General News

VikingsTerritory Game Preview, Vikings vs Falcons

What to know about the Vikings' Week 1 matchup.

Inactives

Players to watch

Vikings-

By: Adam Nelson

The Vikings’ dreadful tie against Green Bay in Week 2 last season would come back to haunt them, as they missed the playoffs by only half a win. That particular failure can be directly attributed to Daniel Carlson, who went 0 for 3 on field-goal attempts. Carlson, a fifth-round 2018 draft pick, would subsequently be cut before signing with the Raiders and going 16 for 17 on field goals for the rest of the season. Such is life being a Vikings kicker. But Carlson’s failure to launch that day isn’t the single reason last season ended in bitter disappointment. There are several members of the squad who failed to produce, or whose absence had a direct negative impact on the team. Let’s look at some of the returning players who are looking to make a statement this Sunday, as well as a couple of newcomers looking to make headlines in their NFL regular-season debut.

Dalvin Cook, RB: Perhaps the most depressing story from 2018, Dalvin Cook still hasn’t participated in a full season. After recovering from his season-ending ACL tear in 2017, the second-round pick out of Florida State was looking to make a statement in his return to the field. But it took only two games before he had to sit out due to injury. Cook returned in Week 4, but the sophomore running back was then sidelined for four consecutive weeks due to a hamstring injury. Once he returned he still failed to get a rushing touchdown until Week 15 against Miami. He would end the 2018 campaign with 4 combined touchdowns, 133 carries, and 615 rushing yards.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, Cook reflected on his desire to return to the field too quickly. “I wanted to be on the field, I wanted to be there every week, so I tried to go out there every week and it set me back.” His determination is unshakeable, but impatience set him back and limited his productivity in the second half of last season. Another week or two on the bench may have done immense good for his recovery. When asked how he feels now entering Week 1 of 2019, Cook responded that he feels totally recovered: “This is what it actually feels like.”

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Cook should flourish this season as the Vikings attempt to use a two-back offensive formation. He will share the ball-carrying duties with rookie Alexander Mattison (third-round, Boise St), fifth-year Ameer Abdullah, and second-year Mike Boone. Expect Cook to break some tackles this Sunday and force his way into the endzone.

Josh Doctson, WR: The fourth-year receiver was signed days ago after the Washington Redskins failed to trade him and subsequently released him from his contract. Picked 22nd overall in the 2016 draft, Doctson is projected to be an excellent WR3. His history with QB Kirk Cousins on the Redskins piqued the Vikings’ interest, as did his experience as a starter. With the exception of an Achilles injury his rookie season, Doctson has remained healthy and productive. He finished 2018 with 44 receptions, 532 receiving yards, and two touchdowns last year.

Olabisi Johnson, WR: A seventh-round pick from Colorado State this year, Johnson made the 53-man cut with only five receptions, 87 rec. yards, and one touchdown in three preseason games. That was enough to impress the coaching staff and front office as Johnson beat out returning wide receivers like Laquon Treadwell (2017 first-round pick) and Brandon Zylstra. Johnson is considered a deep-ball threat, something which the Vikings could use more of. Doctson will most likely see a majority of the WR3 action, so Johnson may have more of an impact on special teams this first season.

Chad Beebe, WR: Making the roster was hard enough, but staying on it will be harder. An undrafted free agent, Beebe signed with the Vikings last season but saw limited action. He played only 3 games, accumulating a meager four receptions and 39 rec. yards. His preseason performance this year wasn’t any better, as he only managed a single reception for seven yards in three games. Many speculated that Beebe would be cut in favor of someone like Zylstra, but Beebe seemed to make a case for himself on special teams, as he is currently listed as the second-string holder and punt returner. If Beebe doesn’t show up and show off in the first couple weeks he may find himself benched to make way for Johnson, so expect him to put himself into Cousins’ line of sight on every snap he gets.

Pat Elflein, LG, and Garrett Bradbury, C: The offensive line was nothing short of atrocious last season. Less of a brick wall and more of a pep assembly banner, it was the most glaring need for Minnesota entering the 2019 draft. GM Rick Spielman was more than happy to select Garrett Bradbury (North Carolina St.) with the 18th overall pick. Bradbury’s plays center so veteran Pat Elflein will be moving back to left guard, a position he spent time playing in at Ohio State. Elflein earned an overall grade of 41.9 from Pro Football Focus last season, as he tied for second-most tackles allowed (versus all other guards). Both linemen have lofty expectations set upon their shoulders, as Minnesota fans will be watching the entire line carefully all season long.

