NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 W2W4
- How the defensive line will adapt in its first game without Darnell Dockett will be telling, especially since the starters will be playing about a half Sunday. If veteran Frostee Rucker can slide into Darnell’s spot seamlessly and keep the Cardinals’ run defense at the level it was at last year, a deep sigh of relief can be exhaled. If the Bengals run through the Cards’ line, then it’s time to possibly be concerned because the starters will likely have Thursday against San Diego off, meaning the next time the defensive line will have a chance to play against a live offense will be in Week 1 on “Monday Night Football” in front of a national audience.
- While Jonathan Cooper continues to rest his turf toe injury, Ted Larsen will be next up to compete for the starting left guard job. He left a good impression with coaches after filling in for center Lyle Sendlein for the past three weeks, but the question becomes: Can he slide over one spot and continue to perform at that high level? With Larsen being the third starting left guard of the preseason, he’s in a position to solidify the starting offensive line with a productive outing. Cooper may not see any action Sunday, which means he’ll have Thursday’s preseason finale as the only other chance for him to play in order to be ready for the season opener.
- Sunday may be the last game either Jay Feely or Chandler Catanzaro will play in a Cardinals uniform. After each kicked in one full game thus far, the two kickers will split Sunday with Feely kicking the first half and Catanzaro kicking the second. Earlier this week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was noncommittal about the kicking competition going all four preseason games. How the two kick Sunday will decide if Arians needs a fourth game to decide. If he doesn’t, Arizona will be down to one kicker after Tuesday’s first cuts.
1. Dalton's longest outing: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't tip his hand this week when asked how long he might leave his starters in this game. He wants to base their playing time on the number of plays they have, not on the quarters they play. It's possible his first-team offense plays into the start of the third quarter, but it's most likely the group calls it quits at halftime if it has reached a certain number of plays. The starters were part of eight plays at Kansas City in the preseason opener and 17 last week against the Jets. Regardless of what the number of plays will be this weekend, the bottom line is this: Look for Andy Dalton to have his longest outing of the preseason. Will he be able to keep up the strong play he has exhibited so far? Through four drives, he is 11-for-13 for 215 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals have scored on all four of his drives.
2. Watch Atkins make his debut: Early in the week, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said the plan was to get defensive tackle Geno Atkins "a couple series" in Sunday's game. Lewis added Friday that Atkins was good enough to play, even if he didn't participate in Friday's walk-through. When Atkins does take the field Sunday, he will be participating in his first game since October, when he tore his ACL on Halloween night. The injury required surgery and forced him to take his recovery quite slowly. He didn't see any 11-on-11 action during the open portion of training camp that ended last week, but Guenther said Atkins has been part of some team drills this week. We will be watching in pregame to see if Atkins gives any indication that he won't be ready. Sidelined Friday, Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict, among others. Burfict's status will be interesting to watch. He didn't practice Wednesday to Friday because of a stomach bug that has hit the team.
3. Bengals generating better depth? Lewis and Guenther were among those most adamant about generating better depth on both sides of the ball after last week's loss to the Jets. Cincinnati's hot 17-3 start was ruined by turnovers and lacking execution from players near the bottom of the depth chart. Despite their commanding lead that lasted into the second quarter, the Bengals ended up losing 25-17. The hope around Paul Brown Stadium this week has been that reserves trying to make the team kicked it into high gear just in time for Sunday's game. Watch to see if the execution is better or worse on the back end of the depth chart Sunday.
1. The grass: It's a, ahem, sod story that's taken on a life of its own this week. The $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium needed new grass after just one 49ers exhibition game, a San Jose Earthquakes soccer match, a John Legend concert and two and a half public practices by the 49ers. The original Bandera Bermuda blend did not take root properly, and as a result, coach Jim Harbaugh took his team off the field during Wednesday's practice after determining the field was hazardous to his players following several slips and divots. So a new lawn was rolled out Friday -- a deeper cut than the original -- and everyone insists it will hold up Sunday and no players will admit they will be extra careful on it. Stay tuned. How the field holds up in the all-important third preseason game could determine how long the 49ers starters play.
