The Sports Xchange

NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - INSIDE SLANT

The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up two days of joint practices against the Texans on Thursday in advance of Saturday's preseason game in Houston, and head coach Mike Smith said he was pleased with the work accomplished during the sessions.

"We worked on a lot of situations that we wanted to do," he said. "We did some red zone, backed up, a couple of different two-minute situations and I thought it was very good work."

The marquee one-on-one battle was Falcons rookie right tackle Jake Matthews working against Texans All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. Matthews has been impressive throughout training camp, but is coming off a two-penalty performance in the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins and had his ups and downs against Watt over the two days of joint practices.

"It was definitely a challenge going up against him," Matthews said. "I thought I did some good things, but at the same time, I've got a lot of things I've got to get better at. I want to go against the best. I want to be able to compete and block the best, and there's no better way than going against J.J. Watt."

Matthews also faced off against No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney on a handful of stunts, giving the Falcons' right tackle an opportunity to face a variety of looks and pass-rush moves from one of the NFL's top defensive lines.

"I really learned a lot and I think I grew," Matthews said. "I did a lot of good things. That has been one of the best parts practicing against the Titans and the Texans. You get to go against different players with different styles and techniques."

Matthews has been praised routinely, and impressed Watt, who said he believes the rookie has "good potential." The Falcons believe he has more than just potential, and are trying to expose Matthews to as many different scenarios as possible before he lines up at right tackle for the regular-season opener.

"He's going to be our starting right tackle," Smith said, "so we need to expose him to as many different spins as we can. Going against a Pro Bowler like J.J. is a good learning experience. In this league, you want to keep your quarterback standing up. Our No. 1 goal going into this offseason was to improve our pass protection.

"There's going to be days when (Matthews) has some learning moments, but I think he's on a fast track to be a great player in the NFL."


NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons traveled to the Houston Texans' facility Wednesday for the first of two days of joint practices.

The Falcons are coming off a 16-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins to kick off their preseason, but the offense is striving for more consistency heading into Saturday's game against the Texans.

"We just want to continue to improve, and I think we've done a good job of that," quarterback Matt Ryan said following Wednesday's practice. "The biggest thing is consistency. I think you have to be consistent across the front offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers. Everyone has to be on the same page."

This marks the second set of joint practices of this training camp for the Falcons, who also practiced against the Tennessee Titans earlier this month.

While the Texans struggled to a 2-14 finish last season, they still sport a defense loaded with playmakers including defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, providing a good litmus test for the progress of the Falcons' overhauled offensive line.

"I think it's good. It's a change of venue for us to get down here," Ryan said of the joint sessions. "For them, it's a different offense, a different defense to look at. Even practice, anytime you go against another team it brings out the competitive spirit for both sides. There are a lot of benefits to it."