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Stock Market Report: Falcons

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Lots to like from a convincing 28-12 win over Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings

Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings had more penalties (11) and penalty yardage (100) than completions (8) and passing yards (98). Atlanta out-gained Minnesota by 76 yards. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were held to a combined total of 5 receptions for 80 yards. Kirk Cousins was held to a career low in passing yards. Second round rookie Irv Smith Jr. didn’t touch the ball. The Vikings jumped offside four times.

And that’s why the old saying “lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a thing. Because the Vikings beat the Falcons by 16 points on Sunday, and the game wasn’t even that close.

The Vikings opened their 2019 account in a big way on Sunday, exploding out of the gate in all three phases of the game and coasting to a 28-12 Week 1 win over the Falcons.

Throughout the offseason and preseason, Mike Zimmer preached the importance of establishing the run; it certainly wasn’t lip service on Sunday. The Vikings ran 36 times for 174 yards (excluding kneel downs) and three scores while throwing only ten passes. A lot of that absurd imbalance was influenced by the game script—the Vikings were up at least two scores for the final 53:22 of the game—but Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak seemed very determined to exorcise any lingering John DeFilippo spirits from U.S. Bank Stadium.

The other two phases certainly did their part as well. The Vikings sacked Ryan four times and forced three turnovers on defense. The special teams unit blocked a punt and didn’t miss a kick. It might not have been quite what we expected, but it was an excellent team win to start the season.

If only every win came this easy.

Why in the world
Would anybody put chains on me?
I’ve paid my dues to make it
Everybody wants me to be
What they want me to be
I’m not happy when I try to fake it!
No!

Ooh, that’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning

I wanna be high, so high
I wanna be free to know
The things I do are right
I wanna be free
Just me, babe!

That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
Because I’m easy
Easy like Sunday morning
Because I’m easy
Easy like Sunday morning

You Week 1 dream start Stock Market Report follows.

Blue Chips

Dalvin Cook, RB: He’s baaaaaaack! Cook looked poised for a big year in Training Camp and the preseason. So far, so good. He amassed 23 touches for 120 total yards and two scores on Sunday, looking every bit the part of superstar running back. I know we still have a while before he can shed the “if healthy” caveat, but wow is this Vikings offense much better when he’s in it.

Anthony Harris, S: Harris proved why he might be one of the more underrated defenders in the league. Ant intercepted Ryan twice, including a crucial pick in the end zone late in the third quarter that ended any hopes of an Atlanta comeback. While Harrison Smith might get most of the headlines, Harris’ consistent coverage is a big part of what allows Smith to roam around and wreak havoc all over the field. Harris also happens to be in the final year of his contract, so allow me to make this quiet declaration:

[clears throat]

PAY THE MAN, VIKINGS!

Thank you.

Harrison Smith, S: Speaking of The Hitman roaming around and wreaking havoc all over the field, that’s precisely what he did on Sunday. Smith racked up a team-high 9 tackles and had two passes defended. He also delivered a handful of his trademark Mack truck hits throughout the game. (The one on Russell Gage wasn’t a dirty play, but it still may find him a little lighter in the wallet in a few days.)

Anthony Barr, LB: Boy am I glad the Vikings were able to keep this guy. Barr made an impact literally from the start, sacking Ryan on the first play of the game. He added another five tackles and two quarterback hits while he rushed the passer off the edge quite a bit. I can’t imagine this Mike Zimmer defense without him, and I’m glad I don’t have to.

Danielle Hunter, DE: We thought Hunter might have a big day going against rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary. Spoiler alert: we were right! Hunter had a sack, two tackles for loss, a couple quarterback hits, and created just a bit of pressure. How much pressure?

That much. Hunter’s contract remains one of the best bargains in the NFL.

Marwan Maalouf, Special Teams Coordinator: To say that there was some consternation about the special teams in the preseason is a gigantic understatement. The Vikings had two different long snappers, at least five different holders, two different kickers, and three different punters in just over a month. Confidence wasn’t exactly high regarding this facet of the team heading into the season. So how did the special teams do in Week 1?

  • Eric Wilson blocked a first quarter punt to set up a touchdown.
  • Dan Bailey made all four of his kicks and had touchbacks on three of his five kickoffs.
  • Britton Colquitt averaged nearly 50 yards per punt and just over 40 net yards per punt.
  • Austin Cutting had a perfect day snapping the ball while Colquitt had zero issues holding.

It was a crazy preseason for the special teams, but through one week, Maalouf looks crazy like a fox.

Solid Investments

Alexander Mattison, RB: Remember when Mattison had a quiet preseason and people questioned whether he had the explosiveness to make an impact on the offense? Yeah, me neither. Mattison acquitted himself quite nicely in his NFL debut, running 9 times for 49 yards and looking plenty nimble in the process.

Jayron Kearse, S/CB/ST ace: Kearse had a very impressive Training Camp and preseason; it definitely carried over into the first week of the regular season. He made multiple excellent plays on the kickoff and punt teams. On defense, he filled in admirably in the “big nickel” role after Mackensie Alexander went down with a dislocated elbow. Kearse will be an integral part of this team throughout the 2019 season.

