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Saints vs. Falcons: Scouting the Enemy

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The Saints face off against the Falcons Sunday to start the 2014 NFL season. To get the Falcons fan perspective and learn a little more about the current state of their team, I caught up with our dear old friend Dave Choate from SB Nation's The Falcoholic and asked him some important questions about this early-season division matchup.

Scott Cunningham

Cariello:  How's the "Toughness Crusade" going? Would you deem it a success?

Choate: I love that an Atlanta beat writer managed to coin a term that is now exclusively used by Saints fans. That's some quality trolling, right there.

The team has bigger, better players on both lines and Mike Smith said tough a bunch of times on Hard Knocks, so I think they're there. I imagine the Falcons will have an above average run defense and average offensive line this season, and considering they were near the bottom of the NFL in both just a year ago, that qualifies as a win for me. Perhaps not a crusade, though.

Ultimately, tough is just a buzzword, one that obviously has taken on way too much weight this offseason. The team was lousy last year for a lot of reasons that had more to do with quality of play, injuries and depth than sheer toughness, but hey, I appreciate any desire to improve.

Cariello:  Do you need to change your underwear every time you think about rookie Jake Matthews starting at left tackle right out of the gate?

Choate: I've been watching Sam Baker since 2008 at left tackle, so at this point my Falcon-themed bikini briefs are delightfully dry and clean.
Matthews is a rookie and will have his struggles, particularly with penalties. But in terms of sheer talent he's already light years ahead of Baker, and so I don't view this as a large downgrade. I watched Lamar Holmes play left tackle most of last year, so I'm actually pleasantly optimistic about the rookie.

Cariello:  Do you think Mike Smith is on the hot seat this season?

Choate: We've discussed this question quite a bit at The Falcoholic. My own personal opinion, not shared by all, is that he's not really on the hot seat unless the team completely collapses again. We keep trying to parse exactly how many wins he needs to stay on, but I'd say he's safe barring a losing record. Even then, if the team shows marked improvement and looks to be heading in the right direction, I think he'll at least get 2015.
If the team isn't tougher, faster, stronger and more winnish, though, that falls on either GM Thomas Dimitroff or Smith. My guess is Smith would get the axe first.

Cariello:  Complete this sentence: In order for the Falcons to beat the Saints, they must _______ .

Choate: Slow down the Saints offense, period. The Falcons have a healthy offense and should be able to put some points on the board, and this game obviously has the potential to be a close shootout. To win, Atlanta has to actually get some pressure on Drew Brees, make the team one-dimensional and try to force turnovers, the kind of defense that was so successful for them at times in 2012. If Brees has all day to throw and the defense is gassed, I don't see the Falcons walking away with a W.

Cariello:  Now that the Hard Knocks season is over, are you glad the Falcons were the featured team this year? Or are you wishing they hadn't agreed to do the show? Why?

Choate: It was fine. Aside from the last episode and a few draggy sections, I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at the team and especially watching Bryan Cox talk about life, so I was fine with it. I don't think the Falcons damaged their perception-insert joke here-and I don't think it was a distraction of any magnitude for the team. Based on that and how many Falcons fans got behind it, I think it was a fine choice.

Cariello:  Care to make a prediction?

Choate: 31-28, Falcons. Feel-good win at home, albeit one that features last second heroics and the Saints nearly pulling off the victory.