This will be a big test for both teams, as Jacksonville’s highly-vaunted defense gets a chance to go against an offense with a lot of firepower, while Blake Bortles and the offense faces off against a very underrated defensive unit.
As we continue our “5 questions with the enemy” series, I had an opportunity to speak with Jeanna Thomas, who covers Atlanta for The Falcoholic and is also the talent manager for team brands with SB Nation. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions regarding the preseason tilt and the how the Falcons look as a team in 2018.
Let’s get right to it...
1. Obviously a lot was made about Jalen Ramsey’s comments regarding NFL quarterbacks. Matt Ryan said he isn’t bothered by Ramsey’s thoughts, but are you expecting Ryan to use those words as motivation and go after Ramsey a bit? Or do you agree that this is a non-issue?
Jeanna: I completely agree that it’s a non-issue. Ramsey’s outspoken, and quite frankly, it’s fun. I think the league needs more guys like him. But Ryan’s been in the league for a decade now, and his preparation and approach won’t change because Jalen Ramsey couldn’t remember his name and said he was overrated.
2. The third preseason game is generally the game where we see the starters get the most reps all preseason. What players will you be paying attention to most, and are there any players on the Jaguars you are excited to watch?
Jeanna: We’ll all have an eye on Calvin Ridley, who certainly has impressed thus far. I would say Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, but I doubt they play. Right guard is the most pressing issue on offense, so that rotation is one to keep an eye on, and the continued development of tight ends Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert is also of interest. On defense, I really just want to see them playing with intensity.
I may feel differently about this than many Falcons fans because I covered the league nationally for a few years, and I low-key love the Jaguars. The defense is so much fun to watch. I hope they take it easy on my quarterback, though.
3. The Falcons regressed a bit offensively under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian last year. What does Sarkisian and the offensive unit need to do to improve as he enters his second year as OC? On the flip side, the defense was improved and finished in the top-10 in both scoring defense and total defense in 2017. What can that unit do to be even better this season?
Jeanna: I think more than anything the offense just needed another offseason for Sarkisian to adapt to the considerable talent he has at his disposal, and vice versa. We should see more consistency from that unit based on that familiarity alone. It was the case in 2016, after fans spent much of the 2015 season calling for Kyle Shanahan’s head. We all know how that turned out. Sarkisian isn’t the coordinator Shanahan is, so I’m not at all saying that all of a sudden Matt Ryan’s going to be MVP again and the Falcons offense will dominate every team in its path, but I think we’ll see improvement.
Defensively, it’s always the same two emphases with the Falcons: creating takeaways and getting pressure on the quarterback. If they can improve in those two areas, we’ll see an even tougher defense in Atlanta this season.
4. The Julio Jones contract situation was a big offseason storyline for the Falcons. Now that a re-worked deal has gotten done, what are the expectations for Jones this season? How do you think he matches up with Jalen Ramsey and/or A.J. Bouye this week?
Jeanna: I actually don’t think Jones will play this week. I do try to temper my expectations for preseason in general because the game plans, if they even exist, are so vanilla. As far as the regular season, though, I think the addition of Calvin Ridley is going to keep defenses honest. With Ridley’s speed and the crisp routes he runs, he’s got to be accounted for on the field. I’ve seen teams use a top corner, a safety, and cheat a linebacker in Julio’s direction to try and contain him and it doesn’t work even close to all the time. With Ridley on the field, too, that limits the resources teams can devote to covering Julio, which should create more opportunities for him.
5. While the starters will play the majority of the time, are there any young players or roster bubble guys you are hoping to see something from this week?
Jeanna: On defense, Damontae Kazee is making a case for regular season playing time, as is rookie Deadrin Senat. Second-year LB Duke Riley isn’t really a fringe player, but he has underperformed. We’d all like to see more out of him. Offensively, rookie running back Ito Smith may end up being groomed to take over Tevin Coleman’s role next season, since Coleman is in a contract year.