The Washington Redskins season continues on Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons. In preparation for the game, I reached out to the good folks over at The Falcoholic. Dave Choate was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest.
1. Last year under Mike Smith you guys go 6-10. This year, Dan Quinn comes in and immediately you jump out of the gate 4-0. What gives?
I really think it's a combination of factors, but the simplest explanation is that Atlanta upgraded its talent base this offseason, and the schemes installed by Quinn and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have brought out the best in the players the team already had. I genuinely felt like the 2014 team, as injured and thin as it was, had enough talent to go 9-7 or better. Maximizing the talent (and maybe getting a little lucky, like with the missed Cody Parkey chip shot) goes a very long way, and the Matt Ryan to Julio Jones connection was already a strength.
2. Matt Ryan's having another great year and leading your division in passing. How have things gone between he and Kyle Shanahan? Who's benefited from hiring Kyle the most? What's changed offensively?
He and Shanahan appear to love one another in what we hope is a non-creepy fashion. Shanahan has really tailored the offense around quick reads and timing-based routes, which Ryan loves anyways. Julio Jones has been the biggest beneficiary, because Shanny will move him all over the formation to exploit coverage matchups and give him quality looks.
The biggest changes to the offense (besides just feeding Julio all the time) have come to the offensive line and the ground game. The team put an emphasis on athletic blockers up front and have asked fullback Patrick DiMarco to do a lot more, and the result has been a terrific improvement from the ground game. Getting well-rounded, dynamic back Devonta Freeman involved in the offense has been huge, too. Basically, Shanahan has tried to tailor the scheme to the players, and the players have improved unbelievably as a result.
3. Washington has the #1 rushing offense in the NFL right now. They're averaging 139.5 rushing yards per game. The 'Skins also have the #2 rushing defense allowing only 78 yards per game on the ground. How concerning is that for Atlanta?
It's a legitimate concern, one I don't want to downplay. The Falcons have largely had success stopping opposing ground games thus far, but you have arguably the most talented stable of backs they've played, so I don't expect it to be all roses. I'm most worried about Jones wearing the defense down over time, and Thompson being a part of the passing game, given that the Falcons have less than stellar coverage from their linebackers.
On the other side of the ball, I'm more concerned. I think I'm more than half expecting the ground game to cool off a little bit sooner or later, and while the offensive line has been stellar, this could be the week where a strong front seven keeps them in check. I'll go on record saying Freeman's not going to score three touchdowns again, at least, and if you can force Atlanta to be one dimensional it's only going to help your chances.
4. What is Atlanta's biggest weakness and how can it be exploited?
There's no question Atlanta's biggest weakness on defense is short passes, particularly over the middle of the field to backs. The Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants were all able to exploit that, and it led to huge chunks of yardage and set up scoring opportunities for those offenses. Any time you can get a linebacker or rookie safety Robenson Therezie one-on-one in coverage, Cousins should be looking for that receiving option.
On offense, they simply haven't shown a weakness yet, though shutting down Julio Jones certainly makes life considerably easier. I'd reiterate that stopping the ground game may reveal weaknesses we haven't seen yet.
5. Who wins this game (give a score prediction) and why?
I've got the Falcons winning 31-24. I think it'll be a pretty close, hard-fought battle, but with the Falcons at home, Julio Jones working, and the defense looking as strong as it has, I do think Atlanta will win.