Week two of the 2016 season is upon us. The Falcons are in Oakland for the Raiders’ home opener. To help prepare you for the game, we spoke with Dave Choate from SB Nation Falcons blog (and easily the best named blog on the network) The Falcoholic.
1. The Falcons had the fewest sacks in the NFL (19) last season, and had no sacks in the opener. Do you expect that to change? Why?
I think they might get 1 or 2 against Oakland, but that would be it. This simply is not a great pass rush, despite the presence of promising young Vic Beasley and excellent veteran Dwight Freeney, and even against a backup Raiders offensive line, it's not going to be enough generate consistent pressure. I think the hope for Falcons fans is that the team will find they have 3-4 useful pieces and can add 1-2 more in 2017, but the pass rush is a work in progress, and you shouldn't fear it.
2. What the heck happened with the Falcons last season? To jump out to 6-1 and then lose six straight and finish 8-8? Which half of that season was more like the team taking the field this season?
Unfortunately, probably the back half. The Falcons both played over their heads and got a little lucky in the first half of the season, and while they were inarguably unlucky and turnover-prone in that second half, the team had so many holes and so little talent in the front seven that it may have been inevitable.
This year's team is better than that, I firmly believe, but they still lack a pass rush, a truly dynamic tight end, a strong option at right guard, and so on. This is not a great team just yet.
3. How much do you think Dan Quinn facing Ken Norton Jr as former staff mates in Seattle will play a hand in how this game plays out?
I'm not sure it'll play much of a role, but I always love seeing ex-Seahawks coaches match up. That's a coaching tree that simply hasn't had a lot of success outside of Seattle, and Quinn thus far hasn't been able to reverse that. I am interested to see how the Falcons match up against Norton's unit, because I do think he's a terrific coach, and I think if anyone's going to squeeze a lot out of that group you have on defense, it'll be him.
4. How much will the Falcons miss Keanu Neal and De’Vondre Campbell in this one and who starts at their positions?
A lot. Keanu Neal missed the first game of the season against the Buccaneers, and while fill-in Kemal Ishmael played pretty well, the Falcons wound up missing the rookie's physical presence at the back end of the secondary multiple times. The huge Doug Martin touchdown run was the kind of play Neal might have made a difference on. Without him, though, you'll see Ishmael, a hard-hitting, ballhawking safety who is not really an asset in coverage.
Campbell's an interesting case. He has a ton of upside, but his first game as a Falcon was a decidedly mixed bag, featuring some missed tackles, bad angles, and one costly penalty alongside some genuine physicality and speed. Without him in the game, the Falcons will turn to veteran Sean Weatherspoon, who has seen his once-terrific athleticism sapped by injuries. He's still a quality player, though, and should be able to help out in coverage.
5. We all know about Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Matt Ryan on offense and Desmond Trufant on defense. Give me one player on both sides of the ball who could have an unexpected impact on this game.
Always a fun question. On offense, I think Aldrick Robinson could be the guy who makes unexpected noise in this game. He's got legitimate deep speed and flashed during the preseason, and while his role will be limited as the fourth receiver in this offense, both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are coming off of injuries. Robinson could haul in a couple of deep balls and wind up with a ton of yards, which would help a passing attack sometimes prone to the dink and dunk.
Defensively, your choice is Robert Alford. He'll likely be matched up against Michael Crabtree, and while he had a bad game in Week 1, he's usually a quality cornerback with a knack for coming up with a big interception. I'll certainly hope he does so again, no offense.