Special thanks to Dave Choate for answering our questions and please visit The Falcoholic for some solid coverage there of the birds. Is it officially time to change this blog's name from Hogs Haven to something alcohol related since that's the only way to get through the 2013 season? "Hungover Haven?" And check out their 5 Questions with Hogs Haven.
1.) I haven't been following the Falcons too closely...and surely you've answered this question a million times like I have, but what are the high level things that went wrong where a #1 seed in the NFC goes from best to worst in one year?
Choate: It comes down to some crucial mistakes by coaches and players alike, some major injuries and the front office's failure to give the Falcons a championship-caliber offensive line, or even a merely decent one. The combination created a cascade effect.
The struggles of the offensive line, the loss of Julio Jones and the injuries to Steven Jackson, Sam Baker at left tackle and Roddy White sapped the offense of its horsepower. The defense was forced to lean too heavily on young guys who might not have been totally ready to make an impact at the NFL level. The upshot is that as the injuries piled up and the Falcons kept making mistakes, it snowballed rapidly.
I don't think the Falcons have the talent of a 13-3 team, but I think when healthy, they can settle in around 9 or 10 wins. There's work to be done on the roster, though.
2.) How would you grade the Falcons 2013 draft class so far and who looks to be the best apple out of the bunch?
It's actually been a stellar class so far. Desmond Trufant has been the best rookie cornerback in the NFL, with something like 14 pass deflections and largely excellent coverage. He's definitely my pick for best of class.
Robert Alford has been solid at cornerback, Malliciah Goodman is a run-stopping beast at defensive end, Levine Toilolo has shown flashes of red zone excellence as Tony Gonzalez's backup and Zeke Motta has played reasonably well at safety. The real surprises have been the UDFAs, including starting middle linebacker Paul Worrilow, who didn't start right away but already has over 100 combined tackles.
It's probably the best class since 2008, which brought the Falcons Matt Ryan. I look forward to seeing what they do in a non-lost season.
3.) Are the Falcons fixable going into next season or do you see more problems? I see a lot of aging starters, which is always a bad indicator (well, at least for the Redskins it is).
Fixable, but difficult. There are some serious holes on this team.
The passing attack and the ground game will be just fine if they can fix up the line. Assuming Baker is healthy, I think the left side of the line is more or less set. There are bigger questions on the right side, particularly at right guard. I expect the Falcons to invest free agent dollars to shore up the unit.
On the other side of the ball, they need an impact pass rusher, something they've been lacking for years. Jadaveon Clowney would be a great choice, as would a free agent pass rusher like Michael Johnson. I do think if they can fix the line and some of the young players grow, they'll be competitive again in 2014.
4.) How have your special teams return units been? (because the Redskins have been giving points away every game this year).
Pretty good. Matt Bryant is as accurate as ever and Matt Bosher is one of the game's better punters. The coverage units have had a few bad games and the kick and punt returns have been largely forgettable. I'd say when you tally it all up, they're a bit above average.
Free points? Don't mind if I do.
5.) What's your prediction for the game and score?
I've got the Falcons winning this game by some ridiculously narrow score, say 27-24. I think it'll be an ugly, sloppy football game with a few turnovers, but in the end, the Falcons will walk away with the W and fans will be angry because they want a top five pick. I guess we all win, then.
Thanks Dave. I think you're really underestimating how bad this Redskins team is...especially on the road.
Bonus: Here's a video preview from the SB Nation studios, who dubbed this week's game " The Tire Fire of the Week." Nailed it.
YT Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36JFuwfVFo