The Atlanta Falcons did what was considered inevitable – they fired Dan Quinn. Clearly, something had to be done after an 0-5 start, which included some moments of collapse.
Taking over on an interim basis is Raheem Morris, the defensive coordinator, who gave Quinn some relief last season when the head coach decided that calling the plays on offense was a bit too much.
The opposition on Sunday is the Minnesota Vikings, who look as if they are getting things together on offense, although they will be without the league’s leading rusher.
Kickoff is 1 PM ET at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
ATLANTA FALCONS at MINNESOTA VIKINGS, 1 PM ET
BetAnySports NFL Betting Line: Vikings -4, Total 54
There is going to be some house-cleaning in Atlanta, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff was fired as well. Last season, after Quinn gave him the authority to call the games for the defense, Morris really brought things around, and it is considered one of the principal reasons the Falcons went 6-2 in the second half.
It was actually a tale of two seasons – for example, the team was worst in the NFL in allowing successful third down conversions in the first eight games, then #1, believe it or not, in the final eight games. They were worst in red zone TD conversions in the first half, then #5 in the second half. And so on.
So these are things that might be in Morris’ favor.
What’s not in his favor is that owner Arthur Blank seems to have limited faith in him. It really is a strange thing when an owner, upon hiring an interim coach, says that he’ll be a candidate to win the job on an extended basis (we try not to use the word “permanent” in this business) only if he goes 11-0. Morris, we assume, is taking this in stride, and Dante Fowler was mentioning in an interview that he was creating an uncomfortable atmosphere, “but in a good way.”
So he is demanding a higher level of intensity. And maybe he’ll get it. But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that in Morris’ previous head coaching stint, which was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his team led the league in turnovers.
Minnesota would seem to be in a good place offensively. And this is not the same crew that was shut down cold against Indianapolis in the second week. The results have come from them, in a sense. The Vikings are kind of close to having a three-game win streak; they managed to beat Houston, which was a distressed situation, at NRG Stadium, and lost by a single point to Seattle and Tennessee, neither of whom have tasted defeat as of yet. So they can play with some of the best.
At the heart of this is a running game that works. And maybe some of you know that Gary Kubiak, who became the offensive coordinator this year with the departure of Kevin Stefanski, is one of the foremost proponents of zone blocking. So how good is Minnesota’s ground attack? Well, Dalvin Cook, who leads the NFL in rushing, had to leave the game with Seattle with an injury (he won’t play Sunday either), but they just plugged in Alexander Mattison and he rambles for 112 yards.
The offensive line has been about as good as it gets, as far as clearing the way for the ground attack. They rank second in the league in Adjusted Line Yards created, as per Football Outsiders, and they get held without a gain only 11% of the time. So it’s a lot of efficiency, although that doesn’t translate to the pass protection for Kirk Cousins. Still, Cousins gets it down the field more than we would have expected out of a West Coast offense QB. And it’s nice to have a rookie like Jordan Jefferson on board. The LSU product is averaging 19.5 yards per catch.
On an overall basis, Minnesota is the team that seems to be going in a better direction. I wonder whether Todd Gurley’s big day last week, which vaulted him to #4 in the NFL rushing stats, is something he can duplicate. I’d rather buck the team that has found ways to lose. So we’ll laythe points.
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