2. Scoring: The 49ers kicked a field goal on their first offensive possession of the preseason and have been shut out since, a stretch of 20 possessions. Sure, starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been under center for only three of those drives, including the first, but being outscored by a combined 57-3 should be cause for concern, right? Well, to a man, the 49ers regulars insist all is well, that they just need to get a rhythm going offensively. How long the starters play will go a long way toward establishing said rhythm and determining if there is cause for deeper concern.
3. Who's the backup QB? Blaine Gabbert has left much to be desired in his two appearances as Kaepernick's primary backup, completing 11 of 25 passes for 60 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns. But it's not as if Josh Johnson or McLeod Bethel-Thompson has lit things up either, the former losing a pair of fumbles and the latter getting picked off twice. Still, Harbaugh said there was no change in the order of the backup quarterbacks, giving the sense that the No. 2 job is truly Gabbert's to lose -- even if that's exactly how he has performed thus far.
Like all preseason games, finishing with no major injuries should be a top priority for the Chargers. So far, San Diego head coach Mike McCoy has been fortunate in that regard, with no major injuries through two games. Hopefully that continues. That said, here are three other things to keep an eye on during the game:
1. Tackle, and stop the run: The Chargers struggled to stop the run the first two preseason games, giving up a league-worst 5.58 yards per carry. Poor tackling remains an issue, as San Diego has had trouble tracking and targeting ball carriers in the open field. San Diego will not get a reprieve against the 49ers. San Francisco has the most diversity of runs of any NFL team in the league and can run effectively in heavy or spread formations. The 49ers have perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL, led by Pro Bowlers Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. Add to that an elusive glider like quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and San Diego will definitely be tested up front. It will be important for the Chargers to get 11 hats to the ball, be disciplined and gap sound.
2. Get after the quarterback: The Chargers have just four sacks through two games and have failed to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. Opposing quarterbacks have a 92.3 passer rating against the Chargers this preseason. Getting a healthy Dwight Freeney with the starters on passing downs should help. I’m also interested to see Jeremiah Attaochu and Melvin Ingram make some plays in the backfield on Sunday.
3. Get into a rhythm: San Diego’s first-unit offense has not scored during exhibition play, so it will be important for players like Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen to experience some success moving the football, and ultimately get into the end zone. The same can be said for cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. Verrett is slated to see his first action in a Chargers uniform, and Flowers has not played much during exhibition play. Both will be tested against big San Francisco receivers in Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, so it should be a good chance for those two to get some reps and get into a rhythm with the rest of the secondary. I know preseason records don’t matter, but that doesn’t mean having some success isn’t important to building momentum for the regular season. Since the start of the 2012 preseason, Denver and Seattle -- the two teams that appeared in the Super Bowl last season -- are a combined 16-5 in exhibition play. Apparently winning during the preseason matters to them.
- Final auditions at QB: We think the signs are clear that Matt Cassel will be the Vikings' starting quarterback at the start of the regular season. Though the Vikings haven't made it official yet, they've been operating that way since the start of training camp. But if Teddy Bridgewater wants to make one more push for the starting job as a rookie, he'll get his shot Saturday night. Coach Mike Zimmer wouldn't divulge his plan for the quarterbacks this week, other than to say Bridgewater could get some time with the first team. Cassel, though, said he expects to play quite a bit on Saturday, which could mean Bridgewater takes over for him in the third quarter and gets a few series with the first team before finishing his night with the Vikings' backups. At the very least, the rookie will have a chance to build on his impressive game last Saturday against Arizona, and could see a step up in competition if he gets some time against the Chiefs' top defense.
- Patterson returns on kickoffs: This being the de facto dress rehearsal for the regular season, we'll see the Vikings start to operate on Saturday night in a manner more consistent with what they'll do when things count. That means the team plans for Cordarrelle Patterson to return a kickoff or two this week. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he doesn't need to see anything in particular from the All-Pro return man, but wants to give Patterson a chance to get a couple returns before the start of the season. He said he hopes the Vikings won't have to back Patterson off at all from kick returns as he takes on a bigger role in the offense -- instead suggesting the Vikings treat the kickoff return as a first-down play and adjust Patterson's snaps from scrimmage accordingly, as they did with Percy Harvin -- and Saturday will allow the Vikings to test their plans to balance Patterson's workload, too.
