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Scouting the Falcons: Week 9

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The Chargers are back in action in Week 9 against the Falcons.

Kickoff is Sunday at 10 a.m. (PT). The Bolts are 4-3 while the Falcons are 4-4.

We chatted with Tori McElhaney, who covers the Falcons for their team website, to get a preview of the game.

The Falcons are 4-4 and in first place in the NFC South. Would you say the team has surprised people this far, or is this where you expected them to be?

TM: Oh, yes. I think they have been one of the most surprising stories of the season so far. Heck, there were many (and I do put a major emphasis on that word) who thought the Falcons would struggle to win more than three games this year. I tell people all the time that if you look at this 53-man roster breakdown it's one comprised of a lot of young players who are all on the early years of their rookie contracts as well as veteran free agents on cheap one- to two-year deals to fill in the gaps. For a team that had to piece itself together this offseason because it currently carries a dead money hit that tops out over $70 million, they're doing much better than anyone originally thought.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Thursday practice at Hoag Performance Center

Who's an under-the-radar player who has shined so far this season?

TM: I'd have to say it's a combination of running backs Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley. The plan at the beginning of the year was that the two-headed monster coming out of the backfield would be Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams, but injuries have kept them off the field. Though the Falcons are on their way to getting Patterson back to 100 percent, I don't think anyone should overlook what Allgeier and Huntley have been able to do in the run game in his absence. Huntley has been a particular surprise as he started the season on the practice squad. Allgeier, too, who was a healthy scratch in Week 1. They've come a long way, that's for sure. 

How is Marcus Mariota playing this year? Is he looking forward to the Oregon battle with Justin Herbert?

TM: Can we just call Sunday's game the Oregonian Bowl in Atlanta? Nah, I kid. In all seriousness, Marcus Mariota's evolution this season has been one that has intrigued me as much as any player's story on this team. Mariota came into the season knowing that very few quarterbacks in this league get a second chance to be a starter at the position again. I think he's taken this chance and run with it (figuratively and literally). There were many that questioned what the quarterback position would look like with Mariota under center instead of Matt Ryan. I personally think that having Mariota there adds a layer of complexity to the Falcons offense that Ryan couldn't provide. Nothing against Ryan in that aspect, they just play with two different styles. Mariota hasn't been perfect this year, and has made some costly mistakes at times, but I do believe with him running the offense this unit looks more like what Arthur Smith envisioned it looking like when he took this job.

The Falcons defense has given up some yards and points, but is also adept at taking the ball away. What's been the key to the strong takeaway numbers this year?

TM: I'll tell you this: Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has said on a few occasions that total yards don't matter, effectiveness in the red zone and takeaways do, particularly takeaways that result in a touchdown, whether it's by the defense on the play itself or the offense in response. There's been a heavy emphasis put on both of those things since Pees got to Atlanta. This is a defense that has given up one too many explosive plays over the last two weeks against the Bengals and Carolina, so that will be a major challenge against Herbert and this Chargers offense. It's definitely something the Falcons will try to limit. They're a very physical defense, and they – usually – tackle well, so being able to get limit big chunk plays and continuing to capitalize on turnovers will be important for their overall success as a unit.  

Finally, what's your view on what a successful season would be like for the Falcons at the end of the year? Playoffs, a winning record, etc.?

TM: It's interesting because my answer to this question has changed as the season has progressed. If you would have asked me this question at the beginning of the year I would have told you that the Falcons staying around a .500 record would be what I deemed successful. Well, they're actively doing that, so I feel as though my answer should evolve as they do. Answering this question now, in Week 9, my answer involves being first or second in the NFC South division. I think because of the makeup of the other teams in the division and how they're trending right now it's not out of the question in my mind that the Falcons could hold onto that first place standing. If they can, that's what I would consider a successful season to be, one in which will definitely shock a lot of people.

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