It's that time of the week again. We've got five questions with Dave Choate from The Falcoholic.
Niners Nation: Ummm, what the hell happened in Atlanta? Julio Jones is the high profile injury, but what else went wrong to put the Falcons in the running for a top 5 pick?
The Falcoholic: If I was going to sum it up, it would be Injuries, Ineffectiveness and Incompetence. The three I's of any terrible season.
Simply put, the Falcons lost several useful starters (Roddy White for a large chunk of the year, Steven Jackson, Kroy Biermann, Sean Weatherspoon, Sam Baker, Julio Jones), put together a godawful offensive line and were too slow to make changes to it and paired some questionable coaching decisions with awful penalties and mistakes. It's a top-to-bottom tornado of poop.
Add in the Falcons' unsustainable great record in one-score games (something like 7-2 a year ago, 2-7 this year) and you've got a recipe for a lousy season. Here we are, having a lousy season.
NN: Steven Jackson brought back old memories when he ran over the Washington defender last week. He's a well-known face to 49ers fans given his time with the Rams. What can the 49ers expect to see from the Falcons run game? Will Jackson get most of the work?
TF: Jackson will get most of the carries. The Falcons will try to dictate the pace of the game early and avoid Matt Ryan having to air it out all game long. Jackson has been middling as a pass catcher this season, so they're not likely to disguise what they're up to and just hope for the best.
Jackson has had some better games in recent weeks, so we'll hope he can get something going against a formidable front seven. If he's healthy, the Falcons may try to mix in Antone Smith for like two carries, given his well-documented success in his limited opportunities (5 carries for 88 yards). I'd look for Jackson to get 15+ carries when all is said and done.
NN: Roddy White seems back in the mix, but Harry Douglas has showed some things alongside him. When Julio Jones comes back next year, what do Falcons expect out of Douglas?
TF: He's at best a third receiver. Douglas has been valuable this season and has the numbers to prove it, but he tends to disappear for long stretches, he's good for a handful of awful drops a season and his upside is pretty clearly defined at this point. I expect him to work the slot and occasionally kick out wide in 2014. Against you guys, something to the tune of 5 catches for 65 yards sounds about right.
NN: Is Mike Smith on the hot seat? How does the coaching staff factor into what we've seen this season?
TF: I don't think he is. Candidly, the coaching staff has been a factor in this 4-10, given their reluctance to switch things up and some of their more conservative tendencies. Smith is a big-time culprit when it comes to both of those, and they're disturbingly familiar tendencies.
I just don't think he'll be fired. The Falcons have been fairly successful under Smitty, particularly in the regular season, and I think owner Arthur Blank feels like he's earned enough rope to try again in 2014. I imagine his seat's pretty warm if the Falcons stumble out of the gate again, but the Falcons feel this team can be successful when healthy under Steve Martin's second cousin.
NN: What is the plan in the offseason for the Falcons to bounce back in 2014?
TF: It starts with the lines. The Falcons need drastic improvement from their offensive line and pass rush to contend in 2014, and I don't think there's any question about that.
The best case scenario is that the Falcons return at least three (improved) starters along the O-line and use the draft and free agency to find impact players who can keep Matt Ryan upright and improve on the team's pathetic run blocking. On the other side of the ball, they definitely need to get a Michael Johnson or Jadaveon Clowney who can elevate the defensive line's play. I do like what we've seen from some of the young players, but expecting the pass rush to miraculously get better because of them would be misguided.
If they build the lines, get healthy and add a couple of pieces around the margins, they should at least be competitive again next year.