The week of practice is over and the Vikings are nearly set for their contest against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings-Falcons matchup in Week 12.
Atlanta will be without its leading rusher
Atlanta RB Devonta Freeman wasn't able to finish last week's game against Indianapolis because he was forced to leave to be evaluated for a concussion. The concussion will prevent him from even playing in this week's game. Freeman is the NFL's leader in rushing TDs with 9 and he's 6th in the League in rushing. After WR Julio Jones, Freeman is also Atlanta's most targeted and most productive receiver. His loss is a significant one for the Falcons, but it also presents a chance for rookie Tevin Coleman to produce.
Also out for Atlanta are K Matt Bryant and WR Leonard Hankerson.
Zimmer wants to create more turnovers, but won't gamble to do so
The Vikings defense ranks No. 3 in points allowed, No. 5 on 3rd downs and No. 7 in passing yards allowed per game, and yet with how solid they are in those phases they've turned opponents over just 11 times, tied for 5th-fewest. But it's nothing that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer seems to be stressing over, and it's also something he blames on himself more than his defense.
"Yeah, but it's probably as much my fault as anything. We stress fundamentals and those things and I wouldn't say we're a gambling football team. But I think throughout my career we've been about middle of the pack most of the time."
Zimmer knows the importance of turnovers, but he doesn't want to sacrifice fundamentals (and big plays) to get them.
"If you're giving up a lot of points because you're gambling for the ball – it's just my philosophy really," Zimmer said. "I know the more turnovers you get, the more opportunities your offense has to score and things like that, but I've never wanted to be a team that, 'Hey, I'm going to jump this' or, 'I'm going to do that.' It's more because I think you can give up a lot of big plays that way as well and so I'd rather get them being fundamentally sound I guess is what I'm saying. I'm not saying I don't want to get turnovers."
There are similarities between Falcons and Seahawks defenses
The Seattle Seahawks have had one of the NFL's best defenses over the past several seasons. They ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in passing defense and No. 4 in rushing defense during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, going to the Super Bowl after each campaign and winning the title after the 2013 season. One of the architects of that defense is now the Falcons head coach. Dan Quinn was Seattle's Defensive Coordinator in 2013 and 2014, and his performance there led Atlanta to choose him to guide their franchise last offseason. Coach Zimmer says he sees some similarities between what Seattle has been known to do and in what Quinn is doing with Atlanta's defense.
"Yes, very much," Zimmer said. "Scheme-wise. I think they're working towards getting the personnel, but they've got athletic ends, bigger inside guys, physical downhill safety, corners the same. It looks very similar, yes."
The athletic ends are a pair of 1st-round picks – Vic Beasley (No. 8 overall in 2015) and Tyson Jackson (No. 3 in 2009 by Kansas City). The bigger inside guys include starting DTs Ra'Shede Hageman (6-6, 318 pounds) and Paul Soliai (6-4, 345 pounds). The physical downhill safety could be a number of players, but there's no question Williams Moore fits that mold. And Atlanta has a talented group of CBs, including Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant.
The Vikings are back in 1st place
Green Bay's win over the Vikings last week even the two teams' records at 7-3 and put the Packers in first position in the NFC North by virtue of the head-to-head tie-breaker. But now it's the Vikings who are in 1st place after Green Bay lost on Thanksgiving night to Chicago. The Vikings must win in Atlanta to remain in first place. The Vikings and Packers will meet once again this season in Week 17. Before then, Green Bay has games at Detroit, vs. Dallas, at Oakland and at Arizona. The Vikings have games at Atlanta, vs. Seattle, at Arizona, vs. Chicago and vs. the NY Giants.