In just a few hours the Atlanta Falcons will face the Baltimore Ravens in their first preseason game of the 2012 season. It's an exciting time where we get to see the team facing decent competition for the first time, and where we can draw far too many conclusions when it's all said and done. Despite the typical rampant optimism, or sky is falling mentality that follows a preseason game (depending on the outcome), we can learn a few things about how the Falcons will look in 2012 from tonight's game.
1. The Offensive Line
Baltimore's uber-aggressive 3-4 defense will be a perfect test for the Falcons' OL, and rookie Peter Konz who will be tested early, and often. There is perhaps no team in the NFL who benefits more from a clean pocket than Atlanta, because Matt Ryan is, by nature, a QB who becomes a different player when given the time he needs to work.
That's not to say he's poor when rushed, per se, but it's hard to deny that he's an elite QB when given a little bit of time. Based on his veteran status, and the reports of how well the offensive is clicking, we may not see Ryan and co. more than a couple of series, but this is a blessing in disguise, as it will allow us to get a good look a the OL depth and how they perform.
2. Who will step up for the pass rush?
Ray Edwards has talked openly, and candidly this off-season about his need to step up. This extends throughout the pass rushers who all need to match the intensity that John Abraham brings week in, week out. Lawrence Sidbury has been impressive recently in training camp, particularly in last week's Friday Night Lights where he registered two sacks.
If Edwards, Massaquoi, and Sidbury call all show marked improvement tonight it will show the necessary progression the pass rush needs to make in order to round out the defense. At this stage the secondary is one of the better units in the NFL, and if the defensive front can just be a touch better the Falcons will be tough to beat.
3. Sean Weatherspoon: Already elite?
There has been a lot of off-season chatter about Sean Weatherspoon, and his ascension to become one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL. His 2011 season was grossly overlooked by analysts, but those who saw him play can tell you that he's one of the most athletic, and versatile linebackers in the league.
Enter Ray Rice: The perfect foil to prove if Weatherspoon is worthy of the praise he's garnered. Fans know that he has the skill to go toe-to-toe with the NFL's best running backs, but this is a nice early test to show that he can be successful, even without Curtis Lofton to support him in the middle. A good game tonight will allay the fears of fans afraid that the LB corps could be the defense's Achilles heel, and further prove that Weatherspoon is as good as advertised.