Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) is shoved out of bounds by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) during the second quarter of an exhibition game last Thursday at the Georgia Dome. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports/Dale Zanine)
FLOWERY BRANCH — After seeing limited action last Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals in Atlanta’s first preseason game — Matt Ryan and most of the Falcon starters played fewer than 15 snaps — head coach Mike Smith said he expects the first team to play more against the Ravens.
The Falcons continue to ramp up toward the regular season, traveling to Baltimore today for a preseason game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Our first groups probably played 10, 12 and 15 plays,” said Smith. “We will go above on that, probably take them a couple more series.”
There will, however, be starters, or players fighting for starting jobs, who get an extended look against the Ravens. The coaching staff wants these “specific guys” to play longer to get them used to sequencing of the game and substitution patterns, Smith said after practice Tuesday. What was left unsaid is that the coaches want to get a longer look at certain players at positions that are still up for grabs.
Expect rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to play more than most of the first-team players. Alford shined against the Bengals, playing a team-high 51 snaps. Trufant started last Thursday’s game and played 21 snaps.
Second-year tackle Lamar Holmes and undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder will also likely get extra time on the field. After right tackle Mike Johnson went down in camp with a season-ending injury, Holmes became the next in line and Schraeder is pushing for the job.
Holmes was hurt for most of his rookie season last year and played just seven snaps in 2012. He finished second on the offense last Thursday, playing 39 snaps. Schraeder played a total of 34 snaps last week.
Smith expects a loud stadium in Baltimore as this will be the first time the Super-Bowl champion Ravens have been in front a home crowd since Jan. 6, when they beat the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.
Smith should know. He spent four seasons with the Ravens as an assistant between 1999-2002.
The Falcons still haven’t game-planned for an opponent; meaning Atlanta hasn’t looked at film and installed a group of plays specifically for Baltimore. today’s game will still be mainly about evaluating players.
“For us, it’s another step in us evaluating our roster, that’s key,” said Smith. “We’re going up there to win the football game, don’t get me wrong, but most importantly we want to get an opportunity to evaluate some of these players who did really good things in the first ball game and we’re going to see how they handle the second ball game.”
Smith announced Tuesday that four players would not play against the Ravens — fullback Bradie Ewing, running back Jason Snelling and linebackers Robert James and Sean Weatherspoon (finger).
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Staff correspondent Knox Bardeen looks at five things to watch for in the Atlanta Falcons’ preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens:
Keep a close eye on the right side of the offensive line. Both Garrett Reynolds at guard and Lamar Holmes at tackle are new starters this season and struggled at times run blocking against the Bengals last week. Undrafted rookie tackle Ryan Schraeder is pushing Holmes for the starting left tackle job, so pay attention to how each fares against the Ravens.
No one wants to imagine a Falcon offense without quarterback Matt Ryan. But if the new $103.75 million man sustained any sort of injury, second-year passer Dominique Davis would be the guy asked to take over. Davis didn’t appear to have a great game against Cincinnati, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said other than Davis’ bad mistake (the interception) the quarterback was caught in some poorly called plays and matchups because the Falcons did not put together a game plan for the Bengals. His poor showing wasn’t entirely his fault, but Davis needs to improve in the second preseason game.
Undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow led the Falcons last week with 11 tackles. He added a tackle for loss and a pass defensed to his stat sheet too. Worrilow is a fringe linebacker with no guaranteed roster spot after training camp. He needs to continue showing up like he did against Cincinnati and there possibly will be a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad for the Delaware grad.
Even though rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant is considered the starter, fellow rookie Robert Alford is pushing him for that spot. This battle will rage on until Week 1 of the regular season when an official starter is named. Alford played more last Thursday and graded out better than Trufant.
Pay attention to special teams on Thursday. Watch the result of each play for sure, but focus on the tackles made by the Falcons and the blocks, if any, to set up bigger gains. As the coaching staff tries to whittle the roster down from 90 players to 53, the guys who make the team after the first and second stringers will be players who shine on special teams.