Finally, the preseason is almost at an end. Only one more game stands between you and regular season NFL glory. In most cases, this fourth game tends to be the least exciting of the preseason. The starters will play very little, while the 30+ backups vying for a roster spot should play for a majority of the game. That said, this matchup with Baltimore is particularly intriguing because the Falcons have added two new DB's in the past two days.
Remember those veteran defensive backs you all were waiting for the Falcons to sign? Well, Comrade Dimitroff went out and signed 'em. The coaching staff found themselves dissatisfied with their current secondary depth, and so the Falcons signed CB Kelvin Hayden and SS James Sanders, both to one-year deals. Both moves were actually made possible by Michael Vick's contract extension with Philly. Oh, the irony.
Those two guys will be easily be the most interesting players to watch tonight, and should highlight this preseason finale with the Ravens. Here are the big questions to focus on for tonight's game:
Is Kelvin Hayden our nickelback at-large?
Hayden, a former member of the Colts, was essentially a casualty of the new salary-cap. While this signing does carry injury concerns along with it (he has missed 12 games over the past three seasons), Hayden will step in as the clear favorite to start at nickelback. He has both starting and playoff experience, making him an attractive option for the Falcons. He's not Darrelle Revis, but he's not Chris Houston either. He's a good complementary piece, and hopefully we'll get to see him in action tonight.
Can James Sanders prove the Patriots wrong?
Sanders, on the other hand, found himself surprisingly cut by the Patriots after some poor play against Detroit. While Sanders is likely just depth at safety, his coverage skills easily make him a more attractive option than Rafael Bush. Still, there must be some reason the Pats cut him, and we may see his weaknesses (such as playing the run) highlighted against the Ravens. Regardless, I expect Sanders to see quite a bit of playing time tonight.
Which Joe Hawley will show up?
With McClure already ruled out against Chicago, Hawley looks to make his first career NFL start in week one. He had a pretty terrible preseason game against Jacksonville, but then rebounded nicely and had a solid performance against Pittsburgh. Hopefully tonight can be an effective tune-up and instill some fan confidence in his abilities.
Who will win the last DE spot?
At this point, I'd call Abraham, Edwards, Biermann, and Matthews as locks to make the roster. That fifth DE spot will likely come down to a battle between Lawrence Sidbury and Chauncey Davis. While Davis is likely the better, more versatile player, he also carries with him a $3.5M salary this season. Tonight's performance will determine whether the team thinks he's worth that money, or if they'd prefer to go with the younger, cheaper Sidbury.
Who on the bubble will make the roster/practice squad?
Guys like Rafael Bush, Darrin Walls, Robert James, Andy Strickland and Kiante Tripp are all such players who could likely find themselves either as a final roster choice or potential practice squad additions. In addition, there are veteran guys like Gartrell Johnson, Spencer Adkins, and Carlton Powell who will likely be cut if they can't win a roster spot tonight. Translation: you're going to see so many backups playing. Don't expect Grade A football tonight.
For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.