To preview this week's matchup, I traded scouting reports with The Falcoholic's Dave Choate. Make sure to head over to The Falcoholic over the next few days for more on this week's opponent, and follow Dave on Twitter. He's funny.
My questions in bold italic, his follow.
1. So, Seattle fans and players are still pretty bitter (sad?) about the heartbreaking loss last year, particularly after everyone over here thought the greatest comeback in playoffs history had been completed. Matt Ryan and company, however, foiled that in the final 30 seconds and nearly made it to the Super Bowl before falling short, but now things look to have snowballed for Atlanta this year. For those that are unfamiliar, what have been the major reasons that Atlanta has gotten out to a 2-6 start after being so dominant the past few seasons?
I think in many ways we're talking about the perfect storm. The Falcons trotted out a few young starters who were inevitably going to go through some growing pains. They had a handful of players who just haven't panned out the way they were expected to. Many of those players were exposed when the injuries started coming, and the Falcons were due for some regression after winning so many close games a year ago. Also, they just haven't played or coached very well at all.
It's been a rough season. We're hoping it just a one-year dip. I have a feeling this game won't go as well as last year's did, either way.
2. On offense, what are some of Atlanta's current strengths and what types of things are they struggling with? How has Matt Ryan looked after losing some of his top weapons?
Matt Ryan looked stellar in his first game with Julio Jones and Roddy White, eviscerating a decent Buccaneers secondary. The next two games, he was brutal against the Cardinals and Panthers, which was a little alarming.
When the offense is humming, Ryan is adept at finding the open receiver and letting his guys gain some yards after the catch. The Falcons can use screen passes as a weapon with Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, and the backs in general are awfully useful in the passing game. The problem right now is that the offensive line isn't blocking well for the run, so the Falcons are pretty one-dimensional and Ryan is pressing. If he has a little time to get rid of the ball and he doesn't try to force passes in to tight coverage, the passing game looks good with Ryan.
3. Similarly, what can Seattle expect from Atlanta's defense this week - what areas are they vulnerable and which areas are strengths? What should Seahawk fans be fearing?
The Falcons have a decent pass rush that doesn't close out sacks with the frequency we'd all like. They do get into the backfield fairly regularly, at least. Unfortunately, there are also plays where your quarterback will have time to deliver a dissertation on quantum physics in the pocket before making his throw, so consistency is a challenge.
The run defense is stout. There's a lot of quality athletes up front, and UDFA linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu are strong on that front. Marshawn Lynch will probably find some success, but I don't expect him to run wild against this front seven.
The secondary is growing as a unit. William Moore is one of the league's better safeties, and Asante Samuel, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have all been solid-to-great cornerbacks. They're just stuck out there too long sometimes with the pass rush not getting home, and the front seven struggle to contain talented tight ends and running backs in the passing game. That's where I expect to see the Seahawks do their damage.
4. How has the rookie class fared thus far for the Falcons? Any major contributors or surprises?
Desmond Trufant has been stellar. PFF has him as the 18th best cornerback this season, Football Outsiders likes him and he passes the eye test. He looks like a #1 cornerback for years to come, if not a future Pro Bowler.
The rest of the class has been solid. Robert Alford has also played well in his snaps at cornerback and looks to have huge upside going forward. Former Clemson DE Malliciah Goodman is extremely stout against the run and looks like he could be a useful pass rusher down the line, albeit one who isn't quick enough off the snap. The rest of the class has some potential, at least.
Most impressive? They're currently starting three UDFA rookies, two at linebacker and one at wide receiver. None of them are great players, but they've all done far better than we had any right to expect.
5. What's the mood like around the team at this point? Is there still the hope that the Falcons can right the ship and challenge in the NFC South or has that trail sailed on 2013?
I think that ship has sailed. Most Falcons fans are resigned to a losing season at this point and are debating what should be done about the team going forward. There's a few folks still holding out hope-I give them an enormous amount of credit-but 2014 is where it's at around these parts.
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