The Dan Quinn chapter came to an end last week after a 23-16 home loss to the division rival Carolina Panthers. That loss pushed the Atlanta Falcons to an 0-5 record in what has undeniably been a very disappointing season.
Given the expectations that team received prior to the season, what we have seen so far from the Falcons is mind-boggling. As the Quinn era is officially complete, the Falcons are on the road this week looking to knock off the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings and pick up their first win of the season. Let’s break down the upcoming matchup for the Falcons.
About their opponent
As mentioned, the Vikings are 1-4 on the season but out of those four losses, two of them were by one point to Tennessee and Seattle. So yes, the record is ugly but they are a couple of plays away from being a game over .500.
The run game for Minnesota has been outstanding this season and ranks fourth overall in the NFL. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has struggled this season and is second in the NFL in interceptions with seven.
Falcons CBs A.J. Terrell/Kendall Sheffield vs. Vikings WRs Adam Theilen/Justin Jefferson - Because of the inconsistency from Cousins, it has masked how good his receiving duo has been so far this season. Both Thielen and Jefferson are in the top-15 in receiving yards this season, while Jefferson is fifth in the league in yards per catch with 19.5. To dive a little deeper on Jefferson, according to Next Gen Stats, Jefferson is 12th in the NFL in yards after catch per reception with a 6.9 average. Not only is he hauling in catches but he’s getting extra yards with the ball in his hands.
I pinpointed Terrell and Sheffield specifically because those two have played the best among the cornerback group, but with a lot shuffling in the pre-snap motion phase, either corner may see a share of Theilen or Jefferson on numerous occasions. Terrell and Sheffield are two athletic corners that have a blend of size and speed in their repertoire. In order for this game to not get out of hand, the Vikings WR duo is going to have to be limited as much as possible.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Vikings safeties Anthony Harris/Harrison Smith - Ryan did not have his best game last week against Carolina and because of the position he plays, there is a ton of blame pointed in his direction. This week, he has a pair of safeties who are savvy veterans and are able to make the necessary plays as they hold together a very young Vikings secondary. Harris does not have an interception on the season, but he was tied for first in that category last season. If you recall in the 2019 season opener, Harris recorded a pair of interceptions in the Vikings 28-12 win over the Falcons. Meanwhile, Smith has been the definition of consistency as he made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons.
When it comes to attacking the Vikings in the passing game, the Falcons have favorable matchups on the outside with receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. We all know that and the Vikings are probably aware of it also. But Ryan MUST be safe with the ball, especially with two playmakers on the back end who are excellent at disguising coverages and making timely turnovers.
The calling card for the Vikings in recent seasons was tough-nosed defense and an efficient run game on offense. While the run game has held it’s end of the bargain so far, the defense has not. This part of the column is not going to take a deep analytical dive but it is worth noting how the Vikings defense has taken a considerable step back this season.
Jointly, the Vikings defense ranks 27th in scoring defense and 26th in overall defense. They have six players that have allowed at least 10 receptions and a completion percentage of 66% or better. In comparison, the Falcons have the exact same amount. The Vikings also have five defenders that have allowed 10 receptions or more and a QB rating of 103.1 or better. The Falcons defense also matches that category. So while most of you have observed a woeful Falcons defense, Minnesota presents an opportunity for the Falcons to find their groove also.
The record says one thing and the numbers deliver a message also but the Vikings have had the Falcons number as of late. Minnesota has won the last four meetings between the two teams dating back to 2014. Believe it or not, the Vikings are capable of digging out of this early season hole and with a bye week next week, this is an opportunity for the Vikes to get a win and get some needed rest before they try to make a midseason run.
No Dan Quinn roaming the sidelines will certainly feel a little weird. But the insertion of Raheem Morris as interim coach can very well inject some life into this team — a team that desperately needs it. Getting their star receiver in Jones back on the field should help things on offense. The absence of stud running back Dalvin Cook hurts the Vikings offense.
This is very much so a winnable contest for the Falcons. But the question is, how bad do they want it?