In Week 16, our Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the Atlanta Falcons. Knowing the party was hitting the road this weekend I sat down with Kevin Knight of The Falcoholic. You can find him on Twitter @FalcoholicKevin. We swapped questions about the Colts and Falcons and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
You can find my answers to his questions here.
Chris Shepherd: This week the Falcons are turning to Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, how are fans feeling about this change? What does he bring to the offense that Desmond Ridder did not?
Kevin Knight: I think most Falcons fans are feeling like the whole thing is rather pointless and desperate, at this stage. The Falcons offense with Heinicke, while slightly more productive, still had most of the same issues that it had when Desmond Ridder was the quarterback. Heinicke is a bit of a faster processor, is more aggressive with tight-window and downfield throws, and is certainly more fearless in the pocket. He’s also, somehow, a more turnover-prone quarterback and doesn’t have Ridder’s arm talent. I think Arthur Smith is hoping the switch to Heinicke can raise the ceiling of the offense enough to squeak out another win or two, which is probably the minimum requirement to save Smith’s job.
CS: Rookie running back Bijan Robinson has averaged 15.5 touches per game and 5.2 yards per touch. Has he been what Falcons fans hoped he would be and what are you hoping to see from the talented back going forward?
KK: Bijan is incredibly talented and fun to watch. His offensive role has been...puzzling, to say the least. I can’t believe Atlanta took a running back at 8 overall just to put him in a 50/50 committee. Don’t get me wrong, Tyler Allgeier (3.5 YPC) is a very good RB2 and a great closer. But it takes one look at their averages to see that Bijan (4.6 YPC) is the drastically more productive player on a down-to-down basis. Bijan should be getting 20+ carries a week and as much as he can handle in the passing game, and yet, his role diminished to a mere 59% of snaps in Week 15. His one issue thus far has been fumbles, but with just 3 on nearly 250 touches, that’s hardly a reason to keep him off the field.
CS: That Falcons defense is tough, if you were an offensive coordinator charged with creating a game plan to move the ball and score points against that unit, what would your plan look like? Are there any weaknesses you would target? Any strengths you would avoid? How would you plan to beat the Falcons defense?
KK: Atlanta’s defense has one glaring weakness, and that is the edge pass rush. Until Grady Jarrett went down, they were overcoming it by being overwhelmingly productive on the interior with him and David Onyemata. With Jarrett on IR and Onyemata missing the last two games, the pass rush has stagnated. Add to that some weaknesses in zone coverage and difficulties matching up with tight ends, and you have a pass defense that can occasionally give up some big games. However, Atlanta’s defense is good where it counts: on third down and in the red zone. They’re also one of the NFL’s best run defenses. It’s going to be hard to score big points against this unit, but it’s not an elite “shutdown” defense at this stage either. Still, a very encouraging first year performance from new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.
Writers Note: after seeing that picture of Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen, if he doesn’t go by the nickname “The Intimidator” he needs to get better friends.
CS: After last week’s 9-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers there have been a lot of rumblings that Arthur Smith’s job might be in jeopardy. Do you feel that there is any truth to that and how is the sentiment among fans? In general do they want Smith back for a fourth season as head coach?
KK: Going into Week 15, it was an open question as to if Arthur Blank would even consider firing Arthur Smith. By all accounts he likes Smith and has been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The loss to the Panthers, especially in that fashion, changed things. Smith is now firmly on the hot seat and probably needs to—at minimum—win 1-2 more games to keep his job. The sentiment among fans is overwhelmingly to move on from Smith. This is supposed to be Year 3 of a 3 Year Plan, and instead of taking the next step on offense, the whole scheme has imploded. Atlanta’s strength—the run game—has become a weakness, and the passing game is among the most inconsistent in the NFL. Put simply, Smith hasn’t done enough to trust him with a fourth season and selecting the next quarterback.
CS: As of right now, according to DraftKings Sportsbook the Falcons are one-point favorites at home this weekend. Is that line fair, who wins this game, how do they do it and what’s the final score?
KK: I’m puzzled by the line, because this Falcons team just lost to the Panthers and the Colts are legitimately good. I wouldn’t trust this Atlanta team against anyone right now, although they have typically played better at home. Still, the swap to Taylor Heinicke shouldn’t concern you. He showed a tenuous grasp of the offense at best, and while the offense was more productive in terms of scoring with him in the lineup, it was just as turnover-prone and didn’t actually win any games. That being said, the Falcons are going to keep things close because of the defense and probably look like they’ve got a shot to win until the very end. I’ll go 25-23 Colts in this one.
I want to thank Kevin for taking the time to answer these questions before Sunday’s game.
As always, go Colts.