Thu, 29 Oct 2020

Final Thoughts: Vikings Look for Momentum Before Bye Week

Minnesota Vikings
17 Oct 2020, 20:37 GMT+10

by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young & Craig Peters

EAGAN, Minn. - On paper, perhaps Sunday's matchup between the 1-4 Vikings and the 0-5 Falcons doesn't jump off the schedule as the most intriguing in Week 6.

But Atlanta underwent changes in its front office this week, so the Falcons could be an energized bunch this weekend.

"I think Atlanta has had the lead ... they were up, 26-10, I believe against Chicago with 10 minutes left in the game," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "They were up big against Dallas, and [the Cowboys] came back. [The Falcons] were up by [15] points with [7:57] left in the game, so they're very talented.

"I'm not going to judge on who is better or things like that," Zimmer added, "but they're very talented."

As for the one-win Vikings, they have a chance to gain some momentum heading into the bye week.

And despite the 1-4 record - which includes a pair of one-point losses to undefeated Tennessee and Seattle - the mood was upbeat this week as players continued to work hard and prepare.

Viking Co-Defensive Coordinators Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson assessed the team's mindset ahead of Week 6.

"I think the attitude has been really good for the team," Adam Zimmer said. "Obviously, any time you don't win a game, you get frustrated with the outcome and obviously that's how we felt Sunday night and for some other games.

"But the attitude of the team is we just want to get better and we feel like we are getting better in just about every phase," Adam Zimmer added. "We're close, and good things are going to happen soon."

Added Patterson: "It's been a great week of practice. They've been energized. I don't know what's being said in the locker room, but I haven't felt a frustration or 'woe is me' or 'why is this happening?' type of attitude at all. It's been really lively ... meetings have been really good, so I haven't felt [frustration]. That's my impression."

If the Vikings can get a win over the Falcons, they could use the bye to heal up and get ready for a 10-game stretch that still features five division games.

In fact, the first three games after the break are all against the NFC North. But in order to make a second-half surge toward the postseason, Minnesota needs to notch its first home win of 2020 on Sunday.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:

Keep it up on 3rd downs | By @Eric_L_Smith

For all of the ups and down the Vikings defense has endured so far in 2020, there's been one area the unit has excelled at.

Much like most of the other seasons under Zimmer, Minnesota has excelled on third downs. The Vikings currently rank first in the league with an allowed success rate of 27.78 percent. The Vikings have allowed 15 conversions on 54 third downs so far in 2020.

After allowing Green Bay to go 6-for-11 on third downs in Week 1, Minnesota's defense has shut down opposing offenses ever since. The Vikings limited the Colts (3/11), the Titans (3/11) and Texans (3/12) before shutting out the Seahawks (0/7) in Week 5.

"We just keep grinding each week. We're working hard at that, hard at a lot of different areas," Mike Zimmer said. "These guys got a lot of weapons. If we do a great job on third downs this week, that will be a key to the game, I'm sure."

The Vikings will now face a Falcons offense that ranks 23rd in the league with a success rate of 40.58 percent.

Falcons Interim Head Coach Raheem Morris said his offense will have its hands full against the Vikings defense, and Zimmer's creative schemes.

"Zim' gets a lot of credit for the Double-A package," Morris said. "He gets a lot of credit for some of the things he's done to be able to mix it up to get after quarterbacks. And that's what people fear the most. That's what everybody talks about, and you become your own legend in that way.

"Zim' was the coordinator of the Cowboys when I was a very young kid. I was a Cowboys fan. He was doing some of the similar things back then. I believe I remember cutting up team [tape] as a high schooler," Morris added. "I remember cutting up his tape, knowing how many zeroes he had on tape and some of those things in order to implement that in my college career. He's just always been that way and kind of become that legend. That's kind of what he is as a third-down coach. It's kind of what he is as a get-after-the-quarterback guy."

The Vikings have been among the league's top defenses on third downs in recent seasons.

Minnesota finished fifth in 2015 (34.47 percent), 14th in 2016 (38.83 percent), first in 2017 (25.25 percent), first in 2018 (30.53 percent) and 19th in 2019 (39.72 percent).

