With the Vikings’ week one kickoff looming a mere four days away, it’s time to break down their opponent; the ‘Dirty Birds’ from Atlanta.
In two seasons removed from their impossible 2016 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, the Falcons look to be an inferior team than they were at the time of that ignominious defeat.
Atlanta went 10-6 in 2017, won a wildcard playoff game and then lost a close divisional contest to eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.
In 2018, they fell to 7-9 and did not make the NFL tournament.
For that indignity, the Falcons’ brass decided to fire all of their coordinators –including the special teams coach.
To start–like the Vikings in 2018–the Falcons couldn’t run the ball.
They ranked 27th in the league in yards (1573), and 30th in attempts (351), nearly as bad as Minnesota, who came in at 30th in yards (1463), and 27th in attempts (357).
Back In Black
One of the reasons for the Falcons’ lousy ground game was a season ending injury to their featured running back, DeVonte Freeman, who only played two games before ending up on IR in September.
Freeman has returned for 2019, but his backup, Tevin Coleman (Atlanta’s leading rusher in 2018 with 800 yards), has departed via free agency to San Francisco.
Also back is Dirk Koetter, who was offensive coordinator in Atlanta from 2012 to 2014, before leaving to Tampa Bay and becoming their head coach.
To open that position, the axe fell upon now-former OC Steve Sarkisian, who despite watching over a Falcon offense that was top 10 in 2018 without their workhorse running back (Freeman), did not duplicate the number one offense of 2016 designed by now San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan.
It’s pretty easy to call BS on that one, considering Shanahan’s offenses in San Francisco have been statistically ranked at 20th and 21st in his two seasons there.
But NFL executives will be NFL executives.
Reforming That Line
Also similar to the 2018 troubles of Minnesota was the Falcon offensive line, which suffered injuries and subpar play throughout the year.
Two first-round picks and two free agents were added in the offseason, making this group clearly improved on paper, but yet to be proven on the game field.
It will be interesting to see which offensive line has improved the most from their respective poor last seasons. It also may determine the winner of this game.
For the record, Ryan threw for almost 5,000 yards last year (4924), with 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, while his high-flying partner caught 113 balls for 1677 yards and eight touchdowns.
Atlanta’s offense has and always will run through them while they remain in black-and-red.
Although Julio Jones is now 30 and listed with a foot injury, he is expected to be in the air in a week one at US Bank Stadium.
Defensively, Dan Quinn (at one time the defensive coordinator watching over the ‘Legion of Boom’ in Seattle), has decided that the reason his Atlanta team was 28th in yards allowed last year was because he wasn’t calling the plays.
We’ll see. With former Falcon DC Marquand Manuel getting a pink slip, Quinn will take over that duty in 2019.
Stealing a win in Minnesota would be a nice way to validate the Falcons’ method of “cleaning house” as working, but the whole thing smacks of an executive influence over a coach that does not have solid footing in Atlanta.
The Vikings have won the last three games against the Falcons, in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and are favored to win this contest by a four points by Las Vegas odds.
Here’s hoping the contest does not hinge on a Minnesota field goal.
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