It's that time when we speak to someone who knows the enemy well. With the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Atlanta Falcons, we preview the Dirty Birds by playing five questions with Dave Choate of the The Falcoholic.
Blogging The Boys: The Falcons have a new head coach, Dan Quinn. Tell us about him and what kind of coach he is so far?
The Falcoholic: Quinn came advertised as a player's coach who had a terrific defensive mind, and so far, he's lived up to that billing. Players talk about how well he motivates the team, and this Falcons team has looked radically different than it has the last two years, both in terms of defensive acumen and ability to stick around when games start to go sour. It's a small sample size and we don't really know Quinn the coach just yet, but the early returns have been promising.
BTB: Along with a new coach you got a new defensive scheme, how has that worked so far and do the Falcons have the players to play it yet?
TF: They do and they don't have the players for it. The front four has a ton of moving parts, and while I'm sure Quinn would love to have a couple of elite ends, they've got some very effective players up front, including rookie Vic Beasley. The linebackers are solid enough and will be better when Brooks Reed returns from injury. The secondary is the larger question, and I do think that long-term, the Falcons would like to see rookie Jalen Collins come off the bench and step into a starting role at cornerback, and that safety may not be a finished deal just yet. Ricardo Allen is young and promising at free safety and William Moore hits like a train at strong safety, but neither is a perfect solution, and Quinn loved his safeties in Seattle.
The bottom line is that they have the personnel to play pretty effective defense, but to really get to where the coaching staff wants to go, they're going to need at least another offseason to get the pieces they need.
BTB: How much does Tevin Coleman being out affect the offense?
TF: In many ways, but I'm not sure how significantly. Coleman's vision, speed, and physical running style made him dangerous, and having him as a threat opened things up for the play action pass. The Falcons have been heavily reliant on play action the first couple of weeks of the season, and without Coleman, that threat is defanged a bit.
Devonta Freeman is a fine back, but he's more of an asset in the passing game, where he's generally sure-handed. As a runner, he just hasn't displayed the vision and decisive cuts that Kyle Shanahan likes, even if he's a hard runner who figures to get better. If Freeman is less effective than Coleman, the Falcons will likely run him less, and that very potent play action...action....becomes less of a problem for the Cowboys to deal with. Terron Ward, who is the current backup to Freeman, doesn't inspire a ton of confidence.
BTB: The offensive line has been an issue in Atlanta for a while, how does it look this year?
TF: Improved. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder look great at tackle, while the interior has been a mixed bag that has still managed to keep Matt Ryan alive. By lining up five reasonably athletic linemen, the Falcons have managed to keep things moving and give Ryan the time he needs to find Julio Jones, which admittedly isn't much. The Falcons still haven't played against a truly great pass rush yet, though, so I'm leery of what that's going to look like.
BTB: Besides the Julio Jones/Matt Ryan connection, what else about the Falcons this year is tough for other teams?
TF: I think it's just the number of weapons on offense. Not having Coleman hurts the offense, but Leonard Hankerson is a big, speedy target who seems to be rounding into form. Jacob Tamme runs crisp routes and has sure hands as an outlet for Ryan. Roddy White is still here and useful, Freeman is a factor in the passing game, and Ryan's still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. If the offensive line can play reasonably well the rest of the way, it's going to be tough to keep the offense in check, even if you manage to bottle up Julio Jones.
On defense, I think it's the aggressiveness. Vic Beasley has been causing a ton of problems for opposing tackles because he's rushing on every play, and his speed is such that he's causing holding penalties. This is an attacking defense, and that's masked some of the weaknesses in terms of raw talent that this team has.