Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings pushes quarterback Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons out of bounds (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Monday hangover: Are the Falcons really this bad?

Are the Falcons really this bad? I don’t think so, and I had my doubts about them even before their Sunday wipeout at Minnesota. It’s hard to figure out all but a handful of NFL teams from week to week, so maybe this game ends up being an aberration for the Falcons.

Still, the team’s problems from 2018 still looked like problems on Sunday. Now Philadelphia is coming town for Sunday Night Football after they rallied from 17 points down to beat Washington. Washington isn’t a good team, but it’s not as if the Falcons have room to talk. 

The Falcons had an ugly, uninspired effort at Minnesota. It reminded me of their 28-16 loss at Cleveland last November. That was the beginning of the end for the 2018 Falcons. Same as in Cleveland, the Falcons didn’t look ready in Minnesota. 

Also the same: Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who seemed to push all the right buttons during that Super Bowl season, expressing bafflement at his team’s performance. 

“I thought, quite honestly, the guys' mindset and preparation had been good, so to come out and perform like we did tonight was disturbing,” Quinn said postgame in Minnesota. 

The Falcons made some big changes from last season. Let’s check in and see how that’s going after Week 1. 

The rebuilt offensive line could neither keep the heat off Matt Ryan (sacked four times, hit seven) nor create significant movement on runs. Before falling behind 28-0, new coordinator Dirk Koetter’s group had had 217 yards on 47 plays. It would have been worse if the Vikings had stopped jumping offsides. 

Quinn’s Falcons are supposed to be about the ball. They gave it away three times. They were down 14-0 when Devonta Freeman’s fumble ended a promising drive at Minnesota’s 21. The Falcons trailed 21-0 when Ryan tried connecting with Luke Stoker, who rates as about the sixth option. Stocker stopped, Ryan passed into the end zone and safety Anthony Harris intercepted it. 

The Falcons’ defense is healthier, and Quinn now is coordinator, but it was hard to tell much difference from 2018. The Vikings averaged 6.6 yards on 39 plays while building their 28-0 lead. Kirk Cousins barely had to throw it. He hit big plays when he did: a 23-yard touchdown and a 31-yard completion to set up another score. 

Quinn’s unit, billed as fast and physical, was a step behind and pushed back. (Minnesota’s rebuilt o-line looked better). The Falcons pushed the physicality too far at the wrong times. Back-to-back penalties for illegal hits gave Minnesota 23 of the final 38 yards they needed for their fourth touchdown. 

Quinn has taken a personal interest in tutoring mercurial pass rusher Vic Beasley. On Sunday, Beasley had a clean run at Cousins and just stopped. Cousins sidestepped a sure sack. Here’s another reminder that the Falcons used $12.8 million salary cap space to bring back Beasley. 

Almost forgot: Minnesota blocked a punt to set up their first TD. Eric Wilson had a free run at Matt Bosher’s kick. The Falcons have a new special teams coordinator, too. Quinn hired Ben Kotwica after he fired Keith Armstrong, who’d been with the Falcons for 11 years. (Then again, blocked punts were a problem for Armstrong’s units, too.) 

The Falcons couldn’t get out of Minnesota without some bad injury luck. Rookie guard Chris Lindstrom reportedly suffered a foot fracture. Jamon Brown, signed for $12.5 million guaranteed, was inactive. The Falcons boasted all summer that they wouldn’t get caught flat-footed with a thin o-line again. We’ll see. 

That was one of the big changes the Falcons made from 2018. Now they’ve started 2019 with the same problems. I doubt the Falcons really are as bad as they played in Minnesota. But I wonder if they can be a good team.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.