Xavier Rhodes, CB: Minnesota’s defense is second to none, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. It makes sense as they have no shortage of weapons, such as defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr, or safety Harrison Smith. Is Xavier Rhodes still part of that arsenal? Head Coach Mike Zimmer was quoted earlier this year saying that “he needs to play better. I’m going to make sure that he plays better because those guys are important in our defense and what we do.”

Rhodes had a poor year last season in every category, including defending only seven passes and recording the fewest tackles in any of his seasons (46 combined in 2018). Hampered by several injuries, his lackluster performance was especially discouraging as fellow cornerback Mike Hughes, the Vikes 2018 first-round draft pick, tore his ACL in the Week 6 matchup against Arizona. With a greater emphasis placed upon the veteran pass defender, Rhodes failed to rise to the occasion. In the middle of a five-year contract, now is the time for him to be more aggressive and return to his All-Pro form that Minnesota has seen and come to expect. While Hughes has been removed from the PUP list, he is still unlikely to play in Week 1, and Holton Hill is suspended through Week 8, so it will be all eyes on Rhodes for now.

Falcons-

By: Kirby O’Connor

The Atlanta Falcons will be looking to get back to postseason contention in 2019. That starts on Sunday with a visit to US Bank Stadium and the Minnesota Vikings. The Falcons had a disappointing 2018 that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015. With a record of 7-9 they did not have a chance to take the NFC South from the 13-3 Saints and a wild card spot was completely out of the question.

Actually, there is a lot of similarity between the Falcons and the Vikings entering this season. Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons that they were supposed to compete for a championship. The Vikings have a deadly receiver pair in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the Falcons have Julio Jones and Muhamed Sanu. The Falcons made strides to improve their offensive line by investing two first round picks in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGarey, while also signing veteran guard James Carpenter to hold a spot until Jamon Brown is ready. The Vikings made similar moves by signing Josh Kline, shifting Pat Elflien to guard, and spending their first round pick on center Garrett Bradbury.

It should be a great matchup for the first week of the Minnesota Vikings season.

Julio Jones: The NFL’s leading receiver of 2018 just got a new contract extension worth $66 million dollars this week that will make him an Atlanta Falcon through 2023. This is news because Jones skipped some team activities this offseason and looked like he might have sat out until a new deal was done. He was also reportedly dealing with some soreness, but has said that he expects to play.

Jones has historically had a tough time against the Vikings and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Since Rhodes joined the Vikings in 2014, Jones has faced Minnesota three times and caught 13 passes for 162 yards, and zero touchdowns. That means he averages just 4.33 receptions, 54 yards, and zero touchdowns against the Rhodes led Vikings. This is way under Jones’ career per game averages of 6.2 receptions, 96.7 yards, and .46 touchdowns.

Rhodes wants to continue slowing down one of the games best players, and a standout performance from him will make Vikings fans feel much better about a mediocre preseason. However, nobody should ever doubt Julio Jones. He’s one of the biggest, fastest, and strongest receivers in the league today. This is maybe the most compelling matchup of week one of the NFL season.

Keanu Neal: Flipping the script, the Falcons have a secondary that is looking to do much better than it did last season when they surrendered the 6th most passing yards in the NFL. A big part of improving that defense is getting fourth year safety Keanu Neal back on the field and playing at a high level.

Neal, much like Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes, missed practically all of last season after suffering an ACL tear in week one. The season before, Neal was a pro-bowler and recorded 113 tackles and three forced fumbles. In that 2017 season, he was second in the team in tackles behind linebacker Deion Jones.

Neal isn’t the only Falcons defender looking to return to form in 2019. Ricardo Allen tore his achilles in week three of last season and is looking to make a triumphant return while improving on a solid 2017. Desmond Trufant did a decent job, but is still trying to recapture his 2015 season where he collected a pro-bowl invite.

Overall, the Falcons secondary is not great, but they have some talent. Neal and Allen might be the lynch pins and they will be tested right away in week one facing Diggs, Thielien and company. Neal has the talent and ability to be a top safety in the NFL, but it will be interesting to see if he plays the entire game after coming back from his ACL tear. Either way, keep an eye on the entire Atlanta secondary as they try to shut down a potent Vikings air attack.

Chris Lindstrom: Lindstrom was a prospect that was highly touted entering this year’s draft. The Boston College product was projected by many to be one of the best guards of the class, but many had him projected in the late first-early second round. So it was a bit surprising when Atlanta took him off the board with the 14th overall pick. With Jonah Wlliams out all of 2019 with a shoulder injury, Lindstrom is the highest drafted active rookie lineman, just ahead of Vikings rookie Garrett Bradbury who was taken 18th overall. 

