EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards knows that Sunday's game at Atlanta could be a tough one.
Edwards is preparing to face a Falcons offense that's not only talented at its roots but has been recently on a roll. Julio Jones had a 253-yard, two-touchdown outing last week against the Buccaneers, and the team as a whole has notched 28 explosive plays that led to 75 points in the past three weeks.
When looking at the way Atlanta has gained steam over the past few weeks, Edwards said the beginning of the season was an adjustment period for the team that hired a new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, following the 2016 season. The Falcons previous coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, accepted the head coach position with the 49ers.
"I read some of [Head Coach Dan Quinn's] comments about how they were adjusting, getting to know each other, those kinds of things," Edwards told Twin Cities media members. "But they've been very productive throughout the course of the season. If you look at them statistically now, they're pretty much in the top five or six around the league, as far as offense and what they're doing in the different situations."
Added Edwards: "It'll be a tough matchup for us this week."
Edwards commented on Atlanta's defeat of Tampa Bay and said the team is mirroring that of last season, when the Falcons were NFC Champions.
"I thought they were clicking on all cylinders last week," Edwards said. "[Davonta Freeman] wasn't out there last week, should be back [out of] concussion protocol. He practiced this week, so there's another bullet in their holster. We'll have our work cut out. We've got to do a good job stopping the run versus them. We've got to do a good job in situational things that we do defensively and things that come up in the game."
Here are other topics covered by Edwards, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer on Thursday:
Edwards on emphasizing turnovers
The Vikings defense this season has nine interceptions, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
Edwards said part of the team's defensively philosophy, although the turnover number isn't extremely high, is to play aggressively and pursue the football.
"It's a big thing that we emphasize, and then nobody taking the easy way," Edwards said. "Guys making sure they play through the blocks the proper way, nobody takes the easy way, and then all-out pursuit to the ball. That's one thing we consistently try to echo in no matter what we're doing from week to week."
In the teams' most recent matchup in 2015, Anthony Barr executed a play that can be highlighted in the defensive meeting room when he forced a fumble by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman.
"That was a great hustle play by him to get down there, locate the ball to get it out for us to recover. It sort of was a good momentum break for us," Edwards said. "That's one thing that we've tried to emphasize throughout the course of the season, and I think our guys are very contentious – when they get a chance to go after the football, they go after the football."
Shurmur on Falcons defense
The Falcons seem to be hitting their stride later in the season, but Shurmur said he has seen strong play that mirrors last year's unit.
Not only is Atlanta's defense comparable between 2016 and 2017, but Shurmur also sees numerous similarities that carried over from Seattle, where Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-14.
"The scheme on defense is exactly the same," Shurmur said. "It's the Seattle mold, the 4-3 defense, the play a lot of three-deep zone, one-deep man on third down. They're very fast, they're very active. They don't have to blitz much, and they still get a ton of pressure on the quarterback. So, I'm seeing the same defense. I'm seeing the same guys playing as hard as they did a year ago, very similar model."
Shurmur on approach to no-huddle
The Vikings have had some success in running the no-huddle offense this season, but Shurmur said it's typically not a tactic he predetermines going into a game.
Rather, he calls it according to situations that unfold organically.
"It's just a feel. I feel like I'm just working the throttle," Shurmur said. "We feel good about our plan each week. As the flow of the game goes, kind of speed it up, slow it down. Sometimes you have to slow it down to get the groupings in that we were talking about earlier. Then, every once in a while, if you get the defense reeling, a fast play can help create maybe a big play."
Shurmur added that no-huddle sometimes could be a response to a specific defensive personnel grouping but that it's less-often the case.
"One of the great advantages to tempo is if you can catch them with 12 on the field. That would be a great thing," Shurmur said. "But, no, it's just a feel, flow of the game.
"You don't always know how things are going to play out. I couldn't tell you when we started the second half of the Lions game that we were going to run four straight run plays and score a touchdown," Shurmur added. "Then there's other times where you've got six or seven good pass plays that you think are going to get you down the field, and you don't gain a yard. So, you've got ideas of how you want to play things, the players go out and execute them, and you just try to keep them rolling."
Priefer on playing 'better' football
Priefer was not happy with Minnesota's special teams performance at Detroit, telling reporters it was "probably one of the poorest games" the unit has played in some time.
He did address the two blocked kicks (a third was discounted due to a Lions player jumping offsides) and said each was an isolated situation.
"The first one, [long snapper Kevin McDermott] got ejected out of there, we thought he was hit in the side of the head and neck area, which is illegal," Priefer said. "We still should have protected a little bit better than we did, and so they got a guy in there clean. The second one, we mishandled the snap. So it wasn't anyone's fault. Neither one of them were Kai's fault. We have to do a better job there."
Priefer called the Thanksgiving Day performance "a very unclean game for our field goal team" but added that there were mistakes on other phases, as well.
"We didn't cover the kickoff well, we had a penalty on kickoff return which, we haven't had a penalty on a kickoff return in maybe over a year. We had two great punts, but then two of the other punts weren't very good, and one of them we didn't cover great," Priefer said. "It was just a sloppy and a game that in years past we probably would have lost, because we have to do better on special teams."
"But offense and defense did a great job and picked us up, and we need to get back to playing good, clean, hard-nosed, Vikings special teams football to help our team win," Priefer added.
Priefer on Atlanta's special teams
Priefer is anticipating a talented Falcons special teams on Sunday.
"They're very good. They're sound," Priefer said. "They're not real fancy; they just line up and play. They play hard, they play fast, they play how I like our guys to play – you need to play harder and faster than your opponent.
"Matt Bosher's been a very good punter in this league, and he kicks off for them. Matt Bryant's an outstanding field goal kicker. They've good a good snapper in [Josh] Harris, they've got a good returner they got from the Lions last year, Andre Roberts, and I think it's his eighth year," Priefer continued. "He does a great job. He may not be the fastest guy, but he's quick and he's strong. Quick like a little guy and strong like a big guy. That's how I've described him this week. I have a lot of respect for him. We have to punt and cover. We have to kick and cover, and we have to get after these guys."