As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, we asked Wes Durham, the team’s play-by-play broadcaster for STAR 94 and 790 the Zone, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report on Atlanta. Here are four things you need to know …
1) The Falcons had a lot of success using their no-huddle offense in last Sunday’s 23-17 win over Tennessee, ultimately piling up 432 yards of offense.
Needless to say, an Atlanta offense with Matt Ryan at quarterback, Michael Turner in the backfield, Roddy White at wide receiver and Tony Gonzalez at tight end will give the Vikings plenty to worry about. But last Sunday’s win over the Titans may have been catalyzed by Harry Douglas, who started in place of Julio Jones.
“Harry can play both the edge and also in the slot,” Durham said. “And that allows them essentially to put one guy on the field who can do both things depending on how they want to line it up.”
That flexibility allows the Falcons to go no-huddle with a chance to create mismatches.
Furthermore, Turner is becoming more trusted as a pass-catcher. And Ryan, while not lighting things up, is still having a solid season and has thrown for 942 yards with six TD tosses in the past three games.
2) After a heartbreaking and highly-scrutinized 26-23 overtime loss to New Orleans in Week 10, the Falcons didn’t let their disappointment linger.
After Mike Smith’s questionable overtime call to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 29 backfired against the Saints, the Falcons moved on. Proof: they scored on their first series Sunday against Tennessee and built an early 13-0 lead, pushing the pace on offense and trying to seize momentum early.
“I think given the way they had lost to the Saints, they had a mindset where they wanted to build confidence quickly and from within rather than sitting back and letting the game come to them,” Durham said. “I think that showed this coaching staff understood not only the Xs and Os piece of the puzzle but the mental aspect as well.”
The Falcons have been a resilient bunch. They started 2-3 with losses to Chicago, Tampa Bay and Green Bay but have now won four of five. And that high-profile letdown against New Orleans didn’t seem to faze them.
“The perception nationally and the perception within the locker room were two different things,” Durham said. “The national perception was ‘How could the guy go for it?’ The perception inside the locker room was ‘That’s the kind of confidence Mike has in his football team.’ I don’t think that side was well known because Mike Smith is not Rex Ryan. He’s not one of these guys who’s out on the media line all the time. … Mike is only a football coach with no interest in being a media darling. So on a national level, not enough people understood the confidence level this football team has in their coach and vice versa.”
3) Ray Edwards is not having the kind of year Atlanta was hoping for.
The Vikings let Edwards walk during free agency, casting a vote of confidence that Brian Robison would be a capable replacement. Through 10 games, Robison has 5.5 sacks; Edwards has just two.
Edwards had offseason knee surgery, which Durham believes has held him back some.
“He’s been a step slow and has just missed [getting to the quarterback a handful of times,” Durham said. “Look, I think he’s going to be a great player here. His best football here is a head of him.”
Across the defensive front, John Abraham is still a force, now with 106.5 career sacks. And tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters are starting to come on some as well.
4) Just like every Vikings opponent, the Falcons are worried about containing Jared Allen.
Allen’s sack streak ended Sunday at 11 games. But now he gets an opportunity to attack a team with question marks at left tackle. Sam Baker was the opening day starter. But a back injury has kept him out of Atlanta’s past four games. Baker is back at practice this week but may not be able to leapfrog Will Svitek, who has been solid in his place.
Durham said he won’t be surprised if the Falcons use several two tight end sets with Michael Palmer called on to help wall off Allen. Fullback Mike Cox may be used similarly.
“It takes a village to hold a child down as they say,” Durham said. “And Jared Allen is a handful. At times in the past, Atlanta has been frustrated by big pass rushers. But outside of what Julius Peppers did in Week 1, they’ve done a pretty good job this season.”
Atlanta allowed 13 sacks in the first three games this season, but has surrendered only seven since.