Be prepared for anything and everything | By @pcraigers

What will the Falcons do under new leadership?

Rather than a late-season takeover, Morris has roughly two-thirds of a season - albeit a weird and unprecedented one - to establish his identity on the team and effectively interview for the permanent position.

Because of the opportunity ahead of Morris and his staff members that have been promoted, the Falcons may be less inclined to empty the bucket and roll out unconventional trick plays on offense or special teams (kind of like the Bears did in Week 17 of 2017 in John Fox's final game).

Mike Zimmer said it's tough to change too much in-season but added "they may be more aggressive." Zimmer said the Vikings would look back at analytics of what Morris did as head coach with Tampa Bay from 2009-11.

Morris then coached defensive backs in Washington from 2012-14, overlapping with Kirk Cousins in the quarterback's first three pro seasons.

"Well I have the utmost respect for [Morris], and I know schematically he could throw anything at us, so we have to have a very open mind of all the different looks they could bring and be ready for all of it," Cousins said. "You certainly can't say, 'Hey, we think they're going to do this, so we'll just focus on that part of the game.' I think it's going to be being ready to face a variety of coverages, variety of fronts, variety of pressures, variety of disguises and have a plan for each of them.

"Throughout the game, things change, too; if something's working on our end then they're going to change and vice versa," Cousins continued. "The key will be not only our preparation all week long but then being able to sustain, especially coming out of [halftime], having a strong third quarter and being able to really keep our foot on the gas from the first quarter through the fourth."

Morris promoted running backs coach Bernie Parmalee to special teams coordinator. Parmalee was Atlanta's assistant special teams coach in 2019.

Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf said he told Vikings players "to be prepared for any and all" this week.

"It's hard to change certain things when you've already got five games under your belt, so some things I think will stay the same, but we're ready for fakes, we're ready for formations that we haven't seen," Maalouf said. "I think that's really important. If you prepare for the unexpected but stay within your scheme and what our guys understand, I think everything will work out for the best."

Falcons have a flock of offensive weapons | By @LindseyMNSports

The Falcons have yet to notch a win this season, but that doesn't mean the NFC South team will be a cake walk.

As Craig pointed out above, a winless team under new leadership can be dangerous. And let's not forget the offensive weapons Atlanta has on its roster.

Matt Ryan has earned the nickname "Matty Ice" for a reason, with a reputation of being able to lead his team to fourth-quarter comebacks. Zimmer pointed out that the 35-year-old signal-caller still is a "terrific quarterback" capable of doing damage to a defense.

"He's got great arm strength," Zimmer said of Ryan. "They've got two great receivers, [Calvin] Ridley and Julio Jones. They're getting the ball down the field. They both can run, they're both physical. Ridley is great in and out of the breaks."

Worth noting is that Julio did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited Friday due to a hamstring injury. But Ridley currently leads Atlanta in receiving with 485 yards and four touchdowns.

The Falcons also added former Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst and former Rams running back Todd Gurley II to their arsenal. Gurley is leading the team with 375 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

"Hurst has added a lot to them, [as well as] Gurley," Zimmer said. "You know, they've got five first-round draft picks on the offensive line. Matt is a guy who is tough to fool. He's tough to trick. He's seen all of the different things, and he actually moves well in the pocket for a 35-year-old guy. He moves well and he's got great arm strength, so it's going to be a great test for us defensively to handle all of these weapons that they have. [Wide receiver Russell] Gage is a good player.

"They've got so many weapons with great speed," Zimmer added. "It will be a good challenge."

Notable Number: Five

The Vikings are 5-1 under Zimmer before bye weeks in the past six seasons.

In the past six games before its bye, Minnesota has topped Washington (2014), Houston (2016), Cleveland (2017 in London), Detroit (2018) and Denver (2019).

The Vikings lone loss before a bye came in 2015 against the Broncos, who went onto win Super Bowl 50 under current Minnesota Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Vikings Postgame LIVE

After every Vikings game this season, make sure to log onto the team's digital and social platforms to watch Vikings Postgame Live, a new streaming postgame show that will provide fans with highlights, postgame sound from Head Coach Mike Zimmer and players, analysis and much more.

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