Last week, the Vikings took on a Packers team that had lost three straight after starting 6-0. We all know which Packers team the Vikings got on Sunday.
This week, the Vikings travel to Atlanta to face another streaky team. The Falcons started 5-0, but have gone 1-4 since then, including a current three-game losing streak.
Here’s our Early Look at the Falcons …
NEXT UP: Atlanta Falcons, noon CT, Sunday, Georgia Dome. The Falcons are 6-4 after starting 5-0. They’ve lost their last three games by a total of seven points. They lost 23-20 at home to Tampa Bay, 17-16 at San Francisco and 24-21 at home to Indianapolis on Sunday. The Falcons are 3-3 in games decided by four points or fewer. They had a two-touchdown lead twice against the Colts and still lost.
KEY INJURY: This is a biggie that could alter the outcome of the game. Running back Devonta Freeman suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit on his third carry against the Colts on Sunday. His status for the Vikings game will unfold during the week as he goes through the NFL’s concussion protocol. Freeman is the league’s fifth leading rusher with 764 yards and nine touchdowns on 167 carries (4.6). The 23-year-old second-year player also is a complete back that can catch (48 receptions). If he can’t play, the running game falls to rookies Tevin Coleman, who has 59 carries for 231 yards (3.9) and Terron Ward, who has 21 carries for 74 yards (3.5).
A LOOK AT THE FILM …
OFFENSE: Matt Ryan (65.5 percent, 15 TDs, 10 INTs, 89.6 passer rating) and the offense is still learning and developing in Year 1 under coordinator Kyle Shanahan. A strength of Shanahan’s is the ability to use deception via the play-fake to throw out of run formations. Of course, it helps when you have a healthy Freeman and perhaps the league’s best receiver in Julio Jones, who already has 89 catches for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns. If Freeman plays, the play-action will be even more dangerous. Turnovers have been Atlanta’s biggest problem during the five-game stretch that’s included four losses and a three-point win over a Titans team quarterbacked by Zach Mettenberger. A solid No. 2 receiver also has been sorely lacking. Leonard Hankerson drops too many balls and is fourth on the team with 26 catches. And Roddy White is virtually invisible with 21 catches. Also, the running game isn’t a lock to perform well even with Freeman. Three weeks ago, the 49ers held Freeman to 12 yards on 12 carries and the Falcons to 17 yards on 14 carries. But make no mistake. This is still a dangerous offense, even when the ball doesn’t go to Jones. The first score against the Colts on Sunday came when fullback Patrick Dimarco lined up at tight end on the left side, opposite Jones. Three Colts converged on Jones in the red zone, leaving Dimarco wide open for an easy 15-yard touchdown reception.
DEFENSE: First-year head coach Dan Quinn was brought in from Seattle to instill toughness and a tenacious defense. Consistency and turnovers have been a problem, but the former Seahawks defensive coordinator is getting some results defensively. The Falcons actually have allowed fewer points during their 1-4 stretch (20.4) than they were giving up during the 5-0 start. The Falcons have the No. 1 run defense and 12 interceptions, twice as many as the Vikings. Against the Colts on Sunday, free safety Ricardo Allen and cornerback Desmond Trufant worked in tandem on a red-zone interception against quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts had three receivers to the left and apparently assumed that Allen, playing single-high safety, would favor that side of the field. But Allen followed Hasselbeck’s eyes the other way. Trufant wouldn’t let the receiver release outside, so Allen didn’t have far to run to make the pick. Allen is one of four Falcons with two interceptions.
TURNOVERS, TURNOVERS, TURNOVERS: It’s tough to turn the page on the Falcons and assume they were just playing over their heads while starting 5-0. Unless a team is completely awful, turnovers come and go. Especially lost fumbles. During their current 1-4 stretch, the Falcons are minus-6 in turnover ratio. They’ve fumbled 10 times. Ten. They’ve lost seven of them. Throw in six Matty Ice picks and, well, you get the sense of why they’ve lost to three teams without a winning record and beaten only the 2-8 Titans during their past five games. Against the Colts, Ryan threw a pick-six and was intercepted in the red zone. Against Tampa Bay, the Falcons fumbled at their own 6 as well as the Tampa Bay 4- and 20-yard lines. In a 31-21 loss to the Saints, they fumbled five times and lost three of them. In their four losses, Atlanta’s opponents have scored 31 points off turnovers.
RANKINGS: Offense: 4th (13 rushing, 5 passing). Defense 10 (1 rushing, 18 passing). Scoring: 8th (25.0). Scoring defense: 12th (21.4).
STAT OF THE WEEK:
Number of teams that rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense. The Vikings play both of them on the road in the next three games. Atlanta is fourth on offense and 10th on defense. Eleven days later, the Vikings travel to Arizona, which is No. 1 offensively and No. 3 defensively. And, oh yeah, in between those two games, they play two-time defending NFC champion Seattle.
THE QUOTE: “The bear’s not loose here inside the building. I want to make sure we’re really clear on that. We’ve got a really talented team, and a coaching staff that really believes in these guys. And we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure as players and coaches we’re going to be at our best every Sunday.”
–Quinn, presumably on how Atlanta is unaffected by the outside gloom and doom surrounding a team that has lost four of five since starting 5-0.
TURNOVER MARGIN: Minus-1 (T-18)
They have 17 takeaways and 18 giveaways. The 18 giveaways is tied for ninth worst in the league.