- Rebound for Rhodes: Last Saturday's game was a tough one for second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, whose missed tackle turned a screen pass into a 51-yard gain for Jaron Brown and who mistimed his leap on a 35-yard pass to Brown in the second quarter. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and Zimmer has been coaching him hard throughout camp, at one point realizing he needed to be a little softer, as he put it, on the second-year corner. But as much as the Vikings are putting on Rhodes this year, it would be good for him to rebound with a solid showing (albeit against a less prolific offense than Arizona's) on Saturday night.
Three things to watch:
1. Hard feelings: After three practice days that featured plenty of extra-curricular jawing, shoving and, on Thursday, some punches thrown, some grumpiness could remain that could boil over in this game. The Broncos offense and the Texans defense simply did not get along this past week and Houston's do-it-all defensive end J.J. Watt seemed to be at the root of Denver's angst at times. Both tackle Chris Clark and guard Orlando Franklin had confrontations with Watt in drills after Watt had repeatedly shown why many personnel executives say he is simply the best defensive player in the game. Because of the fairly intense practices with the Texans, the Broncos may dial back some of the starters' work in this one, but when the Denver offense is on the field with the Texans defense it will be worth keeping an eye on the tempers on both sides of the equation.
2. An adjustment: With Jordan Norwood's season-ending knee injury this past week, the Broncos will reassess what they're going to do at wide receiver when the roster cuts come. When training camp opened the Broncos were poised to keep five receivers, but with his quality play, as well as his work at punt returner, Norwood had put himself in position to force the Broncos to keep six at the spot. But with Norwood injured the Broncos must now step back and see if they simply want to keep five at the position, or if another player can show them enough in the final two preseason games to be the sixth. Isaiah Burse is an option because of his ability in the return game. But he must handle the ball more consistently on special teams and he is more limited in the offense than Norwood was. Norwood played both outside spots in practice and lined up inside on a smattering of snaps. Burse has looked far more comfortable simply working out of the slot. Norwood's injury does leave the door cracked some for another player to force the issue.
3. Defensive front on front burner: Some of the most difficult decisions in the coming week will come on the defensive line. With their offseason work the Broncos turned a problem spot on the depth chart into perhaps the team's deepest position top to bottom. If the Broncos keep just eight players in the final cuts, there will be players sent on their way who were regulars in the rotation last season. They could keep nine, but there are other places on the roster where they may want to keep an additional player, including on special teams where the return jobs remain open. So, how the rotation goes from the first- to the second-team will bear watching in this one, especially on the interior where, again if they keep just eight, Mitch Unrein, Kevin Vickerson and Sione Fua may be playing for one spot.
- Offensive efficiency. The starting offense, led by quarterback Alex Smith, will play into the second half Saturday night. It will be attempting to score a touchdown for the first time. The Chiefs have punted four times, kicked three field goals and lost a fumble in the eight possessions with their starters on the field. The problems have ranged from penalties to an inability to convert in short-yardage situations, so the Chiefs will be looking to clean up a few problems. Injured running back Jamaal Charles is unlikely to play for the second straight week.
- Young wide receivers. Two of the top wide receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Junior Hemingway, didn’t practice during the week and are unlikely to play in the game. That will leave plenty of playing time for the younger receivers against Minnesota’s starters. Frankie Hammond Jr. has been a star during offseason practice and training camp, and he had a big game last week in Carolina. He received Bowe’s snaps with the starters in practice. Hammond could solidify a roster spot by playing well and also claim some of the snaps left vacant in the first game of the regular season by Bowe’s suspension. Albert Wilson is another young receiver who would help himself by playing well.
- Bray makes his play. The Chiefs are passing over Chase Daniel as their No. 2 quarterback in this game at least in favor of a developmental prospect, Tyler Bray. Smith will play into the third quarter and then it’s Bray’s game. It’s Bray's chance to not only put some distance on the depth chart between himself and the other developmental quarterback, Aaron Murray, but also gain on Daniel. There seems to be little for Bray to lose. Even if he doesn’t play well, the Chiefs seem to like Bray enough that he'll still win a roster spot in a crowded quarterback derby.
- Defense. After facing Ryan Mallett in the preseason opener and a dreadful Cleveland offense in the second game, the Redskins’ defense finally gets a challenge in Baltimore’s offense. The Ravens have a legitimate quarterback in Joe Flacco, some dangerous receivers led by Torrey Smith and a potentially strong ground game (Baltimore has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the first two preseason games). The Redskins' defense has dominated so far, but this game will be a much better test.
