What's the biggest issue with that Falcons defense right now?
There's no one issue, to be honest. There are many fingers being pointed at defensive coordinator Mike Nolan right now, chiefly because he's been dropping the team's best pass rusher into coverage and occasionally rolling out four down sets that include three defensive tackles on the line. That misuse has been causing a lot of angst for Falcons fans, but again, it goes deeper than that.
This team lacks a premier pass rusher. The additions to the front seven haven't been doing much to stop the run, which was the team's big focus in the offseason. Their linebacking corps is one of the weakest in the NFL, both on paper and in terms of game results thus far. And the secondary, which is by far the team's best unit, has gotten off to a slow start. Add it all together and it's not particularly surprising that the Falcons have been one of the worst defenses in the NFL through two games.
I do think some of this is a fluke, and we'll see the Falcons improve in run defense and pass defense. I'm not sure the pass rush is going to suddenly materialize, though, and that's a real limiting factor.
So Matt Ryan went off against the Saints, but couldn't get much done against the Bengals. Which one's the real Ryan?
The real Ryan is somewhere in between, but he's closer to Saints-destroying Ryan than Bengals-farting Ryan. He focused in the offseason on evading pressure, and through two games we're seeing him get out of the pocket to complete throws and extend plays with his legs. He's simply not going to be facing Bengals-caliber defense all that often this season, and with time he can make tough throws without much effort.
I think Ryan's likely heading for something resembling a career year in 2014. Your defense, depleted though it may be, should provide another quality test for him.
How have Jake Matthews and Gabe Carimi looked? Will Carimi play if Matthews is healthy?
Jake Matthews looked strong in his first NFL starter, but he exited the game with an ankle injury and hasn't played since. If he plays, I anticipate he'll do quite well, but we're still kind of in unknown territory with him at the moment.
Carimi has quietly been pretty good. Pro Football Focus gave him an awful grade for Week 1, one that I did not think was warranted, but he improved against the Bengals. For a guy who hasn't played left tackle since college, holding up at all is awfully impressive, and Carimi's a Mike Tice guy who will probably find himself in the lineup quite a bit this season. I wouldn't be stunned if he starts at right tackle over Lamar Holmes if Matthews is back, but it may be too soon to make the switch.
Which unknown player should we look out for? Anyone poised to be a superstar?
Devonta Freeman is a guy Buccaneers fans may be familiar with, but he looks like the real deal. In his limited touches thus far, Freeman has broken a bunch of tackles, looked like an excellent pass-catching back and run the football well generally. That has come in very limited opportunities, but I fully anticipate that Freeman will get more chances as the coaching staff's trust in him grows, perhaps as soon as this week. I don't know if he's a potential superstar, per se, but we're very high on him.
Care to predict the game?
The Falcons are home, relatively healthy and smarting after that loss to the Bengals, while you guys sound like you'll be missing Gerald McCoy and Mason Foster, at minimum. I've got the Falcons winning this one by a touchdown, say 24-17.
Bonus: Will Geraldo Boldewijn be on the 53-man roster this year?
Bonus Answer: I think Geraldo Boldewijn will wind up on the practice squad, but injuries could lead to a promotion. The Falcons don't have any actual wide receivers at the fifth and sixth spots, just special teamers, so it wouldn't be a shock at all if the Catching Dutchman comes up. Look for him more in 2015, though.