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To get ready for Sunday's Detroit Lions game, I exchanged five questions with Dave Choate from The Falcoholic, SB Nation's Atlanta Falcons blog. You can check out his answers below.
1. There have been so many injuries involving Falcons offensive linemen that I've lost track of who is healthy and who isn't. Which starters are left from the start of the season at this point?
At this point, only free-agent acquisition Jon Asamoah, who has started every game at right guard, scuffling and injured left tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Justin Blalock, who is dealing with a back injury. This is a team down to its third-string center, rookie UDFA James Stone, and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, it went from being a quality unit at the beginning of the year to one that looks every bit as bad as it did in 2013.
Unfortunately, that's killing the offense, as you'll likely see firsthand this Sunday.
2. Given the offensive line situation, how would you evaluate Matt Ryan's play so far this season?
I think he's played well. There's been some criticism lobbed his way for throwing too many screens and short passes, overlooking open targets and not throwing the ball away under pressure, but he's really had no time. When there's only a second or two passing before someone is in the backfield and on you, as a quarterback you're looking to get out of that situation, not looking for a strike downfield or taking your time to scan for the open man.
I don't hold Ryan entirely blameless, but he's working against some pretty harrowing odds and hanging in there. It won't go down as his best season or anywhere close to it, but his ability to escape pressure and make something happen has impressed me.
3. Running back Antone Smith, who was briefly with the Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2009, has seemingly made a lot of big plays despite having a limited number of touches. Is he headed for a bigger role on offense going forward?
The joke here is that he's been promised more playing time since last season and hasn't really gotten it. After every game the team talks about needing to get him more touches, but he's more or less topped out at 10 snaps and maybe five touches per game. I understand the team's skepticism that he's more than a situational home-run threat, but they haven't been willing to test that hypothesis out by actually getting him more touches.
You do have to account for him on those five touches, though. He's dangerous.
4. What are the Falcons' biggest strengths and weaknesses on defense?
The biggest strength is the secondary, particularly Desmond Trufant, who is one of the league's better young cornerbacks. Everything else has been a weakness this season, with the team struggling to contain the run, failing to rush the passer and generally looking like one of the worst units in the NFL. They were improved last weekend against the Bears and may be rounding into shape a bit, but it's a mediocre defense at the moment, as sad as it makes me to say it.
The good news is that there's young talent here that should be a factor sooner than later. I just don't know if it's "this week" soon.
5. Given that the Falcons are 2-5 right now, is it safe to say that head coach Mike Smith's time in Atlanta is coming to a close barring a sudden turnaround?
Unfortunately, yes. I'd love to end this on a positive note given how dour I've been, but there's little question he's on his way out barring a miracle. It'll likely be the end of the season, but I can see a blowout in Wembley being the catalyst for an immediate change. It's a shame, because he really is a good coach, albeit not a great one and one that appears to be at a loss for what to do next.
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a $500,000 one-week fantasy football league this weekend. It's $10 to join and first place wins $40,000. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday night. Here's the link.