With the Hall of Fame game serving as the light at the end of another offseason tunnel, I decided to sit down with The Falcoholic’s David Choate in order to illuminate the Broncos’ first 2019 opponent.
1st & 10
2016 seems like ancient history now, but it wasn’t too long ago Kyle Shanahan was the Falcons offensive coordinator, and everything I’ve read about Atlanta since suggests parts of the scheme remain in place. Denver’s new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was on that Atlanta staff and is installing a similar scheme. What aspects of it should most excite Broncos Country?
Choate: You’re gonna love it, presuming the results are anywhere near what Kyle Shanahan has been able to achieve at the various stops in his career.
The biggest thing is that Shanahan’s offense is too often described as a West Coast offense when he would tell you (forcefully, too) that it is not. Shanahan’s offense calls for mobile blockers, outside and inside zone runs, and deep strikes. It’s an offense designed to move, not to pick up small chunks of yardage and try to get to a manageable third down. You’ll get a lot of run for Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, and plenty of opportunities for Joe Flacco to roll out at his leisure and take strikes.
The questions concern the strength of the offensive line and whether Flacco has the subtle movement skills and arm at this stage of his career to execute effectively, and whether Drew Lock will be able to step in and take the reins in a year or two. But if it tracks well to what Shanahan does - and particularly did in Atlanta - it won’t be a conservative attack.
2nd and 8
Are there any parts that should worry Broncos backers?
Choate: Again, it’s really about personnel. Shanahan’s disciples are getting hired all over the league because of how good his offense looks, but it’s not clear they have the mastery of play calling that he does, and that leaves a smaller margin of error when the talent isn’t quite there.
If your quarterback can’t handle what’s being asked of him - and Matt Ryan had a bad year in 2015 as he adjusted - that’s a huge limiting factor. You very clearly have the backs, at least, to give the Broncos a compelling ground game in this offense.
3rd and 3
All reports out of Broncos camp suggest Vic Fangio won’t play many, if any, starters. Do you think that will be the case for the Falcons? If so, what position groups look like Atlanta’s strengths going into the game?
Choate: The Falcons will likely sit most of their starters, if not all of them, which will give us a good opportunity to see the reserves working. Knowing that, there’s a few obvious strengths in a backup vs. backup battle for Atlanta.
The first is running back. The Falcons have second-year, hard-charging pro Ito Smith, promising rookie bruiser Qadree Ollison, veteran scatback Kenjon Barner, and an improving Brian Hill. They’ll likely run a lot to give those guys looks, and there’s not a bad player in the bunch.
It’s a similar story at wide receiver, where second-year speedster Russell Gage has put together a strong camp, versatile rookie Marcus Green looks intriguing, and undrafted free agents like Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus have shown quite well.
From there, I’ll be interested to see how the line depth fares. The Falcons have some interesting young offensive linemen like potential swing tackle Matt Gono, and on the defensive side, defensive tackle Deadrin Senat and defensive end Chris Odom are guys I’d keep an eye on. They should be able to put up a good fight based on those groups, even if they’re a bit thin at other key positions.
With the starters intact, the Falcons are strong and fairly deep everywhere on offense, and their secondary looks much deeper and more talented this year.
WR Russell Gage getting plenty of looks with the first team.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 23, 2019
4th and 1
Similarly, are there any position groups in particular Falcon fans have a lot of questions about?
Choate: We worry about the offensive line, even though the Falcons stacked up depth. Rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary have to be good right away, James Carpenter and Jamon Brown have never been great players in their careers, and Alex Mack is aging (if still elite) at center. I worry about how the line will look in the early going, and with the backups in, it’ll probably be even rougher.
Similarly, the defensive line is still a question mark. Can Vic Beasley improve after a brutal 2018 and re-capture some of his 2016 magic? Will Takk McKinley take a leap forward? Will Jack Crawford and Tyeler Davison do good work alongside Grady Jarrett? There’s talent and depth there, but I worry about what happens if some guys don’t take important steps forward.
Which team’s backups have the advantage in the HOF game?
This poll is closed