The Bears head to Atlanta to get halfway through their NFC South opponents. Seems like a perfect time to touch base with Dave Choate (@TheFalcoholic), who keeps the world of our sister site The Falcoholic running. We talk to Dave about a wide variety of topics, and appreciate him taking the time.
Oh, and you want to see how we answered his questions? Well go check it out over here. Big thanks to Dave and we'll see you Sunday afternoon.
WCG: Stephen White wrote at the mothership this week, suggesting that Steven Jackson could be holding the Falcons back. As someone who is absorbing all of that team, would you agree?
Falcoholic: I don't think he's holding the team back himself, but I think his usage could be argued as a limiting factor for the team.
Jackson is still useful between the tackles and in short yardage, and he's a mostly sure-handed option in the passing game who is a fine blocker. He's no longer capable of breaking a ton of tackles and managing long gains, however, so he's essentially being used as a battering ram capable of getting you three-to-ten yards at a time. That's useful, but his snap count is higher than any other back on the team.
That's a problem with you have Antone Smith, who breaks long scores in seemingly every game. Smith probably isn't going to hold up under 15 to 20 carries per game, but getting him more involved in the passing game and letting him siphon carries from S-Jax makes the offensive more explosive. With the team missing Harry Douglas this week and potentially playing a limited Devin Hester, there's some urgency associated with doing so, and I think scaling back Jackson's touches would help to unfetter the offense a bit.
WCG: If you were about to gameplan for success against the Falcons defense, what would you do?
Falcoholic: I think the Bears are well-equipped to do it. Your goal should be to get your playmakers in space, whether it's Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall, and let them work against a defense that often struggles to tackle and catch up to a play. Airing it out against penalty-prone cornerback Robert Alford is a sound strategy, as well.
It's critically important to be balanced. The Falcons have a punchless pass rush, but blind squirrels sometimes find a sack when you're forced to go to the air all game long. Having Forte run well against a middling run defense and setting things up for the pass is the way to go.
WCG: Any rookies or second year players who are really turning heads in Atlanta this season? Who should Bears fans look out for?
Falcoholic: Jake Matthews has loads of promise and has played very well at left tackle in stretches, though he can and has been beaten by effective edge rushers. Rookie Prince Shembo has been a sound tackler and active, athletic presence at ILB, and you should look for him to get some work as an edge rusher himself. Second year safety Kemal Ishmael is a clean tackler and aggressive in run support, so you'll likely see him doing some damage along the way.
I'm also bullish on second year defensive end Malliciah Goodman, who got a pair of pressures against Eli Manning and has been rounding into form a bit for the Falcons. With the state of the defense, I have to hope these guys will be impactful.
WCG: If the Falcons end up with another down year, does Coach Smith's seat start to get warm? The Falcons got used to winning an awful lot of games during his first five seasons.
Falcoholic: I'll go one step further and say another down year probably gets Mike Smith fired, if not general manager Thomas Dimitroff. If the team shows concrete growth and stays competitive until the end of the year, they may be able to stay, but thus far this team has been disappointing in all the familiar ways: No pass rush, generally shaky defense, rough play calling and decision making at times in close games, etc. I don't think Smith can survive a second consecutive year, especially after the Falcons made such a big deal out of getting bigger, tougher and stronger on the lines.
I don't think he'll be fired mid-season, however.
WCG: What do you think is the key for sucess for the Falcons on offense and defense to win this game against the Bears?
Falcoholic: On defense, the Falcons have to shut down Forte and at least slow Marshall and Jeffery to stand a chance. They don't generate much pressure, so they'll need to force bad throws and potential turnovers by clamping down hard on those three players. Not an easy task, but it has to happen.
On offense, the Falcons need to execute their game plan. That means having at least a semi-effective ground game to lend balance to the attack, and then getting the ball in the hands of playmakers like Julio Jones, Antone Smith and Roddy White. Oh, and keeping Matt Ryan alive with a depleted offensive line. That's important, too.
Thanks again to David, and good luck against every other team this season.