Ravens vs. Falcons Game Preview

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The Ravens are set for their fourth and final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome (7:30 pm ET).

BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent.

Rankings

Total Offense– 6th Total Defense– 24th

Rush Offense –2ndRush Defense –25th* *

Pass Offense –28thPass Defense –21st

Points Per Game –11thPoints Per Game –11th

Sizing Them Up

The Falcons enjoyed many of the same benefits the Ravens did last year under new head coach Mike Smith.

They had a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan, a stud rushing attack with Michael Turner and Jerrious Norwood in the backfield, and a solid defense.

Turner was an absolute monster in 2008, totaling an NFL-leading 376 carries for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. Turner balances the attack of Ryan's strong and accurate arm, which found receiver Roddy White for 1,382 receiving yards.

The Falcons then added Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez in the offseason, making their passing attack even more dangerous.

On defense, defensive end John Abraham points the way. Just entering his fourth season with the Falcons, he has already broken into the Top-10 sack leaders in franchise history with 30.5 in Atlanta. Abraham's 16.5 last year were a career-best.

In addition, the Falcons have a young secondary with corners Chris Houston and Brent Grimes. And, in 2008, six-year veteran Erik Coleman, who is tutoring the young defensive backs, finished with a career-best 127 tackles and three interceptions. 

What's Up?

John Manasso of AtlantaFalcons.com offers this look into how much the Falcons' starters may play.

"Head Coach Mike Smith said after Tuesday's practice it would be a game-time decision as to whether some players would completely sit out the game. Defensive end John Abraham and center Todd McClure, two key veterans, did not practice on Tuesday and did not wear pads on Monday -- a possible hint as to the amount they might play."

Recent Falcons signee Tye Hill spoke with the media. Check out my counterpart, J. Michael Moore in the background of this video.

"It's definitely going to motivate me a whole lot more," Hill said to a small gathering of media. "Not to say I wasn't motivated in St. Louis, but just to be here and know people on the team and my family's around… I feel like I'm home."

The *Atlanta Journal-Constitution *offers these keys to the game.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes about the play of the cornerbacks, the battle for third quarterback and a punt returner competition.

Awards

Offensive – Just as Joe Flacco drives the Ravens' offense, second-year quarterback Matt Ryan is another young leader. As a rookie, Ryan completed 265 of 434 passes for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those passing yards ranked sixth in Falcons annals, and he was only the second rookie signal-caller to amass 3,000 yards through the air. As Ryan develops, the Falcons will only get better.

Defensive – The Falcons rely on defensive end John Abraham to supply the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Abraham posted a career-best 16.5 sacks last year and owns 19 multiple-sack games in his career. Atlanta likes to shift him from the left to the right side in the middle of games, so he's very unpredictable. 

Emerging Star

Wideout Eric Weems has an opportunity to stand out with a season-ending injury to receiver Harry Douglas, and he's been taking advantage of it this summer. Weems, of Bethune-Cookman, has five catches for 42 yards in the preseason. From all reports out of Atlanta, the two-year veteran has been opening eyes.

Key Matchups

Ravens K Steve Hauschka vs. Ravens K Graham Gano

This may be the Ravens' biggest battle heading into their preseason finale. Hauschka has the advantage through some solid preseason performances, but Gano could remain in the kicking debate if Hauschka implodes in Atlanta. This game will decide the fate of the Ravens' kicking unit perhaps well into the future.

Ravens QB John Beck vs. Falcons secondaryIt's unlikely that Flacco or Troy Smith will play much Thursday night, so look for Beck to get the majority of work. It will be him most extensive action of the preseason, and the Ravens need to see if Beck can be the quality third quarterback they expected when they signed him off the Miami Dolphins' scrap heap.

Quotable

Smith on how the finishing of drives seemed to be a good thing for the first string offense and for backup Chris Redman in the preseason:"I thought that Chris Redman did an outstanding job during his playing time. He had that drive for the winning touchdown on the last play of the game. We moved the ball very efficiently on offense. We had to settle for two field goals. We didn't actually get into the redzone. The drive stalled right outside of the redzone. One was in a two-minute situation right before halftime."

Smith on how the secondary has looked after reviewing the film?"I watched the whole entire team play and just like in the first two weeks of the preseason, there was some good, bad, and there was some ugly. There were some really good plays on first and second down and there were some really bad plays on third down. That was kind of the story of the defense in the ball game. We did some things better this week than we did in the first two weeks. That's the great thing about the preseason. We have four opportunities to make all the corrections that we can."

Duff's Take

While many football fans would poo-poo this game, it's one of the most important of the entire season. This is the time when roster spots 48 through 53 are decided.

The unheralded free agents that are fighting for roster spots can make their last bid to make the team. Last year, it was Jameel McClain that impressed enough through the preseason that he earned a spot basically based on his special teams performance.

Two years ago, it was Edgar Jones. Both of those guys figure to be big-time contributors this year.

So there are a few people to watch tonight in Atlanta.

Derrick Martin has made a good showing throughout training camp. The former corner shifted to safety this offseason and had troubles early. He was a long-shot by the time he made it to Westminster and McDaniel College.

But he's already scored an interception against the redskins, and had a crucial pass deflection against the Jets. He could cement his chances with a strong outing against the Falcons.

Another player Martin is battling with is K.J. Gerard. The guys was simply all over the football in offseason minicamps. My only question was can he hit? He's only like 175 pounds soaking wet, so that was definitely a concern.

Does he have that Will Demps type of ability to show up in games?

Well, he showed it last weekend in Charlotte, when he laid out a returner on special teams. It was a hit that prompted Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta to react happily in the press box. His extended time with the defense will be a great test for him.

And don't overlook the Ravens' depth at defensive tackle. The way I see it, Haloti, Kelly Gregg, Trevor PryceJustin Bannan and Dwan Edwards are guaranteed spots. That leaves Brandon McKinney and Kelley Talavou to battle each other in this game. Who's going to make more plays? I can only play out over the course of action.

Then, we can move over to the offensive side of the football.

Of course, we have the wide receiver position that Ravens fans can't seem to get over. It seems that Kelley Washington has played his way into one of the top three or four spots. Baltimore is banking on the fact that Demetrius Williams will stay healthy.

Now, you've got Justin Harper and Ernie Williams, both of whom have shown flashes of putting it all together in practices and games but haven't been consistent.

Do the Ravens keep one, both, or none?

At running back, the Ravens have a draft pick in Cedric Peerman who really hasn't done much. They have Matt Lawrence, who showed promise with his ability in the receiving game, and Jalen Parmele, whom Cam Cameron likes and had a 48-yard run last Saturday.

You know the Ravens are starting Ray Rice and have Willis and Le'Ron backing him up, but there is an open tryout for that extra spot that will come down to their performance in the Georgia Dome.

The starters will play only one or two series. That means the backups will get a ton of time on the field.

With guys fighting for their livelihoods, their families, and their careers, how can this game not be interesting?. 

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