Game Preview: Jaguars vs. Falcons

Final game preview for the Jacksonville Jaguars vs Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Saturday, August 9th, 2008- 7:30 p.m.
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium
Kickoff forecast: 82 degrees, 40% chance of precipitation
2007 records: Atlanta- 4-12, Jacksonville- 12-6

Everyone has heard the saying, "it's not whether you win or lose its how you play the game." The preseason is the only time in the NFL when that statement is true. For a team that experienced playoff success as the Jaguars did a year ago, preseason wins are a non-issue and the coaching staff just wants to get their starters some work and get them out of the games healthy.

During this preseason, three out of the four teams the Jaguars play have new head coaches. The significance of that are young teams with new coaching staffs like generally try to win preseason games to try and build some confidence in their young teams, and excitement throughout their respective fanbases.

One most important thing for the Jaguars:
1. Stay healthy. We normally have five most important things, but in reality, it's just one during the preseason. The Jaguars have already had three offensive starters go down with injuries, and they can't lose any more personnel. It's nice to get the starters some work, but it's nicer if they are healthy enough to practice on Monday.

What to watch:
1. Defensive alignments. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Jaguars offense during training camp, and it will be interesting to see what alignments and blitzes he uses in the team's preseason opener. Look for a lot of movement from the linebackers, different alignments from the secondary (similar to what New England does), and corner blitzing. There should also be stunting from the defensive line.

2. Physicality by Brian Williams and Gerald Sensabaugh.
Will Williams be physical enough to play strong safety? Is Sensabaugh's shoulders completely healed from surgery? Wait and see. Williams might not play, so it may be a good chance for Sensabaugh to show he can compete.

3. The Jaguars defensive ends. Reggie Hayward has looked very good in practice, as has James Wyche. Can they carry that to the preseason? Also, how will rookie Quentin Groves play against linemen that are much bigger and stronger? Jeremy Mincey and Kenny Pettway will need to step up their games to earn spots ahead of Wyche.

4. Wide receiver play. Will Matt Jones, Troy Williamson, and Mike Walker take their strong camps into preseason play? Watch to see if these guys can get open, even if the football doesn't get thrown their way. Also, can John Broussard push for a roster spot? There is a chance we might not see Williamson in action this week.

5. Quarterback check-downs. In the second week of Jaguars training camp the quarterbacks seemed to be checking-down quite a bit. Was it by design? Nobody knows for sure. Let's see if they continue the short, safe passing, or if they go downfield.

6. Running back play. No, not the play of Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew, but the running of Greg Jones, who may get a few carries, Chauncey Washington, Lavarus Giles, and Montell Owens.

7. Backup cornerback play. Scott Starks has had a fantastic camp and has probably already earned his roster spot. Let's see if fifth-round pick Trae Williams steps up and separates himself from undrafted rookies Brian Witherspoon, Isaiah Gardner, and Michael Grant, as well as Rashod Moulton.

8. Offensive line. The big story entering camp was the competition between Khalif Barnes and Richard Collier for the starting left tackle spot. It appears as if Barnes is successfully holding off Collier, but there is some competition elsewhere, namely at center. With Brad Meester out until October or November, Dennis Norman has been penciled in as the starter. Second-year player Uche Nwaneri has had a solid camp and is looking for some PT at either guard or center, and undrafted rookie Drew Miller from Florida has been very physical in practice.

9. Defensive tackles. Tony McDaniel has had a fantastic camp and is looking like a budding star. Can veteran Jimmy Kennedy resurrect his career and beat out Derek Landri? It's not likely, but it's worth a peek. He might also get more of a look due to the possibility of Landri sitting out.

10. Special teams play. What Josh Scobee and Adam Podlesh do in preseason isn't important. What we're interested in seeing is if Brian Witherspoon can return kicks, if Maurice Jones-Drew can return punts, and who will emerge as an unstoppable cover guy, a la Montell Owens.

Meaningless prediction: Falcons 16, Jaguars 13.

Talent-wise, this Atlanta team is barely in the same league as the Jaguars, but winning is a lot more important to coach Mike Smith in his very first game than Jack Del Rio who has been there and done that. Atlanta gets some meaningless scores near the end of the game with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

Bonus prediction: The Jaguars could struggle to win games this preseason and finish with a 1-3 record. Reason being, it's simply not important to win. Indianapolis has racked up a 4-14 record in the preseason since 2004 and all they've done is win five consecutive division titles.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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