With the Thanksgiving holiday in the books. . .and the Minnesota Vikings back in first place in the NFC North. . .it's time to focus on this Sunday's contest against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. For this, we had a sit down with Dave Choate, the lead blogger over at The Falcoholic (which might still be my favorite name among the SB Nation NFL sites). We asked him some questions about this weekend's matchup, and answered some questions for him as well. Once they have a link to our answers to their questions, we will put them on our front page. For now, here are the questions that Dave answered for us.
1) After getting off to a 5-0 start, the Falcons have dropped four of their last five games. What has changed from the Falcons' fast start that has caused them to struggle over the last five weeks?
There are so many things going wrong, but it starts and ends with the passing game. There are weeks where nobody's open aside from Julio Jones, Matt Ryan has been making a couple of bone headed decisions per game, and the pass protection has scuffled mightily for a couple of weeks now. That means even though the defense has been solid, the Falcons are failing to score and giving the ball back to the other team far too often to be successful, and I don't know how quickly that will change.
2) Going into Week 12 action, the Falcons are currently the #1 defense in the National Football League against the rush, in terms of yards allowed. What has keyed the Falcons' outstanding run defense thus far in 2015? Will they have to alter their strategy at all with Adrian Peterson coming to town?
It's really the entire team buying in and playing the run aggressively, plus the talent up front. The Falcons can put a super beefy group with Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, and Kroy Biermann in the line to overwhelm blockers, and the back seven are more or less all willing and capable of helping out. Dan Quinn's simple, aggressive defense has worked wonders.
I anticipate you'll see a ton of the Falcons loading things up Sunday, because Peterson is way too dangerous to take lightly. Don't be stunned to see eight in the box daring Bridgewater to beat the Falcons.
3) As of Thursday morning, star running back Devonta Freeman remains in Stage 1 of the NFL's Concussion Protocol after getting injured against the Colts last week. If he is unable to go, how will the Falcons replace him and how will that affect their offense?
It's a huge blow if they don't have Freeman, and it looks like they won't. He's such a tough runner and capable receiver, and Tevin Coleman isn't either of those things yet.
The Falcons will have to re-tool the offense a bit to get Coleman the ball in space and give him a chance to use his speed outside. He won't be as involved in the passing game, unfortunately, so it comes down to how effective the blocking is for him. He is very dangerous if he gets wiggle room, but I know the Vikings won't give him a ton.
4) Much like the Vikings, the Falcons are going to be moving into a new stadium soon, with Mercedes-Benz Stadium set to open in 2017. For those that didn't keep track, how much of a fight was there over getting a new stadium for the Falcons to replace the Georgia Dome?
Minimal fight. They had to buy some church land, which kicked off a mini firestorm, and nobody likes the ever-ballooning price tag. Still, the cost won't fall quite as heavily on taxpayers as some other new stadiums, and Atlanta likes shiny things. Ooo, so shiny!
(Man. . .no huge fight to get a new stadium done. I can't even begin to imagine. . .)
5) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans might not be aware of that you think will play a big role in shaping the outcome of Sunday's contest.
Offensively, Justin Hardy will be the guy to know. With Leonard Hankerson likely out, he's the man most likely to soak up additional targets, and the rookie is a solid possession option for Atlanta.
Defensively, keep an eye out for safety Ricardo Allen. He's an aggressive, physical safety who has forced a few turnovers this season, and he may have an outsized impact on this game, especially against the run.
Thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer our questions on this weekend's game, and on the Falcons in general.