Welcome back to almost-football season and tonight’s exhibition (the NFL hates when writers use that word) between the the Falcons and New England Patriots.
This probably isn’t as big a game for the Patriots as it is for the Falcons. New England sports fans certainly are more preoccupied with today’s story that former Red Sox pitcher-turned-hated Yankee Roger Clemens has been indicted for perjury by a federal grand jury. (As, it turns out, he may have lied about using steroids and HGH. Go figure. And now, this editorial comment: hahahahaha.)
Back to tonight. If you didn’t make it out to Flowery Branch this week for the Falcons-Patriots practices, they were pretty cool. Having two teams practice against each other, even in controlled drills, definitely led to a raised intensity level.
Expect to see more of this in the future. With the NFL expected to trim the exhibition season from four games to two — in concert with lengthening the regular season — coaches will need another avenue to grade players. Even something as basic as a Falcons’ passing skeleton against the New England defense can tell coaches more than if they were just in team drills.
Similarly, tonight’s game may tell us a little more about what to expect from the Falcons when the real games start. True, exhibitions don’t count and game plans are vanilla, as teams are more concerned about evaluating personnel and getting out of a game healthy than they are scheming against a certain offense and defense. But starters played only a couple of series against the Chiefs and they’ll be in there longer tonight, likely well into the second quarter.
A few things to watch:
♦ How does the Falcons’ defense handle Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company? The secondary had a difficult time staying with Moss in practices Tuesday, though that hardly put them in exclusive company. It’s worth noting, however, that at least four projected regulars are not expected to play: cornerback Dunta Robinson (hamstring), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (knee), safety William Moore (groin) and cornerback Brian Williams.
♦ To what extent do the Falcons try to get wide receiver Harry Douglas involved tonight? Douglas, returning from a torn ACL last year, has looked sharp in practice this week and I imagine offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey would like to know how much he’ll be able to stretch opposing defenses this season.
♦ How sharp is Matt Ryan and the offense? The Falcons’ offense moved down the field twice with the starters on the first two series but came away with only one field goal. They stalled on the Chiefs’ 12 in the first series (leading to three points) and at the 35 on the second (missed field goal). Improved play in the red zone would be nice.
OK, that’s it for now. I’m going to grab some coffee and then we can get this thing started. I’ll post some scratches and lineup changes in the comments as soon as they become available.
Looking forward to tonight. Back to chat soon.