C.J. Ham, FB: I’ll admit that I got caught up in the Khari Blasingame hype during the preseason. But Ham showed why it was fine to keep the rookie out of Vanderbilt on the Practice Squad. With the Vikings going so run-heavy throughout the day, Ham got more run than expected in the offense. He had some excellent lead blocks to spring Cook and Mattison for big gains. With the team light on wide receivers until Josh Doctson gets up to speed, I’d expect the Vikings to lean on Ham again in the coming weeks.

Xavier Rhodes, CB: Rhodes didn’t shadow Julio Jones as much as he had in previous matchups with the Falcons, but the veteran corner still had a very good day overall after a shaky preseason. But of course, he had to miss some snaps with not one but two injury scares. Really wish those weren’t such a weekly tradition.

Eric Kendricks, LB: Kendricks did well in pass coverage on Sunday, including two pass breakups on Jones. He missed one tackle early on but otherwise had a sound day tackling, including a couple impressive open field stops. He and Barr were a big part of keeping the Falcons potent attack in check until garbage time.

Josh Kline, RG: Most of us were excited about the Kline acquisition because of one very important trait: he wasn’t Tom Compton or Mike Remmers. Turns out Kline has other traits we like! Some of Cook’s best runs of the day were behind Kline quickly getting out to the edge in the new zone blocking scheme.

Junk Bonds

Pat Elflein, LG: Early returns weren’t as positive for the Vikings’ other guard. Grady Jarrett is going to make a lot of offensive linemen look bad, but Elflein looked really bad on multiple occasions Sunday. With the Vikings facing so many talented interior defensive linemen this season, Elflein’s performance is pretty concerning.

Kris Boyd, CB: The rookie corner had two bad penalties (one on defense, one on special teams) filling in down the stretch. He simply doesn’t look ready for primetime yet. Get well soon, Mike Hughes. They’re gonna need you.

Buy/Sell

Buy: Establishing the run is something this team can do going forward. The Vikings’ run blocking was very sound for the most part on Sunday, and it appears that should be replicable. The offensive scheme seems to fit the personnel when it comes to the ground attack.

Sell: Leaning THAT much on the run going forward. The Vikings aren’t going to jump out to a 14-0 lead every week. There will be plenty of times where they have to move the ball through the air throughout the season. Even with the extremely small sample size, the pass blocking was pretty suspect at times. It’s an area of the offense worth paying attention to going forward.

Buy: This was a great defensive performance against a very good offense. Atlanta, a team that had the sixth ranked offense in the league a year ago, didn’t score a single point for the first 50 minutes of the game. Of their 345 total offensive yards, 129 of them came on their final two drives when the game was all but decided. Julio Jones had 31 yards a day after signing a contract extension worth $64 million guaranteed. The Vikings defense kept a very dangerous Falcons offense in check until garbage time.

Sell: This was a clean defensive performance against a very good offense. The defensive performance could have been even better if they hadn’t jumped offside FOUR times on Sunday. I’m sure that drove Mike Zimmer as crazy at it drove us. The Vikings need to cut down on the mental mistakes going forward. The opposing quarterback next week has a reputation for making defenses pay on free plays.

Buy: It’s tough to start the season much better than the Vikings did on Sunday. Punt block. Touchdown. Interception. Touchdown. Exchange punts. Force a fumble. Touchdown. If Sunday’s game was being played out on Madden 20, there’s a 100% chance the guy controlling the Falcons rage quits by halftime. The Vikings didn’t just hit the ground running; they hit the ground driving a Bugatti.

Sell: It’ll be that easy going forward. While the Vikings forced the Falcons into most of their mistakes, Atlanta did some of it to themselves with drive-extending penalties and uncharacteristically bad decisions from Ryan. The Vikings have historically done very well hanging onto an early lead under Mike Zimmer; we’ll see just how good this team is when they don’t get off to such a hot start.

Buy: Special teams were outstanding. As we touched on with Maalouf, the special teams phase was virtually flawless on Sunday. Anxiety levels have been significantly lowered for the time being.

Sell: We’re completely out of the woods there. There weren’t any field goal attempts by Bailey, and there were was some space for Kenjon Barner to make a few decent returns. We should know better than to completely let our guard down when it comes to the Vikings kicking game.

Quinn Thompson Quote of the Day

Since I don’t get to write this article very often, I figured I would bring back an old gimmick: stuff my kids say while we’re watching the game. Like most diehard Vikings fans, yours truly did plenty of hooting and hollering at his television during the game. When Cook found the end zone for the second time to give the Vikings a 28-0 lead, I may or may not have done a little victory lap around the living room while turning on the “TOUCHDOWN” lights on my ugly sweater. My younger daughter giggled at me as she put together her puzzle, happily exclaiming to her mother:

“Mommy, Daddy’s so happy!”

Yes, Quinn, Daddy is very happy. I spent the last few minutes of the game snuggled next to her on the couch, answering random questions she had about the game.

“Why are their helmets so big?”

“Why do they have gloves on? Is it cold?”

“Why do they fall down so much? Do they get owies?”

[During a shot of Ryan sitting on the bench toward the end of the game] “Why is the guy sitting down in the white shirt sad?”

[Pointing at Linval Joseph] “Whooooaaa Daddy that’s a really big guy!”

If only every Vikings game was so adorably stress-free down the stretch.

Programming note: I’m filling in for Ted today as he attends the services for grandmother, Leona Niehaus. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 100 earlier this week. Ted tells me that she was a lifelong Cubs fan that didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Our thoughts are with Ted and his family; expect him back in this space next week.