Well, that was bad.
It’s not that the Vikings were grossly better than the Falcons. Atlanta stomped on its own feet multiple times in the game, sacrificing momentum left and right with boneheaded turnovers and discouraging mental lapses.
We learn more from the losses than we do the wins, so let’s survey what we found out in whatever this game as.
1. The offensive line is still a work in progress
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this debacle is that it’s not fun playing perhaps the best defensive line in the NFL on the road in a hostile environment.
Even prized left tackle Jake Matthews surrendered two sacks for a group that kept Matt Ryan on skates for most of the game and struggled to establish much in the run game.
With first-round guard Chris Lindstrom now out half the season or more with a foot fracture and his first-round teammate Kaleb McGary still getting his rookie lumps out of the way, the team will need an immediate rebound from Matthews, continued stalwart play from center Alex Mack and whomever takes over for Lindstrom to step it up.
The team can’t expect to do a ton this season if the offensive line plays like this again.
2. Isaiah Oliver is going to take time to settle into a starting role
We all had hope second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver would be prepared to ascend to starter status and begin to thrive, but his first outing was a bit rough.
Though the receiver he was guarding, WR Adam Thielen, only had three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, it looked a bit worse on film, and Oliver also had at least one highlight-worthy lapse against the run. It’s fair to question why Oliver got such a draw when Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, hampered by a hamstring injury, would’ve been easier, but that let-up touchdown got the team into early trouble. Desmond Trufant shadowed him all day.
Oliver has a ton of room to grow and turn into the corner the Falcons envision him becoming. This earliest sample shows a player still trying to find his footing, however.
3. The defensive line will be keyed by Grady Jarrett
Jarrett, fresh off his new contract, was giving the Vikings fits all afternoon, and was one of the few bright spots from Sunday.
His sack and four tackles felt like more that thanks to his constant disruptions, and he played a key role in even giving the Falcons a chance to score as the defense slowed down the Vikings on organic drives (all their 21 first points came off of turnovers).
The defensive line wasn’t really great or terrible overall. They had some good moments, but still let Dalvin Cook rush for 111 yards, primarily on outside runs. Part of that is on the linebackers, but it’s clear the jury is still out on how this unit will fare, though Allen Bailey, Tyeler Davison and Vic Beasley all had some flashes.
But this unit is Jarrett’s to lead now, and he’s already setting the tone with his play and leadership. His words post-game were stirring and show he’s ready to be the face.
#Falcons DL @GradyJarrett had some strong words after today's game.— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) September 8, 2019
On slow start: "so what if they started fast? We've got four more quarters of ball to play."
On run D: "we need to address it if we want to have a good defense. If not, just sweep it under the rug." pic.twitter.com/M4x1s153Mk
4. Matt Bryant remains a mystery
It’s a bit ironic that, after all the brouhaha about the kicker battle and bringing longtime Falcons kicker Matt Bryant back, he didn’t see a snap.
The team didn’t utilize him for a field goal or extra point Sunday, which leaves us all still waiting to see how he’ll do this year and if it the Money Man will still look like his old self with an offseason away from the team.
It was absolutely the right thing to do to bring him back after the kicking position went south. Now we wait to see if he will pick up where he left off, with his first opportunity very likely coming against the Eagles.
5. 0-2 a distinct reality now
It’s scary to think about an 0-2 start.
It doesn’t mean your season is over, but your playoff chances fall significantly with that record. The Falcons haven’t gone 0-2 since 2007, the franchise’s de-facto worst season post-2000 and pre-Matt Ryan/Thomas Dimitroff thanks to Bobby Petrino.
The Eagles, who certainly are a formidable out every week, visit Atlanta for the Sunday night game this week, and could be every bit the headache the Vikings were.
Even if the team plays well, it’s the worst-possible draw to get this early in the season — two big, physical NFC teams — and a loss is a distinct possibility. Realistically, Atlanta could be at a stark disadvantage looking at the rest of the season. But we’ll worry about that only if it happens, and cheer on the team to rebound in a mighty way at home against Philly.
What did you take away from this week (well, besides the obvious doom and gloom)?