Dave Choate: Is the defense looking as good as ever this season? I was a little surprised to see the Chiefs hang 27 on the unit, and I need to know how if I can fear for Matt Ryan's life a little less.
Brett Kollmann: To be fair, 14 of those points given up to the Chiefs were a direct result of Brian Hoyer coughing it up inside the Texans 20 yard line twice, including on the first offensive snap of the game. Houston's run D is arguably the most formidable in the league, with the only rusher to have any real success against them being Cam Newton and his ridiculous scrambling ability - y'all should be pretty familiar with that by now.
In fact, teams have gotten so tired of running towards Jadeveon Clowney (1.2 YPC on runs in his direction), that they have actively started running towards J.J. Watt just to get away from him. When you throw in Jared Crick beasting it up inside, Vince Wilfork holding the A gaps, and of course Brian Cushing behind them, I feel pretty good about the Texans' chances against Devonta Freeman.
Julio, however...well...yeah he's probably going to roast us anyway. That dude is unfair.
Dave Choate: Is the carousel at quarterback affecting the offense, or is the absence of Arian Foster a larger issue? What does the offense need to do to get on track?
Brett Kollmann: Ryan Mallett has certainly played better than Brian Hoyer ever did during his short time as the starter. He might not be putting up any flashy stats, but the problems with the offense have been more about injuries to the offensive line and Arian Foster than they have about ineffectiveness at quarterback (other than Hoyer, of course). This team's offense runs through Foster on every single down - it always has, and it always will. Until Foster and the O-Line get healthy, I don't anticipate this team being able to drop 30 on anyone any time soon.
Dave Choate: On a related note, the Falcons have been absolutely destroyed by short routes over the middle of the field, especially to opposing running backs. Do you have a back who can take advantage of that?
Brett Kollmann: Jonathan Grimes is the most likely option, but he isn't quite 100 percent due to a knee ailment. When healthy, however, he's got the most wiggle of the running backs not named Arian Foster, and he has been regularly used as a third down pass catcher in relief of Alfred Blue. If he plays on Sunday, expect him to be targeted heavily underneath Atlanta's intermediate zones as Ryan Mallett's safety valve.
Dave Choate: Who are the guys who have flown under the national radar that we may need to know about on Sunday?
Brett Kollmann: At this rate I expect rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson to be my answer to this question every single week. Johnson has only played three games in his professional career and he's already the best defensive back on the team - better than Kareem Jackson, better than Johnathan Joseph, better than all of them. This kid is flat out special. I don't anticipate him being able to shut down Julio Jones just quite yet, but I like his odds a lot more than I do Jackson's or Joseph's.
Dave Choate: What's your expected outcome for the game, and what's the course of the game leading up to the final score?
Brett Kollmann: This is a pretty evenly matched game if Houston has a healthy offensive line and a healthy Arian Foster. If everyone plays, I think the Texans get a narrow victory on the road and prove that they can make noise in the AFC. If they don't play...well, this could get ugly. I picked the Falcons to win the NFC South before the season started, but so far they have exceeded even my lofty expectations for them. This squad is for real, and if I'm a betting man I think both Houston and Atlanta will be playing January football this year. I suppose we'll find out what a healthy (or unhealthy) Texans team can (or can't) do against an actual contender this weekend.