- Jason Hatcher's debut. The Redskins signed Hatcher to provide an interior pass rush, something they have lacked the past two seasons. He missed the first two preseason games while working his way back after arthroscopic knee surgery in June. Hatcher said he feels quicker than in the past. He'll likely play around 10 to 12 snaps. What sort of football shape is he in? Will he play low? Hatcher is a big key to the season.
- Robert Griffin III's progression. This always is something to watch. It’s not just about when he should slide or not slide. It’s also about continuing to improve as a passer. Aside from one pass against Cleveland -- albeit an ugly one -- Griffin was solid. He needs another game like that, without the turnovers. And, yes, everyone will pay attention when Griffin runs. It helps that he’ll play at least a half, giving him more time to work with his new wideouts.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns meet in Week 3 of the preseason Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:
1. Returning starters: Last week it was quarterback Sam Bradford making his 2014 preseason debut, but five other important Rams are working their way back onto the field and could do so as early as this week. Left tackle Jake Long is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn MCL and ACL in December 2013. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers also looks on course to bounce back from an ankle injury after doing most everything in practice this week. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins should also be back on the field after a short hiatus because of a hamstring issue. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) are less certain. Saffold has done limited work in team drills during practice but is hopeful that he'll get to play. Laurinaitis is in a similar boat but may not be pushed. We won't know who will and won't play until the game starts, but all five are worth watching either way.
2. A better idea: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has indicated his team will be a bit more active in game planning and preparation this week after an extremely vanilla approach the first two weeks. That could mean more time for the starters than either of the first two games. But just because there will be more scheming doesn't mean there will be a lot. A blitz here and there might be in the offing, but coming away with any sweeping generalizations from any preseason game (or practice, for that matter) is still not recommended. Still, the more time the starters play, the more chances we'll have to see what kind of shape the top group is in.
3. Running revival: Through the first two games, there has been plenty of caterwauling about the Rams' inability to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, particularly with the starting groups. While there hasn't been much game planning going on, the run game often comes down to the basics of blocking and tackling. Those two things should always be a priority and so far the Rams have struggled in those areas. Of course, plenty of teams around the league can say the same thing. On defense, the return of Laurinaitis and Brockers would go a long way toward helping stop the run. Saffold would have a similar effect on the run game. Again, there's little reason to panic about either area at this point in the preseason, but it's worth continuing to monitor as the regular season draws near.
1. How does Brian Hoyer perform: On Wednesday he was named the starting quarterback for Week 1 despite a miserable exhibition season to this point. He has completed just 8 of 20 passes for 108 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. Worse, he has yet to lead the offense to a touchdown or a third-down conversion. Coach Mike Pettine is hoping Hoyer will relax and gain a renewed confidence now that he no longer has to look over his shoulder at rookie first-round pick Johnny Manziel. If he struggles and Manziel excels with the second unit, it could make for an uncomfortable home environment for Hoyer.
2. Does Jordan Cameron knock the rust off: The Pro Bowl tight end -- er, pass-catcher -- struggled Monday night in his first game action of the preseason, failing to catch a pass. There's no need for concern with him, but Pettine is eager to see Cameron at his best because coordinator Kyle Shanahan plans to use him at a variety of spots: on the line of scrimmage, as an H-back, in motion. "When you have a tight end with that kind of skill set you can split him out as the single wide receiver," Pettine said. "You can put him in an unconventional position to take advantage of it. It might not necessarily be a speed mismatch, but it could be a body type, jumping ability type mismatch. That's something that he brings to us and we'll look to take advantage of." The Browns also know that with wideout Josh Gordon likely to miss the early part of the season, if not the entire season because of a league suspension, Cameron is the only proven "pass-catcher" on the roster who has excelled in recent seasons.
3. The bite of the Dawg Pound: The only thing that would have made Monday night's goal-line stand at Washington better was if it had occurred in Cleveland. Pettine wants to make FirstEnergy Stadium a hostile environment for opposing offenses, and for that to happen the defense has to give fans something to get excited about. "We talk about the defense being a foundation here and being a big part of what we do," the coach said. "I can only imagine the reaction of the crowd if that [stand] had happened [at home]. That's one of the things we're looking forward to the most. We played back-to-back on the road. That's great -- got used to traveling. I just think we need to start to develop that relationship with our fans. Get the Dawg Pound rolling again. We know the best way to do that is go out there and play great football."
