Our Interview with the Enemy series continues this week with Evan Birchfield from The Falcoholic. Evan joins us to answer a few quick questions before the Atlanta Falcons matchup against the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. The Saints are currently 5.5 point favorites against the Falcons according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
TH: The Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts and signed Marcus Mariota, who has not started a game since 2019. How do you feel about those moves and what expectations do you have for Mariota going into this season?
EB: Tough question. Every Falcons’ fan that you ask this question to will likely have a different answer for you. It’s an adjustment for sure as a fan. I write about the team, but I’ve been a fan since I was six years old and seeing everything Matt Ryan has done for this franchise, it’s going to be weird. I imagine Saints fans can relate to when Drew Brees hung up his cleats. Someone is there for so long and you’re just used to seeing them, and now suddenly it’s going to be someone else.
With that being said, I think expectations aren’t as high as in some other places. Marcus Mariota is a great person and has another chance to start in the NFL and hopefully he makes the most of it. Desmond Ridder who the team selected in the recent draft will likely start at some point this season just to see if there’s anything there before they possibly take a quarterback in the first-round next year. If Mariota can come in and lead them to the playoffs, that’s great. If he can’t, it’s not the end of the world.
TH: The defense really struggled last season pressuring the quarterback, ranking last in the league with only 18 sacks. With the additions of Carter, Ebiketie and Malone, do you think they will make an immediate impact that will improve the pass rush?
EB: Who knows to be honest. I have spent many years waiting for the Falcons to have an average pass rush, and they keep letting me down. Only having 18 sacks last year, while TJ Watt I believe had 19? That’s insane. I do like the additions of Carter, Ebiketie and Malone but I don’t expect an immediate impact. Maybe throughout the year one of them really steps up, but I’ve been optimistic before in regard to the pass rush and until they show it, I’m not buying into anything.
TH: What are 2 key things that you are looking to see from the Falcons in this game?
EB: First off, we just talked about it. Pass Rush. We need to apply pressure, so this game doesn’t become lop-sided quickly. Even when the starters play in preseason, you don’t get a good idea of what is to come. So really, against the Saints, Falcons’ fans will know how the defense is from the start.
Secondly, is Mariota ready? Again, preseason doesn’t mean much but PFF’s top-graded quarterback for the preseason was Marcus Mariota. I’m excited to see him in a full game and see if maybe this is a perfect situation for him or if he’s just a really good backup who is now starting for the Falcons. We’ll see soon enough.
TH: Who is an underrated player on your roster that you are most excited to watch this season and why?
EB: I’m not sure how well-known he is, but right guard Chris Lindstrom. I feel nationally that he’s very underrated and last year, he was the only guard to play 17 games and allow 0 sacks. He’s a young talent on a struggling offensive line, but I’m excited to see him keep growing as a player and hopefully receive some national recognition.
TH: What is your prediction for the final score of this game?
EB: I have to pick the Falcons here, not because I’m confident in a win but it’s Week 1. The same way Saints fans are going to pick the Saints. It’s the most underrated rivalry in sports, and it’s happening in Week 1 which is very exciting. Score wise, I’ll say Falcons 24, Saints 21. We always play each other tough, and expectations can go out the window when the Falcons and Saints hit the same field. Good Luck!
Thank you again to Evan for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out his work on The Falcoholic and follow him on Twitter @EvanBirchfield
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