A number of pieces the Vikings added during the 2017 offseason have contributed directly to Minnesota's success so far this season.
Free-agent signee tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have strengthened the Vikings offensive line, while Latavius Murray has combined with returning back Jerick McKinnon to keep the Vikings run game rolling when Dalvin Cook was lost to an ACL injury in Week 4.
Case Keenum, also signed as a free agent, is now 7-2 as a starter in Purple.
Cook was off to a hot start before the injury, and fellow draft pick Pat Elflein has started at center since Week 1. Other draft picks have also been utilized to varying degrees throughout the first 11 games. In addition, the Vikings signed key members of their roster to contract extensions.
*The Athletic *writer Jon Krawczynski said that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman's "blockbuster offseason" is paying off in dividends as the team enters Week 13 with a 9-2 record. Krawczynski wrote:
The way the bottom fell out on a 5-0 start put the pressure squarely on GM Rick Spielman and [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer to stabilize things and deliver a much more competitive roster.
Sitting at 9-2 with a stranglehold on first place in the NFC North and eyes on home-field advantage in the playoffs, both leaders have rebounded in a major way.
* [The Vikings front office has] hit home runs with nearly every one of the contract extensions or new deals for existing players that they handed out, shored up some of the team's biggest weaknesses in free agency and chose three starters in the first four rounds of the draft.*
Pair of WRs from Vikings-Falcons matchup included in top offensive rankings
Each week during the NFL season, former NFL quarterback-turned-analyst David Carr releases his offensive player rankings.
Two receivers that will be featured in Sunday's matchup between the Vikings and Falcons were also featured in Carr's lineup.
Coming in at No. 11 and No. 12, respectively, were Atlanta's Julio Jones and Minnesota's Adam Thielen. Carr wrote the following of Jones, a four-time Pro Bowler, after his monster performance last week:
Finally!* This is the Julio Jones we all know and love: recording 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. It was his third career game with at least 250 receiving yards – no other player in NFL history has more than one. If Julio would've been putting up numbers even remotely close to this earlier, he'd be in my top five.*
Thielen remained in the same spot in Carr's rankings as he was prior to Week 12. He had previously been unranked entirely.
Thielen's 89 receiving yards in Minnesota's Thanksgiving win in Detroit put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his NFL career. With 1,005 receiving yards through 11 games, Thielen is the fourth Vikings player to surpass the mark since 2002, joining Randy Moss (2002, 2003), Nate Burleson (2004) and Sidney Rice (2009). With five games left, there's still time to tack on to his best season yet.
Atlanta's pass rush could keep Keenum on his toes
Keenum thus far has demonstrated a strong pocket presence and good vision that's helped him extend plays and make big throws down the field.
Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com said that Keenum could have his hands full, however, with a tough Falcons defense on Sunday. According to Coller, Atlanta's defense is allowing 6.4 yards per passing attempt, which ranks third behind Jacksonville and Philadelphia. The Falcons also rank ninth in sacks, having taken down opposing quarterbacks 30 times. Coller wrote:
Under [Head Coach] Dan Quinn, the Falcons have attempted to replicate the defense that Quinn had while he was defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. His Cover-3 scheme requires a rangy linebacker (which they have in Deion Jones), a shutdown corner (Desmond Trufant) and a safety that can play up in the box and still drop back in coverage (Keanu Neal).
*But the zone coverages wouldn't work well without hurrying the quarterback along – something the Falcons have done well this season with their rotating mix of pass rushers. *
The Falcons rush from out wide, forcing quarterbacks to step up into the pocket. However, the addition of Dontari Poe and development of Grady Jarrett has made stepping up a pretty difficult task as they routinely push the pocket back.
Coller highlighted success by Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur in "creating deception through play-action," which has enabled Minnesota to average 9.6 yards per attempt (9.6) on play-action passes, which is tied for third in the league.
The question is whether Keenum will have time to turn his back to the pass rush or if Atlanta's speedy linebackers and DBs will recover quickly from the moment of hesitation caused by a fake handoff.