The Vikings have been known to have some good defenses over the years. Unfortunately for them, 2020 has not been a similar season. This is a defense that has give up over 27 points in every single game and 30 or more points in 3 of their 5 games. Can Atlanta take advantage of that unfortunate trend? Let’s examine the match up.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been a mixed bag all year. They are just not very good at run blocking across the board. Tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary have been our two best pass blockers while the interior has struggled somewhat. Chris Lindstrom has faired ok, but Alex Mack and James Carpenter have been a weakness, though Mack is clearly the better of the two. In total, the unit has played better than they did last year but they are still prone to giving up pressures periodically.
The Vikings best pass rusher - Danielle Hunter - is still on IR and won’t be playing. Free agent signing Yannick Ngakoue has been a good pickup, netting 5 sacks so far though he is a liability in the running game. The defensive interior of Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson aren’t doing much up the middle while Ifeadi Odenigbo hasn’t been particularly impactful on the outside. Their rotational guys in the nickel aren’t any better either.
Without Hunter, this unit just isn’t as intimidating as it has been in the past. Ngakoue is a good pass rusher, but his struggle in run support gives Atlanta a blueprint for trying to neutralize him.
The skill positions
Much has been made of Matt Ryan and his struggles this year, but I believe they are overstated. It’s the timing and nature of his struggles that is drawing so much attention. Regardless, he will need to play better (side eyes to Dirk Koetter) if the offense is going to click. Likewise, our offensive coordinator would be wise to get Todd Gurley the ball outside the hashes, where he has done the most damage this year. Based on that, you kind of expect Koetter to run him up the middle 15 times. Calvin Ridley continues to have a strong season, though his drops have picked up as of late. Hayden Hurst hasn’t yet delivered like fans hoped and Russell Gage has been somewhat invisible the last few weeks. The whole offense has struggled with Julio Jones out, so if he misses this game (which seems likely) the team will need a different game plan or they will continue to struggle to put points up.
Minnesota has already lost Anthony Barr for the year with a pectoral injury, leaving Todd Davis, Erick Kendricks and Eric Wilson in the middle of the field. Davis is playing well, but this unit is not playing well right now. Safety Harrison Smith is still one of the best in the league and while Anthony Harris is having an off-year, he’s still capable of turning it on at any moment. The cornerbacks, however, are not particularly good. Mike Hughes, rookie Cameron Dantzler and rookie Jeff Gladney are all struggling, presenting a good opportunity for the Falcons receiving corps. The Vikings have some good players on the back end of the defense, but the situation at corner is a big weakness right now.
This will ultimately come down to Dirk Koetter. He simply can’t call a decent offense without Julio. If he can’t adjust and take better advantage of Ridley, Hurst and Gurley, we’re going to be in for a frustrating experience. This should not be a toss-up, but the offensive coordinator is a downgrade that helps the Vikings.
With the Falcons defense unlikely to stop Minnesota from scoring, there’s a good chance the offense will be forced to pass more. Todd Gurley has been running better as of late, so his utilization in the game could be pivotal. If they abandon using him early, Atlanta will likely become too one-dimensional to succeed. The talent is there to put points on the board, so while the Falcons get the slight nod here, it is prone to be undone by unbalanced play calling and a frustrating misuse of the talent on the field.