It doesn't get any easier moving forward.
Sunday's trip to Oakland to face the 1-0 Raiders is sure to test the Falcons' ability to both protect Matt Ryan on offense and get after quarterback Derek Carr on defense. Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who had 15 sacks last season, will give the Falcons' offensive line fits from every direction. That Mack failed to get a sack in a season-opening 35-34 win over the New Orleans Saints is sure to give him a little added motivation.
On the flip side, the Raiders' offensive line is coached by Mike Tice, who held the same title with the Falcons a few years ago. Tice's line gave up no sacks and just three quarterback hits against the Saints. And now the Raiders will face a Falcons defense that had a league-low 19 sacks last season and went sack-less against Jameis Winston in Week 1.
Here are six Oakland players to watch, courtesy of ESPN Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez:
WR Amari Cooper: The second-year receiver picked up huge chunks of yardage against the Saints, catching six passes for 137 yards, including a 43-yarder. So now that he and quarterback Carr are on the same page, what can the Falcons do to slow the Raiders’ AC/DC Connection? Especially in the Raiders’ home opener, after the Falcons surrendered 99 yards on five catches to Mike Evans.
OL Donald Penn: The veteran left tackle had to flip to the right side after the injuries to Menelik Watson (groin) and Matt McCants (left knee) in New Orleans and with Austin Howard inactive while dealing with a right ankle injury. And while Penn said he played "horrible" over there, the offense did get in gear with him at right tackle. He may have to play there again if Howard, Watson and McCants are out.
RB Jalen Richard: At 5-foot-8, Richard is one of the Raiders’ Mighty Mite running backs, along with DeAndre Washington. In breaking off a 75-yard touchdown run on his first NFL carry, the undrafted rookie showed he has breakaway speed. The Falcons cannot sleep on Richard, who can get lost running through the trees, so to speak.
DE Khalil Mack: His post-Defensive Player of the Year campaign got off to a slow start with just seven tackles, none for a loss, and no quarterback hits. True, the Saints were throwing a lot of chip blocks at him, but he was supposed to be more of a factor. But Matt Ryan does not get rid of the ball as quickly as Drew Brees, so Mack may become familiar with Ryan in the Falcons’ offensive backfield.
SS Keith McGill: A surprise starter at strong safety in New Orleans -- first-round pick Karl Joseph held down the position in training camp and veteran Nate Allen was listed atop the depth chart last week -- McGill responded with six tackles and a pass defensed. The Falcons’ more traditional passing attack will test the tall converted cornerback differently than did Brees, who passed for 423 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland.
CB Sean Smith: A huge piece of the Raiders' puzzle on defense, and an expensive one at that with a $40 million price tag as a free-agent acquisition, Smith was benched Sunday in New Orleans after getting burned by Brandin Cooks on a 98-yard catch-and-run touchdown down the left sideline. How Smith, who did not jam or bump Cooks coming off the line, responds to his benching will go a long way toward determining what he's able to do against Julio Jones & Co.