MIchael Collins is a guy I've worked with a good bit over the years that always gives A+ quality information on the Falcons. Anything he says about them you can pretty much take as gospel. So I caught up with him before the big game on Thursday. You can follow Michael on twitter @GASportsCraze or visit his Georgia sports website here. Many thanks to Michael for taking the time, our Q&A is below.
The Saints Nation: I watched a little bit of the Bucs game on Sunday and the Falcons totally seemed to quit. Has this team already given up and gone into full tank mode? Has Mike Smith lost the team?
Georgia Sports Craze: The general feeling around Atlanta isn't necessarily that the team has "quit", but they've just become disheartened. With so many catastrophic injuries to key skill position players and offensive linemen, as well as a few key defenders, it's just been difficult for this team to put together any type of cohesive unit on either side of the ball. They are now in full frustration mode. As to whether or not Smitty has lost this team, I'm on the fence. I think the team's demeanor may project that feeling, but I'm not sure it's true. There's a lot of love and respect for coach Smith on this team. But you can't deny what you are seeing.
How do you explain the transformation from 13-3 to 2-8 in one season? Do you blame this implosion purely on injuries?
I think the transformation has a lot to do with injuries, and a lot to do with luck (for lack of a better word). In the first half of the season Atlanta lost some close games…the kind of games they were winning in 2012. A play here or there was all the difference, and if you have some of those aforementioned injured players on the field (ie; Julio Jones) then perhaps the outcome is different. The last few blowouts, however, are a product of what I mentioned earlier. Just pure frustration. The team comes into a game with positive thoughts, but as soon as adversity hits, they go into full panic mode and implode.
I'm not going to lie, I'm worried about this game as a Saints fan. You'll remember, last year the Saints under the exact same scenario had a physical Sunday night game against the 49ers and headed to Atlanta on a short week. We all know what happened in the Georgia Dome that Thursday of last year, it was the final death blow to the Saints' season. So now the Saints are coming off another very physical and emotional win, while the Falcons come home somewhat fresh after mailing in four quarters of "whatever" football against the Bucs. I feel like this is the only thing you have left to play for and beating the Saints might actually serve as one last motivation to try. Do you agree with me this is a tailor made trap game for the Saints?
I would say it's a possible trap game for the Saints, but I won't lie either…the Saints are damn good this year. Having Payton back on the sideline, and having a defense that is coached to be physical, aggressive and not predictable has made all the difference in New Orleans. That said, you can never be sure what will happen in this game. It was close in New Orleans, and I think it will be close again here in Atlanta. The Falcons have gotten some key players back from injury who are just starting to come close to playing a full speed now. It's going to be brutal on both sides of the ball. The Falcons are pissed off right now, and New Orleans is fighting for a lot more than just pride this season.
On the flip side, I feel like if the Saints can jump to a quick 10-0 lead or better, the Falcons fans will turn on their team, boo their troops and maybe even leave by halftime… if the Saints can jump on them early and the fans turn on the team, it could be over quick because the effort may drop off. Do you think the Saints best shot to win this game is to do it in the first quarter?
I would disagree about the fans. There may be some booing and hissing should the Saints jump to an early lead, but as evidenced in past meetings, fans don't leave the game when the Saints are in town. Short of it being a 20+ point lead late in the 4th quarter, the fans will stay and make their voices heard…be it positive or negative. Regardless of what the fans say or do, the team knows this is an opportunity for them to redeem their season (to a degree) and to put a dent in the Saints playoff positioning. No lead will be safe until close to the end of the game.
Giving Matt Ryan the contract was the only move you could make. You couldn't let him walk and replace him with someone likely not as good. But at the same time, he's saddled you with a significant cap hit. Tony Gonzalez is as good as gone, and Steven Jackson will probably have to be given one more shot next year even though he's done. Are you worried that the window to win with this regime has already closed given the pieces you have and Ryan's contract?
No, the Falcons are carrying over a pretty large salary cap amount (nearly $17 mill) to next season that they didn't even use this year. Ryan's contract is backloaded, so the team has already taken the most significant hit they will take in terms of money from his contract. The nucleus of this team in terms of skill positions is plenty young enough, and most of them are under contract (or will be) in 2014 and beyond. The focus in this year's draft will obviously be on the line…both defensive and offensive. The young secondary will improve (they already have as this year has progressed) and the linebackers are going to be excellent. I'd say there is still a significant amount of time to win with this team as it has been assembled. Just as the Saints had a bad season in 2012 for various reasons, it didn't mean they were a bad team…just needed some help. Matt Ryan is having a bad year. No other way to say it. But he's still one of the top 10 QBs in the NFL and he's smart enough to make corrections.
Score prediction I'd say pick-em. 38-34, either way. (But I think Roddy White will have his best game of the season by far).