I think we’ve missed a couple of these recently, but this week we’re getting an opportunity to sit down with the folks from one of our fellow SB Nation NFL blogs to get their take on the upcoming game. This week, with the Minnesota Vikings taking on the Atlanta Falcons, we’re getting a chance to talk with Dave Choate. Dave is the lead writer for The Falcoholic, SB Nation’s home for everything about the Falcons. I’ve answered five questions for their site, and when those are posted on The Falcoholic I will put them on our front page for your reading pleasure. For now, however, here are the questions that I sent to Dave and he took the time to answer for me.
1) The Falcons made the announcement on Friday that star cornerback Desmond Trufant would be out on Sunday, as he is still suffering the effects of a concussion. Who will the Falcons attempt to replace him with, and how does that change the Falcons' defense as a whole?
They may also may be without nickel cornerback Brian Poole, which...nervous laughter.
The Falcons will trot out #2 cornerback Robert Alford as their top guy, rangy former wide receiver C.J. Goodwin as their second man outside. The nickel cornerback, if Poole couldn't go, might be starting free safety Ricardo Allen, who started his career as a corner. Veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who got destroyed in 2015 but still has some talent, will fill out the grouping. Alford is very good and Allen has shown himself to be capable in coverage at safety, but this is a panic-inducing set of corners when you consider how good the Vikings are at passing the football.
Obviously, this means the Falcons are going to need to get more pressure and do great work up front to avoid a disaster. Unless Poole is healthy and Goodwin can surprise, this could be a long day.
2) Speaking of concussions, the Falcons will get running back Devonta Freeman back this week after he was cleared to play. Do you think he'll be able to take on his usual workload, or do you think we'll still see more of Tevin Coleman than we'll see of Freeman?
I fully expect the Falcons to trot Freeman out for his usual workload here. The Falcons waited the two-plus weeks they had to in order to get him back, Free reportedly looked good in practice, and NFL teams don't exactly make a habit of shutting down their best players because of concussions. I'm sure they'll work Tevin Coleman in after he found success the last two weeks, but I'd be stunned if Freeman got fewer than 15 touches Sunday.
3) The Falcons got off to a bit of a rough start this season, but they've won their last three and appear to be coming around on offense a bit. What has changed since that slow start? Was it a bit of a Super Bowl hangover or the loss of Kyle Shanahan or something else?
I think it was really the loss of Kyle Shanahan, in a nutshell. The Falcons replaced him with Steve Sarkisian, who had never been a coordinator at the NFL level, and he had a lot of learning to do. We watched him calling 4th down, goal line jet sweeps against the Patriots and an endless stream of ill-advised screens for Taylor Gabriel and it was obvious there was going to be a bit of a learning curve there. To his credit, this team has gotten much sharper and started to look like the 2016 squad in recent weeks.
The other issues, really, had to do with execution. The Falcons have been less sloppy on both sides of the ball, without the drive-killing penalties and dropped turnovers that defined them in the early going. The only major, glaring weakness left is the Falcons' run defense, which has been mediocre all season and continues to struggle against any vaguely decent attack they face. That could end up killing them against teams like Minnesota and New Orleans.
4) Give us one "under the radar" player on each side of the ball for the Falcons that Vikings fans might not necessarily know about but will play a big role in deciding the outcome of this one.
On offense, it's gotta be Mohamed Sanu. It's not that Vikings fans are likely to be unaware of him, and more that he is sort of a quietly lethal player. He's great on third downs, physical when he needs to make a catch, and capable of throwing 50 yard touchdowns to Julio Jones. He bears watching every week.
On defense, you probably know the name De'Vondre Campbell, but you may not know how good he has been for this Atlanta team. He's one of the Falcons' most physical defenders, he's great at cleaning up messes the defensive line will sometimes leave for him, and he is capable of producing turnovers, even though he hasn't exactly done so at a steady clip. He should factor into the outcome today.
5) With the Falcons playing their last four games against NFC South opponents (including taking on the Saints twice in three weeks. . .please beat the Saints, please), how important do you think this game is for the Falcons in the context of the remainder of their season?
I think it's the least important game the rest of the way for a couple of reasons. The first is that obviously it does not have a direct impact on the NFC South standings, and the second is that it's arguably the toughest game left, one that would have been difficult enough without the Falcons down multiple cornerbacks. You can only lose one or two games the rest of the way and still realistically make the playoffs, and given that the Vikings might be the toughest team left and the only one outside the South, I more or less have to treat it as the least important. For my sanity's sake, at least.
We will gladly beat the Saints, I hope!
Thanks again to Dave for taking the time to answer some of our questions for us. Be sure to check out The Falcoholic for everything they’ve had to say leading up to this weekend’s contest!