This is a guy who I personally will be watching with great interest as he was a lineman that I would have loved for the Vikings to pick up if they were given the chance. However, I think everybody should be watching him and the entirety of the Falcons offensive line because it is very similar to the Vikings line. Last season, Atlanta was unable to move the ball on the ground ending with just 1573 yards rushing, good for 27th in the NFL.

Chris Lindstrom was brought in because he looked like one of the best running blocking offensive lineman in this year’s draft. Similar to Garret Bradbury, Lindstrom is expected to step into the role of not only starter, but leader in his first NFL action. Lindstrom’s task is a bit easier as he gets to play next to six time pro-bowler Alex Mack, but it will be interesting to see what he can do against a Vikings defensive line that needs to be stouter.

Dan Quinn: Dan Quinn isn’t a player, but he may be the most interesting Atlanta Falcon to watch on Sunday. This game will be unique as it will feature two head coaches calling the defenses. After the Falcons fired defensive coordinator Marquand Alexander Manuel, Quinn decided he would handle defensive coordinator and play calling duties all by himself for the 2019 season. This is similar to how Mike Zimmer handles the Vikings defense as he calls all the plays, but he does have his protege George Edwards to help with coordinator duties.

This is interesting because it’s almost a complete departure from the NFL norm and current trends. Both teams are trying to reassert dominance on the defensive side to win games. Sure, both have offenses that are capable of putting up points in bunches, but they really want to win on the defensive side of the ball. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons can do what Zimmer’s Vikings have done in the past and become a dominant force that can control the game. If both defenses come to play, we might see another 10-3 ball game.

Stats

By: Sean Borman

A weekly look at how the Minnesota Vikings match up against their opponent by the numbers. See how the offensive and defensive units compare to the rest of the league while viewing the offensive leaders, defensive leaders, and noteworthy stats involving this week’s game. Note: These #’s will update to 2019 after Week 1.

VIKINGS

  • Minnesota’s home record in 2018 was 5-3

2018 offensive leaders

  • Passing: QB Kirk Cousins: 4,298 yards with 30 TD’s and 10 INT’s
  • Rushing yards: RB Dalvin Cook: 615
  • Rushing TD’s: RB Latavius Murray: 6
  • Receptions: WR Adam Thielen: 113
  • Receiving yards: WR Adam Thielen: 1,373
  • Receiving TD’s: WR A. Thielen & S. Diggs: 9

2018 team offense

  • Total offense: 20th (345.6 YPG)
  • Scoring: 19th (22.5 PPG)
  • Passing: 13th (252.2 YPG)
  • Rushing: 30th (93.3 YPG)
  • Turnover ratio: 19th (+0)
  • Third down conversions: 26th (36%)

2018 defensive leaders

  • Tackles: LB Eric Kendricks: 108
  • Sacks: DE Danielle Hunter: 14.5
  • Interceptions: H. Smith & A. Harris: 3

2018 team defense

  • Total defense: 4th (309.7 YPG)
  • Scoring: 9th (21.3 PPG)
  • Passing: 3rd (196.2 YPG)
  • Rushing: 15th (113.4 YPG)
  • Third-down conversions: 1st (30%)

FALCONS

  • Atlanta’s away record in 2018 was 3-5

2018 offensive leaders

  • Passing: QB Matt Ryan: 4,924 yards with 35 TD’s & 7 INT’s
  • Rushing yards: RB Tevin Coleman: 800
  • Rushing TD’s: T. Coleman & I. Smith: 4
  • Receptions: WR Julio Jones: 113
  • Receiving yards: WR Julio Jones: 1,677
  • Receiving TD’s: WR Calvin Ridley: 10

2018 team offense

  • Total offense: 6th (389.1 YPG)
  • Scoring: 10th (25.9 PPG)
  • Passing: 4th (290.8 YPG)
  • Rushing: 27th (98.3 YPG)
  • Turnover ratio: 18th (+1)
  • Third-down conversions: 4th (45%)

2018 defensive leaders

  • Tackles: LB De’Vondre Campbell: 94
  • Sacks: DE Takkarist McKinley: 7
  • Interceptions: S Demontae Kazee: 7

