarter tonight against the Houston Texans. It will be their most extensive action thus far and should be more informative about whether or not certain roster positions and players are ready to assume significant roles this season.

Sam Baker

Baker was arguably the team’s best blocker among their starting five against the Miami Dolphins last week, but will face a significant test against rookie edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday.

While Clowney is far from a proven playmaker in only his second NFL game, he does present a significant challenge for a player like Baker, who throughout his career has struggled against players with top-level speed and quickness off the line. That certainly can be said of Clowney even at this point in his career, and it will be notable if Baker can perform well against him in this game. He had a good two days of practice against Clowney this past week, and we’ll have to see if that carries over into the game tonight.

Jon Asamoah

One of the biggest selling points of Asamoah upon his arrival in Atlanta this offseason was the fact that he had been so effective blocking J.J. Watt in 2013.

Watt is one of the most fearsome pass-rushers in the NFL today, and the simple fact that Asamoah did not get annihilated by him last season would be a welcome change from what has been the norm for the Falcons others blockers in recent seasons. Asamoah will get another opportunity to prove his mettle against Watt on Saturday night, and it will be interesting to see if his performance remains at a high level. If Asamoah manages to struggle against Watt, it could raise questions about whether or not he’s as great a fit in the Falcons blocking scheme as originally hoped.

Dwight Lowery

This will be Lowery’s first game action of the summer after missing a week due to a concussion. Due to his time playing in both Jacksonville and New York, he hosts a wealth of experience against the Texans and new head coach Bill O’Brien. That should allow Lowery to put a good foot forward and have a solid debut. Given the Falcons depth at the position has really yet to inspire confidence, the Falcons certainly need Lowery to play well. Otherwise, serious reservations could arise about the state of the Falcons secondary as 2014 regular season approaches.

Robert Alford

Like the rest of the Falcons starting cornerbacks, Alford did not see a ton of work last week against Miami. That will likely change this week as he’ll be facing Houston’s de facto No. 1 wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, assuming Andre Johnson remains out of the lineup. Hopkins has a strong blend of size and speed with excellent hands that have drawn comparisons to the Falcons own Roddy White and have just as many people expecting him to have a breakout season. This will be a good test for Alford, who still has to answer questions whether or not he can hold up for 16 games as a starter, particularly playing on the left side of the defense where he’s likely to see a lot of passes thrown his way.

Joplo Bartu

While Prince Shembo was anything but dominant last week against the Dolphins, he made a couple of standout plays. That came in contrast to Bartu, who only stood out by the plays he did not make which included missing an open-field tackle on the first play of the game.

At this point, Bartu needs to make a couple of plays this week if he wants to hold off Shembo in this competition. Bartu’s major assets are his speed, range and athleticism, traits he possesses in abundance in comparison to Shembo. But those traits won’t do him great service when the Falcons mantra this summer has been about becoming more physical. Shembo has size, strength and toughness to hold up potentially better against the run in the middle of the defense than Bartu has shown to date. And that’s the main thing Bartu will have to show against the Texans if he wants to retain a spot as one of the team’s two every-down linebackers.

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