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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Atlanta Falcons preseason primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 3

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The Jacksonville Jaguars return to TIAA Bank Field this Saturday to take on the Atlanta Falcons at 7pm EST.

After playing it conservative on the injury front the first two weeks, the Jaguars should have a majority of their players available, including most of the starting offensive line. So what can we look forward in this week’s dress rehearsal?

Opponent

Similar to the Minnesota Vikings, the Falcons are an NFC squad who should be vying for a Super Bowl berth and will be the main competitors to the New Orleans Saints to win the NFC South this season. A terrific opponent to provide a true litmus test for the Jaguars offense, the Falcons’ scorching defense will be a tremendous test for Nathaniel Hackett and we could see the starting unit stay on the field well into the third quarter.

On the defensive side, Jaguars fans who are eager to see a titanic battle between Jalen Ramsey and Julio Jones this week may need to temper expectations, as Jones isn’t likely to suit up on Saturday. Ramsey (and A.J. Bouye) will still have their hands full with good-looking rookie Calvin Ridley and veteran Mohamed Sanu, and we should get more clarity on the battle between DJ Hayden and Tyler Patmon for that starting nickel spot. The Falcons are still trying to figure out the puzzle of their return game, and rookie running back Ito Smith has shown good explosiveness despite being hindered by ball security issues as a kick returner. This very well could be Calvin Ridley’s job to lose.

Once the Falcons starters tap out, keep an eye on rookie free agent from Virginia Kurt Benkert. Benkert has flashed so far in the first two games and I was told the Jaguars were doing their homework on Benkert when I was in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. I would say don’t be surprised if the Jags poach Benkert as a developmental project if the Falcons only keep two quarterbacks, but at the same time, if they really wanted Benkert, they could have drafted him in the sixth round ahead of Tanner Lee.

For more information on the Falcons, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ crossover piece with Jeanna Thomas of the Falcoholic.

Storylines

Offensive line. Offensive line. Offensive line. The Jaguars were down two of their five starters on the line last week and it showed. We should get our first look at marquee free agent signing and 2017 all-pro guard Andrew Norwell, but will Brandon Linder be next to him? We may not get to see the unit at full strength until week one, and that’s a bummer.

Outside of the hogs, this will be a big week for the wide receiver picture and that vaunted sixth spot. Will it be Rashad Greene Sr. or Jaydon Mickens? While everyone will be watching to see who plays and contributes more on offense, I urge you to dig deeper. Based on whichever player takes the majority of special teams snaps this week should give you the answer. I also fully expect the offense to try some deep shots this week, something they have refrained from doing thus far, so expect a heavy dose of DJ Chark and Dede Westbrook.

Another storyline that caught my attention last week was running back Brandon Wilds getting snaps ahead of Corey Grant. Tony Boselli shared on Monday’s Jaguars Happy Hour that this spells trouble for Grant and that his roster spot could be in jeopardy, but I find that comical. For me, the team is trying to discern if Wilds can hack at as the fourth horse in the stable or if they will need to glean the waiver wire to fill that role, so don’t be surprised if Wilds takes every snap next week against the Bucs.

Key matchups

Jalen Ramsey vs. Matt Ryan

Fresh off a week-long suspension, Ramsey will need to back up the shade he threw at Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in his recent GQ interview. Ryan isn’t the type of petty personality who would take such comments to heart and try to test Ramsey as an act of vengeance, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be doing his best to a move an offense that has been pretty pedestrian over the first two weeks of preseason (14 points in two games).

AJ Bouye/DJ Hayden vs. Calvin Ridley

This could be a “welcome to the NFL” week for Ridley, who performed well against the Chiefs last week on his way to three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Kudos to Calvin for burning Steven Nelson and Tremon Smith, but those guys aren’t exactly the Jaguars cornerbacks. We’ll see if offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian tries to move Ridley into the slot to test DJ Hayden, because I certainly wouldn’t want that smoke on the outside. If the bigger, more physical Sanu goes into the slot, we’ll see if the Jaguars continue to experiment with Ronnie Harrison as the “brute back.”

Cam Robinson vs. Takk McKinley

Robinson needs to have a bounce back game after a lackluster performance in last week’s match up against Danielle Hunter. Although talented, McKinley is only in the second year of his development and is still figuring out technique and rush plans. If Robinson struggles again this week, especially with Norwell next to him, we got a problem.

Taven Bryan vs. Matthew Gono

I propped up Bryan’s debut in last week’s primer and he ended up sitting out. Bryan needs to return to the field on Saturday because, quite frankly, he’s falling behind. The Falcons have some of the worst offensive tackle depth in the league beyond their starters, and Bryan will likely be squaring off against Wesley College rookie free agent Matthew Gono. If Bryan doesn’t show some good rushes against Gono, it will certainly extinguish a lot of the early enthusiasm he’s earned.

Leon Jacobs vs. Austin Hooper/Eric Saubert

Hooper has looked really good so far in preseason, and same goes for Saubert. We’ve seen Jacobs do some good things setting the edge and blitzing, but I’m sure the team would like to see more snaps from Jacobs in coverage to see if he can hang.

Final prediction

Bortles bounces back and has some nice drives this week to assuage the haters and losers in the national media. Additionally, the offense starts out by throwing to open up the run and takes some shots deep early in the game to loosen up the box. I also expect more third down reps for Leonard Fournette to see if he can be utilized more in that role during the season. Conversely, Steve Sarkisian’s offense has difficulty moving the ball on this Jaguars offense, and the “Sark Sucks” grumbles from Falcons fans start to get louder.

After back-to-back years of panic-inducing dress rehearsals in week three of the preseason, the Jags coast through looking solid. No long-term injuries and consider it a win, regardless of the score.

Jaguars win 24-10.