My latest piece.... http://profootballspot.com/_/nfl/nfc-so ... ston-r3690
The pre-season rolls on into week two, as the battle of last year’s biggest disappointments take place. Both Houston and Atlanta differ greatly in major issues. Houston lacks stability at the quarterback position, while Atlanta is looking to become more physical.
While the topic of physicality continues to be a hot topic in Atlanta, I’m still hoping for the cornerbacks to be tested more often. In the NFL today, three quality cornerbacks are greatly needed. The Falcons are unsure of who will start at nickel back. Houston doesn’t have the offense that can truly test the likes of Robert McClain and Josh Wilson in the slot, but they’ll certainly have to be up for the task to make an impact.
Despite their issues at quarterback, Andre Johnson (if he plays) and DeAndre Hopkins still pose major problems as a duo. This game is rather intriguing with both teams looking to find answers by developing younger talent. How will the Texans’ unproven right side of their offensive line line fare? Can the Falcons contain Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt? I’m generally excited for this matchup, since both teams are looking to start a new beginning.
A quality test for the new-look offensive line
The most significant thing to watch for on Saturday would certainly be the offensive line. There aren’t many teams that have more of a fearsome defensive line than Houston. The duo of Watt and Clowney will prove to be a nightmare for opposing offenses to game plan for.
This is the perfect litmus test for the Falcons renewed offensive line. Watt lines up mostly on the right side, which means that Jon Asamoah will have the brunt of trying to contain him. Atlanta has been searching for stability at the right guard position since Harvey Dahl left in 2010. They’re hoping that Asamoah can bring the nastiness that Dahl brought, along with being a better pass blocker.
Sam Baker will likely receive the assignment of blocking Clowney. While he kept Olivier Vernon quiet on Friday, the jury is still out if Baker can rediscover his 2012 form. He’s spoken about improving his technique under Mike Tice to help evolve into being a more consistent left tackle. My eyes will always be glued to the offensive line, considering how much it has hindered the progression of the offense. Baker and Asamoah will receive extra attention on Saturday.
The battle goes on for starting positions
The three openings at free safety, nickel corner, and inside linebacker will hopefully heat up. Dwight Lowery began to practice again this week, so hopefully will get to see how he looks at free safety. Barring a major setback, he seems locked in to start at free safety against New Orleans. I’m still curious to see how he handles coverage responsibilities at free safety, along with how he tackles. Similar to most people, I didn’t get to see much of him in Jacksonville.
Joplo Bartu is another player, who I’d like to see more of as well. Similar to most of the starters, he was only in for a series last Friday. The only thing that stood out from him was a missed tackle on a check down to Lamar Miller. Mike Smith is always vocal about making fundamental plays. With Prince Shembo coming off a solid performance against Miami, Bartu needs to make the most out of his reps.
It’s hard to judge how the nickel cornerback competition is going without being at camp. Miami didn’t really target any of the cornerbacks for the most part. Javier Arenas had multiple passes defensed, along with snuffing out a screen pass. Josh Wilson and Robert McClain weren’t really tested. Hopefully we get more of an indication on who will break out of the trio. With Arian Foster already dealing with issues, I’m expecting Houston to try throwing the ball more.
The return of Julio Jones
It was reported that Jones would most likely play on Saturday. It will be only one series, so that’s why I’m not putting it as the biggest priority. Of course, everyone will be ecstatic to see him back on the field. We know what to expect from him for the most part. There aren’t many receivers that can be considered as unstoppable. Besides Aqib Talib, the only thing that has stopped Julio Jones has been injuries.
The sight of seeing Jones run routes will be refreshing. Since he will likely play only a series, I’m going to dismiss on placing any expectations on him. A target or two would be great to see. No setbacks should be the goal that is placed on him. We’ve seen how the offense regresses when Jones isn’t on the field. Besides Matt Ryan, nobody is more valuable to the team than Jones.
Player To Watch
Bernard Reedy has generated a lot of buzz through training camp. Mike Smith has been quoted in saying that his speed is elite. We saw him showcase that through his two catches for 61 yards against Miami. With Drew Davis injured and not showing much ability at receiver last season, Reedy has a legitimate spot at getting the last receiver slot on the roster. These next two weeks will be critical in certifying his case. He will be one of the main players I’ll be focused on throughout the second half, when he’s receiving more reps.