The Falcons have been miserable this season in part because of many, many injuries. How has Matt Ryan looked through it all?
Ryan has been nothing short of terrific. Everyone who has credit most of his success to the line in front of him and the weapons he's had has to wake up, because Ryan's on pace to have arguably his finest year with injuries taking a huge bite out of his playmakers. Roddy White has been borderline useless, Tony Gonzalez didn't round into form until two weeks ago and Julio Jones is now gone, while the Falcons have had one of the worst pass-blocking lines in the NFL.
The challenge now is overcoming all these issues without Jones, the one reliable security blanket the Falcons had left. Ryan will have to keep getting the ball out quickly and utilizing his limited weapons to continue his successful 2013. We hope it translates into more wins.
Desmond Trufant was your number one draft pick this year, but rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle. How has he looked so far?
He's looked much better than we had any right to expect. Pro Football Focus rates him as the team's second-best defensive player through five weeks, and the eyeball test more or less affirms that. He's been beaten deep a handful of times and receivers can lose him if they have great agility, but he's been remarkably solid and an enormous upgrade over Dunta Robinson.
Of all the injuries, and there are a lot of them, which has hurt the Falcons the most?
I think Julio Jones will wind up being the worst in the long run, but the worst is either Kroy Biermann or Sean Weatherspoon. Biermann wasn't an elite player, but his versatility in and knowledge of Mike Nolan's scheme enabled the defensive coordinator to do creative things he simply can't with Jonathan Massaquoi. Losing Sean Weatherspoon left an already depleted linebacking corps with crumbs.
The defense has been pretty awful this year, and those two injuries are a big part of the reason why.
Do you think the Falcons can turn this season around and finish with at least an 8-8 record?
I think it's within reach, but it's going to require a fairly sturdy turnaround. The Falcons have been closing to winning all five of their games, but they've been doomed by injuries, countless small mistakes and an inability to get things done in the red zone on either end of the ball. If they can patch over some of those weaknesses and figure out how to maximize the effectiveness of the offense without Julio Jones, it's a possibility. If they can't, they're headed for their first sub-.500 season under Mike Smith.
Which areas of the teams do the Falcons need to address next offseason to be a competitive team again?
The lines, no question. The Falcons look fine at defensive tackle, but three guys are free agents at the end of the year. They're not getting much of a pass rush from left defensive end. The offensive line either needs to improve or be overhauled. If the Falcons can put together a better pass rush and a line that can block more effectively, they're right back in it for 2014.