Football Outsiders writer and analyst Rivers McCown was kind enough to answer five of our questions about the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. Temper your expectations for the season and/or argue accordingly, and check out the site's annual almanac for much more.
Dave Choate: The Falcons offense looks like it will be improved on paper, with Kyle Shanahan installing a more run-friendly scheme and some added weapons in the passing game. What are your expectations for Matt Ryan in this system?
Rivers McCown: Time and time again, Ryan has overcome talent limitations in the running game to produce. I'm not expecting any enormous leaps in production until I'm sure the secondary receivers outside of Julio Jones and Roddy White are sound, but I could see Ryan doing well off play-action if Shanahan incorporates it like he did in Houston and Washington.
Dave Choate: Vic Beasley's a terrific athlete, and it's hard not to buy the hype immediately as a Falcons fan. As a rookie pass rusher on a likely average (or worse) defense, what can we reasonably expect from Beasley?
I would put his sack range in his rookie year somewhere between 5 and 12. Sometimes we beat the drum a little too hard on young players. Mario Williams only wound up with 4.5 sacks in his rookie year. But I wouldn't at all be surprised if Beasley was an instant success.
Dave Choate: The Tevin Coleman vs. Devonta Freeman battle at running back may be decided by the end of camp, but I expect a fairly even split between the two for the 2015 season. Who are you more bullish on over the long haul?
Rivers McCown: I'm honestly sort of down on Coleman in this scheme and think Freeman is a better fit. I also think that drafting a guy with the hopes you can fix his worst flaws (inside zone reads) is something better suited to a late-round hope than a gamble with a more valuable pick. That said, if Coleman figures it out, he's definitely got the talent to be a franchise back. I'd rather back Freeman.
Dave Choate: Matt Bryant is entering rarefied territory as an over-40 kicker still plying his trade. Is there any particular reason to be concerned about his production in 2015, or do you think he may just be ageless?
Rivers McCown: Kickers can kick until they can't. Given what we've seen from Morten Andersen, Adam Vinatieri, and so on, I would bet you won't know that the decline is coming until the year it hits.
Dave Choate: Based on what you've seen from the Seattle defense the last two years, what's the long-term outlook for Atlanta's unit, and what kind of personnel changes do they need to make to reach a Seahawk-like ceiling?
Rivers McCown: They just need a general talent infusion. Beasley and Desmond Trufant are a great start on a good defense, but there's a lot more to be done. There's no Bobby Wagner on this roster. There's no Earl Thomas on this roster. There's no secondary pass rushers of note yet. I like the little risks that Dan Quinn has made so far, but this was never going to be a unit he could turn around in one offseason. I'm expecting some improvement, but expecting even a top-half of the league finish is a bit much for my taste this year.