Major changes are coming to the Falcons after an 0-5 start saw the team move on from head coach Dan Quinn and longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Interim head coach Raheem Morris and new coordinators Jeff Ulbrich (defense) and Bernie Parmalee (special teams) will now have an opportunity to show whether they can squeeze anything more out of this roster than the previous staff members.
Atlanta does get some luck this week as they face another uninspiring team in the 1-4 Vikings. Minnesota is one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL through the first part of the season due to a poor start on offense and a struggling young defense. Statistically, the Vikings should be slightly favored, but this might be the best chance yet for the Falcons to notch their first win.
Here are some of the players, coaches, and matchups I’ll be watching closely in Week 6.
Julio Jones and the WR corps
There’s no sugarcoating it: the Falcons offense has underperformed over the past two games. The injury and subsequent loss of Julio Jones has certainly contributed to those issues, but other players like Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage have thus far failed to step up and fill in adequately after hot starts to the season. Somehow, WR4 Olamide Zaccheaus has been the most effective of the bunch since the start of Week 4.
Julio appears to be set to return from his hamstring injury, as he has no designation for Sunday’s game. If he’s really back to something resembling full health, that would be a big boost for a Dirk Koetter offense that desperately needs his talents. Hopefully his return will also lift up the rest of the receiving corps against a poor Vikings pass defense.
On a similar note, Atlanta also needs a better performance from it’s franchise quarterback in Week 6. Matt Ryan had an excellent start to the season before hitting a slump in the final quarter of the Bears game. He seemingly hasn’t been able to recover sense, and the passing game has been visibly off. It’s unfortunate that Ryan has to play a nearly-perfect game for the Falcons to be competitive, but that’s where we are right now.
Luckily, Ryan will have a much easier matchup this week against a Minnesota defense that is a shadow of its former self. The Vikings went with a youth movement in the secondary, and it hasn’t gone as well as planned. Add a nagging injury to star EDGE Danielle Hunter and you’ve got a recipe for a disappointing unit. Minnesota is also likely to be down two depth CBs in Week 6: Kris Boyd has been declared out, while Holton Hill is doubtful.
The interior defensive line
The Vikings offense struggled mightily to start the season, particularly through the air. While they’ve improved measurably over the past few games, there’s still a glaring weakness: the interior offensive line, which is among the worst in the league. C Garrett Bradbury, LG Dakota Dozier, and RG Dru Samia have formed a truly poor pass protecting interior over the first 5 games of the season, which has opened up QB Kirk Cousins to a ton of pressure.
Making matters worse, Samia has been declared out for Week 6, forcing rookie Ezra Cleveland into the lineup. This provides an opportunity for the strength of Atlanta’s defensive line—DT Grady Jarrett—to have a very strong performance. Jarrett has a chance to wreak havoc on an undermanned Minnesota interior, which could force Cousins into mistakes and help keep the game from turning into a shootout. Tyeler Davison and the other DTs will also be integral in limiting the damage the Vikings can do on the ground, where they’ll be down star RB Dalvin Cook.
Raheem Morris and Jeff Ulbrich
Can the Falcons squeeze anything more out of their defense with a new head coach and defensive coordinator calling the shots? We’ll find out over the remainder of the season, but the team has a chance to get back on the right track against a mistake-prone Vikings offense. Notably, the defense improved markedly last season after Morris took the reins from Dan Quinn, so perhaps there’s hope for a similar turnaround this season.
New DC Jeff Ulbrich mentioned that there could be significant personnel changes in an effort to improve the unit with competition. Hopefully this means less of struggling CB Isaiah Oliver and more of rookie A.J. Terrell, second-year CB Kendall Sheffield, and veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson. I expect we’ll also see plenty of rookie LB Mykal Walker, as Minnesota has been quite fond of heavier personnel packages thus far in 2020.
Who are some players, coaches, or matchups you’ll be watching closely when the Falcons take on the Vikings in Week 6?