The Falcons have a stiff test in their third exhibition game, the professed dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The Falcons (0-2) play the Jaguars (1-1), who reached the AFC Championship game last season, at 7 p.m. Saturday at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville.
With starters expected to sit out the fourth and final exhibition game next week, here are five things to watch in the game.
1. Ryan vs. Ramsey: Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey has never played against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, but that didn’t stop him from calling the former MVP of the league “overrated” in a magazine article.
Noticeably, absence from Ramsey’s quarterback rant in Gentlemen’s Quarterly was Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, a former Florida State teammate of Ramsey’s.
“He hasn’t faced Matt yet, but everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We are not going to go back and forth with things like that. ... Well, he’ll have his opportunity on Saturday to go against Matt. I’m looking forward to it, and I know that Matt probably is, too.”
Jones wants a piece of Ramsey, but he’s being held back for precautionary reasons as a healthy lineup scratch by coach Dan Quinn.
“Hey man, look, I watched a little film on him (Wednesday),” Jones said of Ramsey. “We installed some things, but he’s a great athlete. Don’t get me wrong. Besides him talking and things like that, he can play.”
Jones acknowledged that he would like to play, but then back tracked.
“He’s probably one of the better corners in the league that can play,” Jones said. “But yes, I would like to (play), but it’s bigger than a matchup of somebody taking trash or things like that. We’ve got a whole season to look forward, too. We are going to stay the course and do what we do.”
Jones also is impressed with Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye, who played at Tucker High before starring at Central Florida.
“Bouye is the same, he looks good,” Jones said. “But we go against some great corners every day in practice with (Desmond Trufant) and (Robert Alford). Every day we go against some great corners. Not taking (anything) away from those guys, we’ll be ready to play.”
2. Run defense vs. Fournette: Last season, the Jaguars relied heavily on running backs Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Ivory left and signed a two-year deal with Buffalo.
The Falcons run defense will get tested by Fournette and Yeldon.
“This is a huge challenge when you look at Jacksonville,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “I won’t say on paper, look at them on film. They are a really good team.”
The Falcons’ run defense is a question mark entering the season after defensive tackle Dontari Poe signed with Carolina in free agency. Also, middle linebacker Deion Jones will miss this game with a lower body strain.
“They know how to run the ball,” Manuel said. “It’s just not Fournette. It’s running back-by-committee. I think from that standpoint, it’s going to be a really huge challenge for us up front and on the back in.”
3. Most starters to play: Most of the Falcons’ starters are set to play three to four series against the Jaguars.
Some will play into the third quarter, depending upon how quickly the game progresses.
In addition to Julio Jones, Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen, running back Devonta Freeman will be held out of the game.
Also, guard Ben Garland (strain) and wide receiver Marvin Hall (strain) will not play.
Kicker Matt Bryant, who kicked Wednesday, and Trufant will be game-day decisions. Bryant missed the team’s first two exhibition games.
4. Hot corner: Falcons second-round pick Isaiah Oliver missed a jam at the line of scrimmage and was beaten for a 27-yard touchdown in last week’s exhibition against the Chiefs.
“You don’t like to see it happen, but the technique on that particular play wasn’t good,” Quinn said. “The analogy I’ll use is not a good one but, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot. OK, maybe I’ll believe you, maybe I won’t. Then he got burned.”
The Falcons believe Oliver, who’s learning a new press technique, will learn from the play.
“He’s another one that we’re really encouraged about, the work that he’s putting him,” Quinn said. “He’s a terrific athlete with balls skills. On that one, I didn’t like the play. But there were other ones in the game that I thought he had a good tackle on special teams and he recovered a good deep ball.
“That’s life on the island, out in the freeway.”
Quinn liked how Oliver responded.
“There was no excuses, which I like. Right away tried to test him like hey, what happened there,” Quinn said. “He didn’t offer any excuse to say what happened, and he responded right away. I don’t like that it happened, but in some instances, you have to have some on-the-job training and no better place than out on the field, especially in the exhibition season.”
Oliver can expect to get tested in press coverage by the Jaguars, too.
5. Defensive tackle rotation: The Falcons plan to shuffle their defensive tackles with Deadrin Senat and Terrell McClain playing together.
Also, Garrison Smith, a former Georgia standout, will get some action at both tackle spots.
Smith, who played at Douglass High and has been with Seattle the past two seasons, is fighting for a roster spot.
“He’s been putting a great foot forward,” Manuel said. “His urgency ... at three technique and nose, to be flexible from that standpoint, he’s been doing a really good job.”