Dave Cariello: Things really haven't gone well since we last met. Can you pinpoint exactly WHY the wheels have completely fallen off for the Falcons in 2013? Do you blame it squarely on injury?
Dave Choate: Many things went wrong, some of which have been brewing for years now.
Injuries are the obvious culprit. Losing Julio Jones, Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann, Sam Baker and so on and so forth is a costly thing. However, it's also clear that the Falcons came into this season with entirely too much faith in their mostly young, learning offensive line. It's been one of the worst units in the NFL.
Couple that with some questionable coaching, guys like Roddy White playing through injuries ineffectively and even four lackluster games in a row from Matt Ryan and you've got a recipe for disaster. The front office had done a nice job building this Falcons team, but the defense and offensive line had some glaring holes that were not filled.
It's the perfect storm, in some ways. I use perfect loosely.
Cariello: Do you think Mike Smith will be fired? Do you personally want to see him fired?
Choate: I don't. I've been pretty certain all season long that he was going to get another opportunity, given that he's been successful by the low standards of the franchise. The last game shook my faith in that a little bit, but I think the Falcons' brass wants to give him a shot with a healthier, hopefully improved team.
Should he be? That's trickier. Over the last couple of weeks, Smith has finally started doing some of the things Falcons fans have asked of him-playing younger players, being more aggressive-primarily out of desperation. If he's able to finally adapt in the face of crushing adversity, I want to give him another shot. If we're going to get the same, fairly rigid coach again next year, it might be time to move on.
It's not clear whether there's any definite upgrades out there right now, anyways.
Cariello: Talk about all the roster shuffling that's happening with the Falcons right now. Who the hell is gonna be starting Thursday night?
Choate: Your guess is as good as mine. The Falcons are still going to try to win games for pride's sake, but I think everyone realizes they need to evaluate young players at the expense of struggling veterans.
If he's healthy, I think Zeke Motta may start at free safety. He's a solid hitter with some decent coverage instincts, though he's more of a traditional strong safety in build and skill set. Thomas DeCoud has been putrid there, so I'm hoping the Falcons are moving on.
On the offensive line, expect to see Joe Hawley at center and perhaps Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. Hawley's been here a bit but looked good last week. Schraeder is a UDFA rookie, but their alternative is Jeremy Trueblood, who won't be returning to the team a year from now. The fact that these guys might be real upgrades tells you all you need to know about the season.
Cariello: Let's get away from the negative stuff and tell me the most positive thing about the Falcons 2013 season.
Choate: The young players, no question. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have been impressive as rookie cornerbacks, with Trufant in particular looking stellar through most of the season. Quality young cornerbacks don't grow on trees, so we're thrilled to have him.
Lamar Holmes is growing into a passable starting left tackle, and an affordable one. Paul Worrilow has put up 54 tackles in three weeks at linebacker. Malliciah Goodman looks like a potentially dominant run-stopping defensive end. There's still a ton of holes to fill, but knowing you have some young, cost-controlled assets in 2014 and beyond goes a long way.
Cariello: I'm actually very nervous about this game against the Falcons. It's got the makings of a trap. What are the chances the Falcons actually show up?
For the Saints? I wouldn't rule it out. This rivalry always seems to bring close games, and while the Falcons have played like poop of late, maybe they've got a decent game in them.
I wouldn't count on it, though.