- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three things to watch:
1. On the line: No matter how much the starters play on both sides of the ball, it will interesting to see how much progress the lines have made a year after the Falcons got pushed around at the line of scrimmage. The Falcons have gotten plenty physical in practice against each other and had a taste of going against competition during a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans. Now they have to show they can do it in a game situation. Keep an eye on first-round draft pick Jake Matthews, particularly if the right tackle gets a chance to work a little longer than the other starters. And also watch second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman and what kind of push he gets up front on the defensive line.
2. In the running: Veteran Steven Jackson probably wouldn't have played much anyway if healthy, but a left hamstring injury will keep him out of action. That means Jacquizz Rodgers is likely to start, and it remains unclear how long the starters will play. So rookie Devonta Freeman should get plenty of touches against his hometown team. Freeman already showed he can take contact and catch out of the backfield. Now he has to show the ability to pick up the blitz in a live situation. And don't forget about Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan; they'll get a few chances to state their cases, too.
3. Rush hour: It remains unclear exactly where the Falcons stand with developing their pass rush. There have been a few flashes in practice, but nothing outstanding. This would be an ideal time for rookie outside linebackers Tyler Starr and Jacques Smith to show what they bring as pass-rushers. Second-year player Stansly Maponga has had trouble with technique during training camp, but outside linebackers coach Mark Collins continues to express faith in him. Let's see which of three gets a sack first.