The Falcons have a history of playing poorly in opening games under coach Dan Quinn.
Last season, they lost in Philadelphia. In 2017, they needed a goal-line stand to beat Chicago. And on Sunday, they did not show up, especially early, in Minnesota for a 28-12 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Quinn thought his team was well prepared for the tough season-opening matchup.
“To come out and perform like we did tonight was disturbing,” Quinn said. “I thought our preparations were good.”
For the Falcons, the first play of the game was a sack. The fourth play was a blocked punt. Things never turned around as the Vikings took a 28-0 lead. The Falcons managed a couple of garbage-time touchdowns to make the score look quasi-respectable.
Here are five things we learned from the defeat:
1. The new defense: The Falcons played a lot of 3-4, with defensive ends Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley and Adrian Clayborn standing up as outside linebackers.
It didn’t matter as the Vikings were able to mash the Falcons with the run. Running back Dalvin Cook rushed 21 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the Vikings rushed 38 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns.
For the Falcons to win, they needed to shut down the run and force Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins to beat them. With the rushing attack rolling, Cousins only attempted 10 passes. He was 8 of 10 for 98 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to Cook, rookie Alexander Mattison had nine rushes for 49 yards.
It was Quinn’s season-opening debut as the defensive signal-caller. When the defense is hemorrhaging rushing yards, it really doesn’t matter who’s calling the defense.
“I knew that was going to be a part of this game to make sure that we could set the edge and get it,” Quinn said. “When we lost that or they got the ball outside, I thought that was a factor for them getting some of the explosive runs that they had.”
Back to the drawing board.
“We did not get it stopped the way we needed to,” Quinn said.
Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison led the Falcons with eight tackles.
“We are all doing it together,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We are going to go back to work together. We are going to get better together.”
2. Standing up: Beasley believes that the Falcons new multiple defense is a work in progress. The Falcons, normally a 4-3 team under Quinn, started experimenting this offseason with 3-4 looks because they play eight games against teams with mobile quarterbacks or teams that run a lot of read-pass-option.
Beasley didn’t look bad dropping in the right flat and making a tackle on Cook early in the first quarter.
“It went well,” Beasley said. “Honestly, for me, I can speak for myself. I think the other guys would definitely vouch for that, too.”
The Falcons didn’t function well in the new alignments.
“We had the right play calls,” Beasley said. “We just have to execute.”
Beasley thinks some of the players are still adjusting to the scheme deviation.
“Yeah, you can say that,” Beasley said. “We haven’t had an in-game experience like that, where it’s the regular season, but it’s the NFL. You’ve got players who are capable of getting the job done. They are expecting us, the coaches are expecting us to go out there and execute without experience. We have guys that have experience and have played this game before.”
The Falcons well see some RPOs when they play the Eagles Sunday night.
“You know what, we’ve got a tough schedule,” Beasley said. “We have another big challenge for us next week. We have to go ahead and turn to the Eagles for next week.”
3. Ryan has shaky outing. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a shaky outing as he completed 33 of 46 passes for 304 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 85.5.
Both of the interceptions were on ill-advised throws.
On the first, he tried to force a pass to Julio Jones. On the second, from the 3-yard line he heaved up a jump ball. Both of the errant throws were intercepted by safety Anthony Harris.
“I think we all are a work in progress,” Ryan said. “That’s for sure. That’s not what we are capable of today. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us across the board. It’s not acceptable. We have to play better than we did today. We definitely are a work in progress across the board.”
4. Revamped offensive line: The Falcons offensive line started all former first-round picks, but they struggled as a unit.
Ryan was sacked four times and hit seven times.
The rushing attack wasn’t a factor after the Falcons got behind 21-0 and had to pass.
Rookie Kaleb McGary started at right tackle. Ty Sambrailo also played. Rookie guard Chris Lindstorm also started, but left the game with a foot injury.
“Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of glowing evaluations coming out of tonight’s game,” Quinn said. “The experience from Kaleb to get going against some good rushers, I know that pays dividends later.”
Also, left tackle Jake Matthews had a major battle with Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had a sack and another one nullified by a penalty.
5. Freeman has meek return: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who only played in two games last season because of injuries, returned to the starting lineup.
Freeman killed a promising drive with a fumble on the Vikings’ 22-yard line.
He rushed eight times for 19 yards and caught three of our targets for 12 yards in the passing game.
“We just need to play better, and execute,” Freeman said. “They play defense really well, too, so we have to give credit to them. Like I’ve said, and I’ve always said, we just need to do our job better than them.”