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What you need to know about Falcons - Vikings in Week 5

The 1-4 Vikings have been a massive disappointment, but so have the 0-5 Falcons. This one could be ugly.

NFL: SEP 08 Falcons at Vikings

This is a battle of two of the most disappointing teams in the NFL, full stop. People expect the Jets and Giants to be terrible, but nobody would’ve told you with a straight face that these two teams would be 1-9 at this point in the season. They were both supposed to at least be in contention this early in the year, instead of effectively dead in the water.

Atlanta’s going to be looking for the dead cat bounce with Raheem Morris taking over the team and a jolt of recognition across the roster that players are playing for jobs in 2021 and beyond, and that alone might carry them by a surprisingly listless Minnesota team. The Vikings still have an enormous amount of talent, with one of the league’s best rushing attacks even with Dalvin Cook likely to sit and the talent on defense to be a problem. The problem has been that none of that talent has translated into wins, which sounds...familiar.

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about the matchup ahead.

Falcons - Vikings comparison

Atlanta - Minnesota 2020

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 0-5 20 12 8 17 30 31 31 14 17 5
Vikings 1-4 15 17 25 4 27 26 26 24 25 28

Oof.

Atlanta isn’t even a good offense anymore. The past three weeks have cratered a strong start to the year, with the passing game looking listless with Matt Ryan shaky and Julio Jonse out. The ground game has picked up the slack to some degree, but Todd Gurley and Brian Hill still get to the end of games without the number of touches you’d expect given how well they’re faring. The Falcons defense is, of course, abysmal and in search of just one good game.

The Vikings may try to help them with that. Alex Mattison is a very capable backup who will give this run defense fits, but the Minnesota passing game has sneakily been awful. Kirk Cousins has thrown at least one interception in four out of five games thus far, has yet to throw for over 300 yards on the year, and has been sacked 13 times in 5 games, fumbling twice. If the Falcons pass defense is ever going to get going—or hell, even put up a halfway decent day like they did against Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles—this feels like the week they’ll do it.

What’s really unexpected is the state of this Minnesota defense. The Vikings have not been elite on that side of the ball for a while now, but nor would you have expected them to have a solid sack total (11), a handful of turnovers (7), and very little to show for it. This team has allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing just once and have just one great game against an opposing passing game, though that was an admittedly impressive effort against the Seahawks just last week. I don’t expect the Vikings to continue to be awful defensively for much longer, if they didn’t already snap out of it last week, and Atlanta might be just the opportunity they need to get back on track.

One final note: Dan Bailey has missed a pair of field goals that should be well within his range, so if the game hinges on a kick that might be a problem.

How the Vikings have changed since the last time

How the Vikings have changed since the last time

Atlanta just played Minnesota last year, so the changes haven’t been sweeping.

The Vikings added Michael Pierce at defensive tackle, Anthony Zettel at defensive end, and Dan Bailey at kicker this offseason in free agency, and aside from Bailey none of those guys have been hugely impactful additions.

The draft has yielded more fruit. Justin Jefferson has 19 receptions for 371 yards, an average of 19.5 yards per reception, and is a home run hitter for an offense that needs one. Cornerback Jeff Gladney is a starter, albeit not a great one thus far, while Cameron Dantzler at corner and C.J. Wonnum at defensive end have chipped in. The Vikings had a massive draft class that they’ll hope shored up their depth for years to come, but those are the impact players thus far.

The Vikings are, by and large, the same team the Falcons got crushed by last year. Jefferson will be a problem to deal with and Gladney will be someone Matt Ryan tries to pick on, but otherwise the challenge here should be familiar enough for Atlanta’s new-look coaching staff to prepare for.

What you need to know

Despite Minnesota’s many struggles thus far, they’re still talented enough to win this one handily, especially at home. Alex Mattison is a problem as a runner and a huge problem as a receiver as one of the preferred targets in this passing game, while Justin Jefferson on A.J. Terrell or Isaiah Oliver could be a massive problem. That’s not even mentioning Adam Thielen, who someone is going to have to take care of, and we’re well aware that Atlanta struggles to contain tight ends like Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. It’s going to take the Falcons really getting their stuff together in a massive way, and given what we saw against Carolina, I’m not optimistic.

On the other side of the ball, the task is a bit easier. Minnesota has not been great at any one thing defensively thus far in 2020, but they’ve been particularly anemic against opposing passing games, having allowed over 350 to Aaron Rodgers and over 300 to Ryan Tannehill. If Julio Jones is back and/or Dirk Koetter can be less Dirk Koettery for one week, this team should have little trouble moving the ball through the air. With Todd Gurley and Brian Hill looking strong behind an improved offensive line, they shouldn’t have any trouble running, either.

So much of this game depends on things that are difficult to predict with any confidence right now. Will the Falcons be any better now that the pressure’s off and there’s a new head coach? Will the Vikings be able to build on a competitive game against Seattle, or will they be as lackluster as they’ve been much of the year? The game is likely to come down to which team is able to actually make concrete improvements this week, and I don’t feel like either squad is a strong bet to actually do that.