1. Flacco-Smith connection. One of the impressive parts of training camp was the instant connection between quarterback Joe Flacco and his new receiver Steve Smith. It seemed like every day Smith made at least one catch that caught your attention. That chemistry hasn't carried over into the two preseason games. Smith has two catches for 17 yards. Last week in Dallas, Smith dropped a third-down pass and ran the wrong depth on a route, which led to an incompletion. In what will be the last preseason action for both Flacco and Smith, it's important for them to gain some rhythm heading into the regular season.
2. Depth at cornerback. The Ravens will get a good gauge on whether they need to add another cornerback after the final major cutdown is made at the end of the preseason. The spotlight falls on Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, both of whom start Saturday night due to injuries. The Ravens are without their top three cornerbacks: Jimmy Smith (chest), Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle). Brown and Franks played a large portion of last week's preseason game, and they held up fairly well. Brown and Franks, though, remain big question marks. They will get tested against Redskins wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
3. The pass rush. The best way to take pressure off the cornerbacks is to put guys on the quarterback. The Ravens haven't gotten much consistent pressure this preseason (three total sacks), which has been among the disappointments for the defense. It's not like the Ravens are holding back either. There have been plenty of times when defensive coordinator Dean Pees has called blitzes. But no one beyond Pernell McPhee and C.J. Mosley has more than one quarterback hurry in the first two preseason games. It's time for Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to collapse the pocket.
1. Offensive production: The Dolphins' offense under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has shown a mixed bag during the first two weeks of the preseason. The passing game and tempo have been upgrades from what we've seen last season. However, the running game is virtually non-existent thus far. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has completed 75 percent (15-for-20) of his passes and is playing faster and more decisive football. The passing game under Lazor has been sharp. But the offensive line is getting little push in the running game. The Dolphins had minus-5 yards in the first half last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and must improve their production on the ground.
2. Healthy returns: Running back Knowshon Moreno (knee) and tight end Charles Clay (knee) have practiced all week for the Dolphins. There is a good chance one or both will make their 2014 debut Saturday against Dallas. Moreno and Clay are expected to play major roles in Miami's offense this season. Clay was a steady force over the middle last year with 69 receptions. Moreno also is coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. Clay, in particular, said he feels ready to play against Dallas. But the final call Saturday will be up to the medical staff.
3. Change at right guard: Free-agent signing Shelley Smith will get his first start in a Dolphins uniform Saturday at right guard. Smith replaces the struggling Dallas Thomas, who was manhandled last week by Tampa Bay Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Right guard is the final spot on the offensive line that is still up for grabs. Smith, who signed a $5.5 million contract in March, has a chance to solidify that spot with a strong performance against the Cowboys.
1. The Cowboys have put a big emphasis on the running game and appear to be using action and not just words when doing it this summer. They ran the ball on six of their first eight plays in the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers. They ran it on nine of 14 plays run by the first-team offense last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Cowboys believe the strength of their team is the offensive line, highlighted by three first-round picks in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, and want to build a physical identity. But this will also be the last time the starters play before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers and there is a timing that needs to be built up between quarterback Tony Romo and his pass-catchers, like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Balance is a big key for an offense, but the Cowboys might look unbalanced tonight.
2. The secondary will remain a work in progress into the regular season, but cornerback Brandon Carr will make his preseason debut. He missed the first two weeks of training camp to be with his family with the passing of his mother. He put pads on for the first time this summer on Tuesday after the coaches worked him in slowly. With the officials making illegal contact a point of emphasis this summer, Carr knows he will have to be on point with his technique early. Morris Claiborne is not expected to play because of a shoulder injury and Sterling Moore will be available after not playing the first two preseason games because of a groin injury. B.W. Webb, whose chances to make the roster improved with Orlando Scandrick's four-game suspension, will not play because of a hip flexor. That will give rookie Tyler Patmon more time in the slot and the chance to earn a job. Rookie safety Ahmad Dixon will return after he was benched by the coaches last week for showing up late to a walk-through. He had a team-high 12 tackles in the preseason opener at San Diego.
