Each week, Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming week.
In Week 16, the Colts are facing the Atlanta Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. To gain more insight, we caught up with Scott Bair, the Falcons' digital managing editor for AtlantaFalcons.com.
Colts.com: Following Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Falcons find themselves a game back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are atop the NFC South standings. With the regular season quickly coming to a close, how have you seen the team respond to its recent adversity?
Scott Bair: The Falcons are a focused group with quality veteran leadership and a solid locker-room culture. While they're certainly frustrated after losing two straight NFC South games, they're motivated by the possibility, albeit slim, of winning the division by closing the season strong and getting some help. The team has had a strong week of practice and has rallied around new starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke. They're treating Sunday's game as a must-win, so I would expect the Colts to get the Falcons' best effort.
Colts.com: In Desmond Ridder's first full season as the Falcons starting quarterback, the offense has had its struggles. Currently averaging 18.4 points per game, that's the seventh-lowest figure in the NFL. In your opinion, what has stopped the offense from getting into a consistent rhythm?
Scott Bair: Red-zone efficiency and consistent quarterback play. That's why the Falcons are 19th in total yards and 26th in scoring. They can move the ball, but have made too many critical mistakes at inopportune times, which has shut down drives before crossing the goal line.
Desmond Ridder had 16 turnovers this season, including six in the red zone and two more inside the Atlanta 20-yard line. Plays like that will cost you games, which played a major role in Arthur Smith going with Taylor Heinicke over the last three games of the regular season. Atlanta is hoping the veteran can help put a clean, four-quarter game together and emerge with a much-needed victory.
Colts.com: As a top-10 draft pick, hopes were high that running back Bijan Robinson would be a game-changer for the Falcons. Currently leading the team with 801 rushing yards, would you say he's lived up to those expectations? And if so, what is it that has made him so effective?
Scott Bair: Bijan Robinson is a special talent with elite elusiveness and agility. Simply put, Robinson can do things on the football field that most others can't. While some expected massive stats and carry counts, the Falcons always planned to use him in a rotation with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson as part of a strong rushing attack.
He has been as good as advertised, as a rusher and receiver working out of the backfield. His one issue is lost fumbles. He has three of them to this point, an aspect of his game that he's working to eliminate.
Colts.com: Another big offseason splash the Falcons made was signing veteran safety Jessie Bates III. By all indications, it appears the move has been a good one as he leads the team with five interceptions and three forced fumbles. With him playing at such a high level, what do opposing offenses have to be aware of when he's on the field?
Scott Bair: If Jessie Bates isn't an All-Pro, the system is rigged. That's how good the safety has been this year. He has been an excellent field general and locker room leadership, voted as a captain just a few months after he signed a massive contract with the Falcons in free agency.
What makes him special? He's so smart. He makes great reads and always seems to know where the ball is going. That has allowed him to make huge plays for this defense, and is directly responsible for a few wins this season.
Colts.com: This season, the Falcons are allowing just 19.9 points per game, eighth-lowest in the NFL. On the opposite side of the sideline, the Colts' offense is averaging 24.6 points per game, eighth-highest in the NFL. What does the Falcons' defense have to do to ensure that the Colts don't get into a rhythm offensively?
Scott Bair: They're a well-disciplined unit that is solid stopping the run. If they do that, the Falcons keep teams off schedule and make it hard to complete drives. In fact, they have played three games this year without allowing a touchdown.
The one issue this season has been closing out games. The Falcons have given up decisive fourth-quarter drives in their last four losses, a trend that developed recently. If they're better in those situations, the Falcons are tough to deal with defensively.