EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings and Falcons have had nearly five months to think about this one since the schedule was announced in April.
That's a lot of time to study an opponent on readily available film, look for tendencies a play caller may have in certain situations and scheme up what might work best.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski has been studying up on the defense implemented by Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn. Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-14 before his hire as the top man in Atlanta in 2015. He is head coach/defensive coordinator this year.
Meanwhile, Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards has been getting a bearing on Falcons Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter, who held the role with Atlanta from 2012-14 before venturing to Tampa Bay. Koetter was the Buccaneers offensive coordinator in 2015 and head coach from 2016-18.
It's a delicate balance, however, to avoid paralysis by over-analysis.
"We probably go too far back," said Stefanski, who began his tenure with the Vikings in 2006 and was elevated this offseason from an interim position he held for the final three games of 2018. "In this first game, you can really go spend a lot of time looking back. We're trying to make sure we have a nice sound, concise plan but certainly you want to study Coach Quinn as a coordinator.
"The harm is you want to prepare for this game, but you don't want to over-prepare," Stefanski added. "It's the paralysis-by-analysis thing. You have so many days leading up to this game, even starting back in April. We did some work on these guys back in the spring, and you're into the preseason, you're still kind of keeping an eye on Atlanta. You have to fight that urge to go too far over the top. We want to have a nice, concise plan that our players can execute."
Edwards explained that he's surveyed what Koetter has done in the past, but the lack of activity in the preseason from players such as receiver Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman made it a little difficult to get a fresh look.
"You're kind of piecing together some of the things and the concepts that you're looking at in different situations," Edwards said. "It's tough, any time that you get a new offensive coordinator, you're looking at some of his tendencies from last year and now applying it to a new team."
Stefanski said "ultimately the focus is on us."
"We need to be about our business and do the things that we've seen our players do out here on the practice field and not overthink this thing or try and get too creative and give them too much because that would be a disservice to our players," Stefanski said.
Asked what makes a play caller effective, quarterback Kirk Cousins said this week that it's having a balance between creativity that keeps a defense guessing and making sure "offensive players in a place where they are comfortable."
"That's a tough balance to walk, because if you start calling plays out of left field, it certainly may be a challenge for the defense, but it also may be a challenge for your own players, to understand where to line up and how to execute the plays correctly versus all the different looks they are going to see," Cousins said. "I think the great ones are able to bring variety while also staying within an identity. As many coaches will say, ultimately, it's players not plays, and if you have great players, I think systems will look really, really good, so you've got to have great players, too."
Each Vikings coordinator has a player who was added to the roster over the weekend. For Stefanski, it's veteran receiver Josh Doctson. For Edwards, it's rookie cornerback Mark Fields. For Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf, it's punter Britton Colquitt, who also is likely to handle holding duties on field goals and extra points.
Of Doctson, Stefanski said: "I've been around him for a day, so early impressions: He can get lined up and he's doing a nice job. He's working really hard. He's getting extra meeting time with our wide receivers coach Drew Petzing, so we're working a lot of hours together right now. We'll see what we got. Josh has played in this league for a few years there, so we'll see what we have, see what he can retain and then we'll go. That's a fluid situation."
Doctson was a first-round pick by Washington in 2016. An injury kept him from playing all but two games that season. He returned to team with Cousins for a second season with the Redskins and caught 35 passes for 502 yards and six touchdowns.
Of Fields, Edwards said: "He's done a good job. We [evaluated] him last year coming out in the draft, and he did a good job in the preseason looking at him when we had a chance to look at him. Since he's been in here, he's been in sort of a crash course of what to do and those types of deals, but he's done a good job. He's come out here and been able to transfer stuff from the meeting room. We're just looking for him to come out here and continue to grow."
Of Colquitt, Maalouf said: "He's been a really good pro, a very talented guy. He adds a really good element to that room. He's been very good in our individual periods, and he's been what we expected … so that's a huge positive."
Colquitt is entering his 10th season and has played 144 career regular-season games, but has yet to play a game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Still evaluating punt returners:
The Vikings had four different players field punts during the preseason, including Ameer Abdullah, Bisi Johnson, Chad Beebe and Dillon Mitchell, who is now on the practice squad. Mike Hughes also was fielding some punts from a machine during early drills Thursday.
Maalouf was asked about his confidence with the spot and said, "We've got three guys that could possibly do it. Again, I think it'll depend on the situation and where we're at in the game. Those guys have a done a good job in the preseason."
Asked if Beebe will have the "lead role," Maalouf said, "I don't know if you call it lead role."
"Like I said, everybody kind of has their own areas of the field that we'll cover," Maalouf said. "We'll kind of play it by ear. It just depends on where we're at in the game. It's kind of hard to predict that."