3. Like the secondary, the linebackers are a work in progress as well. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and Kyle Wilber have started the first two preseason games, but rookie Anthony Hitchens took some first-team snaps at middle linebacker with Durant and Carter manning the outside spots. The Cowboys have twice tried to elevate Rolando McClain to the No. 1 defense in camp, but both times he was unable to finish practices because of injuries. The first was a case of knee tendinitis. This week he suffered severe cramping and missed Wednesday's practice. The Cowboys also lost DeVonte Holloman for the season with a neck injury. He was among the candidates to replace Sean Lee in the middle, but now those options are Durant, Hitchens and McClain. If McClain can show some sort of dependability over the next two weeks, then he could be their starter on opening day against San Francisco.
Three things to watch:
- Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson remain in competition for roles in the Titans secondary. One will start as a cornerback in base, the other will be part of the nickel package, though the nickel player could line up outside or in the slot. The Titans didn’t see Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees as they sat out the first two preseason games for Tennessee. Now they'll finally see a big-time quarterback in Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones and Roddy White. Those are good challenges all around that should give the Titans something to assess.
- The Titans didn’t declare Charlie Whitehurst out during the week, but Whitehurst said we should be able to figure out if he’d dress and play. He could play in the regular season with an injured pinkie finger on his throwing hand. But he hasn’t practiced, and there is no reason to have him taking snaps, offering handoffs, making throws and absorbing contact when he can be healing up. Expect Zach Mettenberger to work as the No. 2 and get plenty of action. Another solid showing will raise the volume for those who want him ahead of Whitehurst on the depth chart, or even ahead of Jake Locker.
- Defensive lineman Mike Martin remains out with a hamstring injury. His missed time could hurt him as the Titans sort out a crowded group. Roster locks DaQuan Jones and Al Woods will get snaps at end behind the starters as well as at nose. Karl Klug and Lavar Edwards will have additional opportunities to try to show the Titans they should be on the team with Martin, or even ahead of him.
1. On the line: Of course, plenty of eyes will be on rookie Jake Matthews in his first game as the team's left tackle following Sam Baker's season-ending knee injury. Matthews shouldn't have much problem with the transition from right tackle after playing left tackle last season in college, but it might take time to get back into a ryhthm. Since the starters are expected to play into the third quarter, Matthews should get plenty of work. The Falcons and Titans already had a joint practice, and Matthews had quite a battle on the right side against Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan. Keep an eye at right tackle, too, with Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder trying to prove they belong in the starting lineup. Both have been shaky this preseason, and Holmes struggled as a starter last year.
2. Foul play: One of the points of emphasis coming off the first two preseason games is cutting down penalties. The Falcons were whistled for 25 penalties total against Miami and Houston, with 19 of those accepted. Two rushing touchdowns were wiped off the board due to penalties. When it comes to procedural penalties, those can't be tolerated. The Falcons might be out of luck, at least immediately, in terms of the renewed emphasis on defensive holding an illegal contact. But the Falcons really need to keep their tempers in check to avoid flags after the whistle. Schraeder already picked up one of those. And the Falcons might be enticed to give a late shove or talk trash this weekend, with Titans safety Bernard Pollard coming to town. Remember, Pollard referred to the Falcons as ``pretenders'' during joint practice.
3. Competitive advantage: There are some unsettled position battles worth monitoring, including the nickel back spot between Robert McClain, Josh Wilson, and Javier Arenas. McClain looks like the guy, but Arenas will get the first chance to make an impression against the Titans. It's fair to wonder how many reps rookie Prince Shembo gets at inside linebacker as he continues to close the gap on current starter Joplo Bartu. And Kemal Ishmael just might get a chance to put some heat on Dwight Lowery, the projected starter at free safety. It might also be worth watching to see which undrafted rookie receiver gets the edge between Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn if the Falcons plan on keeping six receivers. Newly added veteran Eric Weems should be viewed more as a special-teamer than another receiver.
1:00 PM ET San Diego Buffalo 1:00 PM ET Dallas St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Washington Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Houston New York 1:00 PM ET Minnesota New Orleans 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Baltimore Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Green Bay Detroit 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Oakland New England 4:05 PM ET San Francisco Arizona 4:25 PM ET Denver Seattle 4:25 PM ET Kansas City Miami 8:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Carolina