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Smith, Griffen return to practice

Starting safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen both returned to practice today, a good sign for Sunday.

Smith missed practice Wednesday and Thursday due to an injury to his left knee suffered in last weekend’s loss to the Packers.

Griffen, who has been dealing with hip and shoulder injuries, also sat out the first two practices of the week before suiting up today.

The only Vikings player not practicing this morning was rookie cornerback Trae Waynes, who injured his ankle during Thursday’s practice.

Getting to Know the Falcons with Atlanta beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter

For this week’s Getting to Know the Falcons segment, we reached out to long-time Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer and Pro Football Hall of Fame selector D. Orlando Ledbetter.

MC: The Falcons were plus-5 in turnover ratio when they started 5-0. But they’re minus-6 while going 1-4 in the past five games. What are some of the reasons for the dramatic turnaround in turnovers and is this the biggest problem the Falcons have faced the past five games?

DL: “The Falcons have been sloppy with the football over the past five games. There have a been interceptions, fumbles and bad snaps that have led to the turnovers. In addition to the turnovers, the Falcons have been wildly inconsistent on offense.”

MC: What makes Julio Jones even better in offensive coorindator Kyle Shanahan’s offense, what is contributing to what appears to be an inability to develop a productive No. 2 receiver and why isn’t Roddy White more of a factor in this offense?

DL: “Julio Jones is normally the first read in the passing game. He’s usually open. Ryan throws it to him sometimes even when he’s not open and he normally makes the play. They tried to feature Leonard Hankerson at the beginning of the season over Roddy White. When Hankerson went out with a hamstring injury, they then started trying to feature tight end Jacob Tammy as the second option. The new offensive scheme has ignored Roddy White except for in the first game, when he had four targets and last week, when he had nine.”

MC: What are the main reasons for the Falcons owning the league’s No. 1 run defense and how has former Gophers defensive takcle Ra’Shede Hageman contributed in that regard?

DL: “The run defense has been very disciplined. It’s been hard for the opponents to move Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Ra’Shede Hageman out of the way. They have been stout and linebackers Justin Durant and Paul Worrilow have flowed well to the ball. Hageman has been doing a lot of the dirty work. They have been pleased with his play.”

MC: Matt Ryan has 10 interceptions, including six during this five-game slide. How does he look in Shanahan’s offense and how do you see him handling a Vikings’ defense that uses a lot of different looks and blitz packages?

DL: “Matt Ryan does not look comfortable in the new offense. He appears awkward at times with some of the ball movement, bootlegs and waggles. Ryan is preparing for a variety of blitz packages on third down. He believes the Vikings keep it simple on first and second down. He continues to claim that he’s 100 percent healthy despite throwing several errant and wild passes over the past five games.”

MC: How would you describe new coach Dan Quinn’s core defensive philosophy, his blitz tendencies and how has he handled stepping up as a first-year head coach?

DL: “Coach Quinn’s philosophy is to play fast and physical on defense. He’d prefer to sit in a few simple zones and attack the ball with four-man pressure up front. But since the Falcons haven’t been able to mount much of a rush, he has resorted to more blitzes over the past three games. The honeymoon is over for the first-year coach who got out to the five a 5-0 start. He must now show that he can rally the troops to pull out of this slump and do it against a team like Vikings who have a winning record.”

12:00 PM, 11/29 (FOX)
Minnesota 7-3
Atlanta 6-4

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