The Falcons have a new stadium, a shining quarterback and a defense that just crushed the Packers (thanks guys). Now they’re coming to Detroit, and the Lions have one hell of a fight ahead of them. To figure out what this Falcons team is looking to do to avenge last year, I spoke with Dave Choate of The Falcoholic, SB Nation’s Falcons blog, to talk Dirty Birds to me.
1. I just watched Aaron Rodgers get murdered by Vic Beasley for about the 30th time now. What are the hopes and expectations for this Falcons defense this year?
We have very high hopes, to put it mildly. Beasley missing a few games dampens that a little bit, but this is a defense with a lot of young potential stars, coached by a terrific staff. I'l give you the spiel.
With a deep defensive line headlined by free agent signing Dontari Poe, Beasley, first rounder Takkarist McKinley, and talented young defensive tackle Grady Jarrett; a linebacker corps featuring speedy playmaker Deion Jones and breakout star De'Vondre Campbell; a secondary with one of the league's best cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant, one of the league's best young safeties in Keanu Neal and physical athletes everywhere else, the Falcons seem like a strong bet to be a top 15 or so defense with the ability to make big plays. They're struggling a bit early to stop big plays and hold back the run, but the potential is pretty tremendous.
2. Through two games, Matt Ryan has 573 yards and averaging around 10 yards per completion. He looks like he's back to gun for another great season. Will expectations for Ryan be even higher this year? What's helped him become a top quarterback in the league?
I think it'd be hard to set expectations for Ryan higher, given his MVP season was easily the best of his career. That said, he's done enough through two games to make me think he's truly arrived as one of the league's elite quarterbacks, and I look forward to not having to argue quite so much about that.
For Ryan, I really think it has been years of work under different coordinators paired with the strong work of former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Ryan's got much better at moving around in the pocket, not forcing throws, and most importantly learning to trust his ability to make tight throws to the right spot and his receivers' ability to get there. Ryan talked a lot about how he got to this point, but suffice to say there was no one moment or thing that clicked into place, just a lot of different things coming together, from Ryan's ability to his supporting cast.
This year under Steve Sarkisian, many fans suspect that Ryan is effectively running an offense he learned extremely well over two years under Kyle Shanahan. I think that's a little overblown, but there's no question that Ryan has never understood his offense better than he has in 2017.
3. We've seen numbers out of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the past, but so far in 2017 it seems Freeman is the feature back through two games. Will this remain the case moving forward? Is Coleman going to be "trade bait" like a billion wriggling blogs claim?
A billion wriggling blogs is a great turn of phrase. Figuring out what the Falcons are planning to do with Tevin Coleman is a tough one, to put it mildly, because there's a little bit of a cap crunch on the way, and there are very few teams in the NFL paying big bucks to two backs. Coleman is a tremendous player who is so dangerous in the passing game and a threat to break the big play as a runner at any time, and he's a vital piece of the offense in general.
That said, if Freeman continues to look as good and as balanced as he does today, I don't see how you can justify keeping him over Freeman, and the team almost certainly won't be able to pony up for both.
The Falcons have Freeman's contract structured in such a way that they can re-visit it or Freeman's status with the team in 2019, when Coleman's rookie contract is up. If things continue apace, though, it is possible you'll see Atlanta dangle Coleman next year to see what kind of value they can get for him. Ultimately, I anticipate he'll walk in free agency.
4. How are you liking the new stadium? Anything you want to talk about that Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth didn't pimp out on Sunday night?
It looks amazing, and our guys who have been there in person absolutely love it. The food is terrific, the atmosphere is great, and everything is real, real fancy. Also there's a really long bar with lots of beers, which is quite appealing.
The only complaints I've heard have to do with the dullness of the turf (?) and the cost of going to a game, and the latter figures to have effectively priced some fans out of the game, and certainly out of season tickets. It really is a space age stadium, though.
Also, please don't let Cris Collinsworth call any more Falcons games. He's really on that Super Bowl hangover bent.
5. Both the Falcons and Lions pillaged the Bengals receiver corps back in 2016; the Lions got Marvin Jones and the Falcons signed Mohamed Sanu. If I gave you the option to trade the two straight up - Jones for Sanu - would you take it?
I might be tempted to—I like Marvin Jones a great deal—but I very much doubt the Falcons themselves would do it. They absolutely love Sanu, who they can trot out at quarterback in the Wildcat, who has arguably the best hands on the team, and has proven himself to be a fearless, physical presence over the middle. More so than last year, Sanu looks like a vital piece of this passing game, and I think Matt Ryan would tell you he wouldn't necessarily prefer Jones' big play ability.
BONUS: Talk briefly about Matt Ryan's 69% completion rate.