2018 team defense

  • Total defense: 28th (384.5 YPG)
  • Scoring: 25th (26.4 PPG)
  • Passing: 27th (259.6 YPG)
  • Rushing: 25th (124.9 YPG)
  • Third-down conversions: 31st (49%)

Key Matchups

By: Deshawn Vaughan

The trenches

Whoever wins at the line of scrimmage is going to win this game. There are several key matchups in the trenches that will decide the outcome of this game. Grady Jarrett vs rookie center Garrett Bradbury is the most important. If Bradbury can win his matchup, the Vikings should be able to have their way with the Falcons defense. The Falcons edge rush isn’t very good and neither tackle should have much trouble protecting Cousins. On the other side, Hunter and Griffen are ready to get after Matt Ryan all game. The biggest matchup for the Vikings defensive line is the rotation on the defensive interior vs center Alex Mack and rookie Chris Lindstrom. Without interior pressure the Vikings will struggle to generation consistent pass rush to keep the Falcons offense off balance.

Julio Jones vs the Vikings secondary

While this hinges on how well the pass rush plays, Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings secondary will be looking to shut out Julio Jones. They’ve done it three times in a row, and don’t expect this time to be any different. With a combination of coverages, Julio should be contained. The only other worry is leaving someone like Calvin Ridley in single coverage. The second year wide receiver scored ten touchdowns last season and will burn the Vikings if given a chance.

Stefon Diggs vs Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee 

To say these guys aren’t on Diggs’ level is an understatement, but it’s always worth noting Diggs is hobbled b a hamstring, and might not even play. If he can go and be at full speed the Falcons have no choice but to play coverage, instead of loading the box. Both Thielen and Diggs are going to require double coverage. Which should leave everything open for the other receiving members of the Vikings. Expect big games from Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph.

History

By: Joe Johnson

Perhaps it’s their arena football-esque jerseys, or my general lack of, you know, football knowledge, but it seems like the Falcons haven’t been around that long. So, it may come as a surprise that the Vikings and Falcons have a pretty long history together.

They first met in December of 1966, which is right around the time that the “real” Paul McCartney supposedly died and was replaced with what people online affectionately call “Faul” (as in fake Paul). Thems were crazy times, clearly, and the Vikes and… Falcs (?) have faced one another 28 times over the years (two of which came in the playoffs, with neither of those two being one of the most heart breaking moments in Vikings history… Cough).

I’m joking, of course, one of the most defining games in Vikings history came against the Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship game at the Metrodome. That game… Was so important, to me. I was 13 at the time and it was when I truly became a Vikings fan. Randy Moss’ rookie season will always go down as the greatest single season in Vikings history to me, as it just redefined what I thought was possible from the wide receiver position. That season, even more so than his 2007 season in New England, was proof that Moss is and was the best wide receiver in the history of the game (including Jerry Rice), and if you re-watch that NFC Championship game, there were a couple opportunities where, had Cunningham just thrown the ball a bit differently, we’d be talking about the ’98 season as the best in team history (even more than we already do, of course).

But because it’s just too painful to really break down, and because the Vikings and Falcons aren’t facing one another in the playoffs on Sunday, let’s instead talk about their regular season stats (also because that’s the info that was available on ProFootballReference.com).

  • As previously mentioned, the Vikings and Falcons have played one another 26 times in the regular season.
    The Vikings lead that all-time series 17-9, and have averaged 25.26 points during that time (with a total of 657 points vs. the Falcons’ 461 (17.73 average)).
  • The Vikings had a five-game win streak from 1987 to 1999 vs. the Falcons’ two game series (which they’ve done three times).
  • The Vikings last won at home against the Falcons in 2014, where as the Falcons last won on the road against the Vikes in 2008.
  • The biggest home win by the Vikings was by 40 points in, surprisingly, 1968 (with a final score of 47-7) and the Falcons biggest win by a lowly seven points (which they’ve done twice).
  • The Vikings are also on a three game win streak right now and have a 10-3 record at home against the Dirty Birds.
  • The last time the Falcons played the Vikings in Minnesota was the fourth week of Teddy Bridgewater’s rookie season. That week was also one of the best game of Teddy’s then-young career, with 317 yards and a rushing touchdown. The Vikings won that game 41-28.

More Week 1 Coverage

Vikings vs. Falcons: 4 Things to Watch for in Week 1

Hamstring Problem Will Affect Vikings’ WR Stefon Diggs

Falcons vs Vikings: A Gambler’s Guide

Time To Talk Dirty Bird

Load the Box: Falcons Edition

Falcons-Vikings Game (Season) Preview: It is Time!

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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