The Vikings are back on the road this weekend and will fly south to tussle with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Falcons boast a 6-4 record, are in 2nd place in the NFC South, and are coming off a 23-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at home.
Home for the Falcons is the Georgia Dome, a place where they’ve won 16 of their last 21 regular season games. The Vikings haven’t played Atlanta on the road since 2005 – a 30-10 loss – and have logged a 1-1 record against the Falcons since 2007.
There will be a lot of familiarity when the Vikings and Falcons clash on Sunday. Vikings WR Michael Jenkins played for the Falcons from 2004-10, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was an assistant coach in Atlanta from 2006-10, and Vikings WRs coach George Stewart held the same position for the Falcons from 2003-06. In addition to that, former Vikings DE Ray Edwards is now a starter for Atlanta’s defense. Edwards had 8.5 sacks for the Vikings in 2009 and 8.0 more in 2010, but so far this season for the Falcons he has just 2.0.
The Falcons entered the 2011 season with high expectations. They won their division in 2010 and, consequently, hosted a home playoff game. The Green Bay Packers marched into the Georgia Dome and steamrolled the Falcons, though, which prompted the franchise to make a few slight adjustments before making another run at the Lombardi Trophy this season. The highlight of Atlanta’s offseason came during the draft when they traded up from the bottom of the first round to the sixth spot so they could select WR Julio Jones. Typically a run-leaning offense, the move to acquire Jones infused the offense with another aerial threat and it also laid the foundation for sky-high expectations in 2011.
Atlanta got off to an uneven start this season, moving to 3-3 after a Week 6 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Two more wins sandwiched around a bye got the Falcons to 5-3, and things were looking good for head coach Mike Smith’s team. But then the New Orleans Saints came to town, solved the Georgia Dome hex and took control of the division with a 26-23 overtime victory. The Falcons defeated Tennessee the following week, and will now look to log consecutive victories while hosting the Vikings on Sunday.
If Atlanta is to defeat the Vikings, they’ll have to do so without Jones. The 1st-round pick is dealing with a hamstring injury and said earlier this week he’s unsure if he’ll be able to play on Sunday. The Falcons have plenty of weapons even if Jones doesn’t play. They feature one of the NFL’s best RBs in Michael Turner, who ranks 5th in the NFL with 888 rushing yards and also has 8 rushing TDs. When Atlanta attacks through the air, TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Roddy White are the primary targets. Gonzalez and White have combined for 104 catches and 10 TDs already this season.
Guiding the Falcons offense is Matt Ryan, a 4th-year veteran who is completing 60.8% of his passes. Ryan’s career TD-INT ratio is 81-44, an impressive mark, and in 2011 that ratio is 15-10. He’s a composed and poised passer in the pocket who prefers to stand in and throw in the face or pressure rather than escape and get work done on the run.
It’s fair to call the Falcons offense a balanced attack. Atlanta has 361 passing attempts and 291 rushing attempts, and they’ve scored 15 TDs through the air compared to 10 on the ground. The Falcons have the NFL’s 12th ranked total offense and the 14th-ranked scoring offense.
Defensively, the Falcons are better than the statistics say. Their head coach is a former defensive assistant coach for the Ravens and Defensive Coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Atlanta has the 15th ranked total defense and is ranked just 26th against the pass, but only San Francisco is better against the run. Atlanta employs a 4-3 scheme that features solid starters across the board. Edwards and 4-time Pro Bowler John Abraham anchor the team’s pass rush from the DE position, while a trio of young LBs – Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nichols and Sean Witherspoon – hold things down in the middle of the field. In the secondary, the Falcons feature Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes – one of my favorite restricted free agents from last offseason – at CB and then Thomas DeCoud and William Moore at safety.
That’s a quick look at the Falcons, as the Vikings begin their on-field preparations today and work toward their Week 12 showdown with the Falcons this Sunday. We’ll have plenty more today and throughout the week, so stay tuned to vikings.com for everything Purple.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 32 Comments »