The moment is nearly upon us. The Falcons are set to conclude their preseason journey against the Steelers tonight. Beyond this lies a series of familiar milestones that will unfold rapidly: the trimming of the roster, the assembly of the practice squad, and the imminent arrival of Week 1 of the NFL season.
With several roster spots still up in the air, and the team’s hunger for more live game action prior to a highly anticipated season – arguably the most anticipated since 2017 – even an ordinarily uneventful preseason finale gains a touch of excitement. Let’s delve into what we can expect tonight.
What’s at stake?
There are three pivotal factors at play here, each with its own significance.
Firstly, there’s the matter of health. In recent weeks, the Falcons have been grappling with a slew of injuries. The likes of Matt Hennessy, Mike Hughes, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jeff Okudah have been dealing with various degrees of injuries. Exiting this Thursday night game in the best possible health condition, especially for the key players, takes precedence. Any significant injuries could spell trouble for the team as they approach Week 1.
Secondly, there’s the aspect of preparation. For young starters, key backups, and special team players who will be vital in Week 1, this game offers more playing time and a chance to prove their readiness for their respective roles. Even if your spot on the roster isn’t in question, being prepared to contribute significantly remains crucial. This brings up the debate of whether all starters should participate, given the sloppy penalties observed in the previous game. The readiness to hit the ground running in Week 1 is a top priority. The Falcons have started the past two seasons with 0-2 records, so regardless of the amount of playtime starters receive, they must be primed.
Thirdly, there’s the issue of making the roster. For around 10-15 players, this final preseason game could sway their fate in terms of making the 53-man roster. Strong performances here are pivotal. Whether the Steelers field their starters (which is likely) or opt for third-string players, those who haven’t secured a spot must shine or face the risk of being cut in the coming days.
Changes within the Steelers
It’s no surprise that a franchise known for stability sees minimal alterations. Mike Tomlin has been at the helm of this team since 2007 and has maintained a streak of never having a losing season.
On the offensive front, two anticipated changes in the starting lineup are Allen Robinson at receiver and Isaac Seumalo at left guard. Seumalo is a likely small but definite upgrade over Kevin Dotson, who now serves as his direct backup. While Robinson might not have the same impact as before, his presence, if he remains healthy, will benefit a team that concluded the previous year with Steven Sims as their slot receiver.
Defensively, the changes are more notable. The Steelers are expected to introduce new starters at various positions, with rookie Keeanu Benton at nose tackle, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts at inside linebacker, and Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan as starting cornerbacks. Former team member Damontae Kazee is penciled in as a starting safety.
In essence, the Steelers are striving for progress after consecutive nine-win seasons, relying on defensive improvements, advancements from Kenny Pickett and George Pickens, and their consistently solid coaching to propel them to greater heights.
What lies ahead
We can anticipate a brief glimpse of some starters, provided most of them take the field and an extended night of competition among reserves. The final preseason game can sometimes become sluggish, but the Falcons have managed to present a more engaging and competitive product compared to previous preseasons. We’ll remain engaged in whatever entertainment unfolds and closely observe the crucial outcomes of roster battles.
Additionally, keep an eye out for:
An extended assessment of the team’s hopefuls on the offensive line. Jalen Mayfield, Josh Miles, Kyle Hinton, and potentially Jonotthan Harrison are in contention for roster spots. Offering them the opportunity to demonstrate not only their worthiness for a spot but also their suitability as the Falcons evaluate cuts from other teams is a crucial piece of the puzzle for a team with uncertain offensive line depth.
The hierarchy of players. Those entering the game in the second half are less likely to secure roster spots. Nevertheless, they can vie for a position on the practice squad. Conversely, those immediately following the starters should be regarded as still competing for spots. For instance, if Cornell Armstrong plays ahead of Darren Hall, it could carry significant implications.
A focus on discipline. The Falcons faced an excessive number of penalties against the Bengals, especially with the starters on the field. Rectifying this across the board is a key emphasis. Expect fewer penalties and a more tightly managed game.
The potential for Godwin Igwebuike to break off a substantial run or two is a tradition by now.