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Interview with the Enemy: Atlanta Falcons

Kevin Knight joins us for potentially the final interview with the enemy of the season.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints will square off with the Atlanta Falcons for the regular season finale this Sunday.

We are joined by Kevin Knight of the Falcoholic to preview this Sunday’s game between the two NFC South rivals.

LH: The Saints and Falcons have both had disappointing seasons up to this point. What would you say has been the biggest let down for this Falcons team this season?

KK: I’d say it’s twofold, though both have to do with the offense. That would be the failure of the play calling/coaching staff, and the failure of the quarterback room. They’re definitely mixed together, but it’s hard to say who exactly deserves the majority of the blame. Arthur Smith has failed to adapt his scheme, and defenses have simply figured it out. Atlanta’s run game has regressed drastically despite the addition of an elite running back in Bijan Robinson. The passing concepts are archaic and nonsensical—there’s no spacing in the entire offense. On top of that, execution is poor across the board. Quarterback worst of all, where Atlanta’s QB room has been extremely turnover prone and unable to string together any consistency whatsoever. Even with the Falcons defense stepping up in a huge way—they’re likely to finish top-10 for the first time in recent memory—the offense has fallen on its face.

LH: I haven’t watched too many Falcons games this season, but Arthur Smith seems to have the fanbase feeling some type of way. Do you think he’s earned himself another season? And even if not, do you think they will retain him for the 2024-25 season?

KK: It’s more than just the fanbase. Arthur Smith’s seat has been getting hot since the loss to the Bucs back in Week 14, had gasoline thrown on the fire after the Panthers loss in Week 15, cooled somewhat after the blowout win against the Colts...and then caught fire again with the blowout loss to the Bears in Week 17. A dominant win over the Saints and a miraculous playoff run are probably the only things that could save him at this point, with multiple reports coming out this week suggesting Falcons owner Arthur Blank is fed up. Smith arguably overachieved with a bad roster and cap situation in 2021-22 but regressed massively with a drastically better roster (and against a far easier schedule) in 2023. His chief failure has been the devaluation of the quarterback and the passing game—despite sinking two top-10 picks into TE and WR—and that could ultimately cost him his job.

LH: Kaden Ellis and David Onyemata came to Atlanta with former Saints defensive coordinator Ryan Nielson. How would you evaluate their performance this year? Do you think both signings paid off?

KK: David Onyemata has been the best defensive lineman on the team this year, so that’s been a huge addition. When he and Grady Jarrett were healthy on the interior, that was an absolutely dominant pairing and was awesome to watch. Kaden Elliss started a bit slower but has really come on over the back half of the season, forming one of the NFL’s best run defending duos with former UDFA Nate Landman. Ryan Nielsen has done an outstanding job and I think he deserves HC consideration if the team moves on from Arthur Smith. Even if he doesn’t ultimately get the job, I sincerely hope the Falcons do everything they can to keep him and the defensive staff intact.

LH: Between Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke, the Falcons have struggled to find their true starting quarterback. Do you see either of them coming back next year as the starter or do the Falcons hit the draft/free agency for their next QB?

KK: They both had their chances to make a mark, and both failed miserably. In truth, Arthur Smith’s scheme carries plenty of the blame, but both have turned the ball over repeatedly and just don’t do anything at a high enough level to commit to them. Desmond Ridder has clearly shown enough to be a backup, and he’ll be very affordable on his third-round contract. Heinicke’s cap hit escalates in 2024, and given his poor performance this year, it’s hard to see Atlanta agreeing to pay that price going forward.

LH: DraftKings currently has the line for this game at Saints -3.5 at home. Do you think the Falcons can cover the spread or win this game outright?

KK: It’s certainly possible the Falcons will cover the spread, as they typically win or lose most games by a single score. I do not see them winning this game, as we all know the Saints are a much better team at home and the Falcons have continued to get worse and worse offensively as the year has dragged on. The defense is also suffering from a lot of attrition, and the depth is simply not there to hold together with the offense turning the ball over at one of the highest rates in the NFL. I think the Saints take this one, 20-17.

Thank you again to Kevin, for joining us this week! You can check out the rest of his work here.

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