BIRD TIME, Y’ALL. The Eagles play the Falcons this weekend, as you know. We don’t see the Falcons terribly often, so I hit up the great David Choate of The Falcoholic to get some insight into that Atlanta-area juggernaut they have brewing.
1. The Falcons have scored more points than any other team in the league. Has any defense had any sort of success at all at slowing down Matt Ryan & Co.?
They were slowed down massively in the first half of the Seahawks game, the first half of the Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers, and certainly in the second half of the San Diego Chargers game. In all three cases, those defenses were able to slow down the run a bit and force Ryan into some throws he didn't necessarily want to make, ones that were slightly off the mark, contested, or in some cases simply dropped. That's a difficult formula to pull off, as it requires an aggressive front that can pressure run, slow down Devonta Freeman, and perhaps force a pretty rare turnover.
I'm not implying that the Falcons are unstoppable here, just that no one has found a repeatable formula for stopping them just yet. You have to get to Ryan or jump routes to force mistakes, because the surest way to keep Atlanta off the board is by getting the ball back in your own hands.
2. Additionally: how the hell do teams stop Julio Jones?!
You have to commit a huge number of resources to the cause. If you can get two or three guys on Julio every single play, you can ensure he's not Matt Ryan's preferred read, or you can not give Ryan enough time to look for him. In years past that worked better than it has in 2016, given that Ryan has other options to work with, but it's still the best way forward. Just smother him with coverage and hope he doesn't still get loose, essentially.
3. All things considered, the top of the NFC seems fairly up for grabs. Do you think the Falcons can snag the top spot in the conference by playoff time?
I don't, for a couple of reasons. think the Falcons wind up with the top spot in the NFC. The first is simply that the Dallas Cowboys are well-built to continue at their current pace, and they have a 1.5 game lead over the Falcons already. What Dak Prescott will do in the playoffs and whether the defense will hold in the postseason against an offense like Atlanta's is definitely an open question, but they should be able to slog out that top seed unless something goes horribly wrong.
The second reason is just that the Falcons aren't there on defense yet. If the offense makes a couple of key mistakes that limit the final point total and give quality opposing offenses the ball back, those offenses are quite likely to score and that team is quite likely to win. There's added athleticism and talent here that simply wasn't there in recent years, but this is no one's idea of a good, consistent unit just yet.
4. The Falcons have held opponents to under 20 points only once this season. What have teams been able to do successfully against Richard Smith's defense that the Eagles might hope to replicate?
The quickest way to kill the Falcons' defense is to attack the middle of the field with tight ends, quick receivers, or a running back like Darren Sproles (hint hint). There are still some limitations for the linebackers and occasionally safeties that make this a prudent course of action.
The other piece is quarterback runs, which frustrate many teams but always seem particularly effective against the Falcons, who occasionally miss open field tackles and can be counted upon to take a bad angle to a scrambling QB. I wouldn't recommend Wentz taking off ten times during the game, but that option is available to you. Otherwise, just grinding it out yard by yard and taking deep shots on occasion can get you to success. As I mentioned before, it's not the best defense.
5. Dan Quinn went 8-8 last season. As a team with a rookie head coach who might be headed towards that same record, how'd you go about evaluating the job Quinn did last year in his first season in Atlanta?
It was a tough evaluation. I felt like the team was improved over Mike Smith's final year with the Falcons, simply because there seemed to be a plan in place, and they handed a great Carolina Panthers team their only regular season loss. There were baby steps forward defensively and the offense, while mediocre, did an excellent job of feeding the team's playmakers. More than anything, Quinn's first season seemed relatively successful because of his insistence that the team was going to be more fast and physical, and the fact that they actually drafted a promising pass rusher in the top ten. It was nebulous stuff, and I think in some ways that's all you can really judge a first year coach on.
BONUS: Who wins on Sunday, and what's the score?
This may surprise you, but I've got the Eagles winning, 35-34, in a bit of a shootout. I think the Eagles' attacking defense may force a couple of mistakes they can capitalize on, and I can see the Falcons going down early and not fully making their way back. Hope I'm wrong, though.