Riding a three-game winning streak, the Falcons (7-4) went back to work Wednesday to prepare for Sunday’s game against the NFC North-leading Vikings (9-2), and head coach Dan Quinn met with media before the first practice of the week.
Here’s is some of what he had to say:
“We know outside our walls there’s lots of stories [about] our season, and most of that either looks backward or forward, and our process is all about now. That’s how we control that story, with the work that we do today. We’re going to go right back at it again with the emphasis we like to make on third downs, and improve in some areas. ...
“It’s going to be a fantastic matchup. Lots of strengths on strengths, and two physical teams ready to go. For us, the process to get ready to go is fully under way.
“From an injury standpoint, [cornerback Desmond] Trufant will be out today as he’s in the concussion protocol, and we will also limit [kicker] Matt Bryant and [nickel back] Bryan Poole.
“Past that, we’re in good shape, which includes [running back] Devonta Freeman. We’re excited to have Free back in the mix and practicing with no limitations.”
Do you anticipate Devonta being able to take on a full work load?
“We’re hopeful of that, yeah. From a conditioning standpoint, he’s in good shape. He’s really pushed it in that way, so we’re hopeful that we get back to both Tev[in Coleman] and Free and use them together.
Do you have any hesitation or long-term concerns about Freeman after suffering two concussions this season?
“We have talked about it from the medical side this year. He’s had two concussions, one from training camp and one from three weeks ago.
“We’re going to always take great care of our guys. We care about them on the field, off the field, and so that’s the doctors and the medical side to determine when he’s ready to play, and we totally trust the process that the league and the team goes through, and we are 100 percent excited to have him back.”
How do you see the matchup between Julio Jones and Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes playing out?
“There’s lots of coverages and matchups that go on every week, and Julio is a player that generally teams have a plan ... that will be the same this week, and that’s the fun part of the game plan, how do they want to play him? There’s different ways. Some people play him by themselves, some people help with zones, some help with two players.
“That’s kind of the fun of coaching. ... That’s not the only fun matchup this week. There’s a bunch of them, offensively, defensively, on [special] teams ... their third-down defense [ranked No. 1], our third-down offense [ranked No. 1], both teams are physical and like to run it so those are strengths.”
You want to be a physical football team, but is there a danger in getting caught up in who is the more physical team, and does that take you out of your game plan?
“We have a real style that and identity that we want to play, so for us, we don’t compare our situation to anyone else. What we want to make sure of is our style and our play really comes across clearly, and about three weeks ago we discussed that that wasn’t coming through as clearly as we liked: a kick-[butt] run game, the play-action that goes with it, effectiveness on third down offensively.
“Defensively, that’s driven by the turnovers, the physicality with hits on the quarterback. It feels like over the past few weeks that identity offensively and defensively is more coming to light. ... We really try to make it about us and our style regardless of the opponent. That’s not to downplay who they are. They’re a tough team, a tough matchup.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has a defensive background, as do you; what impresses you about Minnesota’s defense?
“When you first watch their tape this year, one of the things I most admire is they’re very good tacklers and you don’t see a lot of explosive plays due to missed tackles. That’s really good fundamentals, where ... their linebackers are square and play downhill, and [defensive coordinator] George Edwards is a big factor in that as well.
“George has a long history in this league as a really good defensive coach. They’ve got a pass rush, an ability to create turnovers with a physical style with the safeties, the corners can really run and tackle. Front to back, they play really good, fundamental football. They’ve got a good pressure package.”
Are you concerned that you’ve surrendered more than 100 rushing yards in each of the past three games even though you’ve won?
“It’s always at the front of our thinking. I guess I would be more concerned if I felt like it was something that couldn’t be corrected. That’s one of the things that we really need to emphasize, not just this week, to play the style that we want. We can’t have these runs that go for eight yards or 10 yards and extend drives.
“You want to make sure that when you get your chances to make a hit you are; I took my gap. We play a lot of eight-man front, and ... our tackling has improved the last few weeks. Our gap control is something we need to keep working on.”
How would you evaluate your pass protection recently, and the way running backs contribute?
“I’m encouraged by that because I think that’s one of the areas way back when we started with Keith [Carter] moving into position to coach the running backs that we really wanted to emphasize, the physicality of both Tevin and Free in single back, and (fullback) Derrick (Coleman) when we go two-back.
“That part of our game has taken an uptick for sure. Now, they’ve had to put it on themselves and improve the technique. They know the challenges that are there in protection and we love our matchups.
How did Duke Riley do in his first game back after knee surgery?
“We felt his speed for sure, and where we really felt it was on kickoffs and punt. He didn’t get a ton of snaps on defense; we kept the same linebacker package that we had, so ... we were really excited to have him back. You could feel the energy that he brought to the team.”
Where would you say Vic Beasley is with the pressure that he’s bringing, even if the sack numbers aren’t there?
“For sure they’re not. One of the good parts of Vic’s game other than sacks is he gets forced fumbles, and he has just forever had a knack for that so that part we know we really need over the next part of this season.”
What are you expecting from fans this weekend in Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
“It’s such an important topic for our team. The connection between the team and the city is such a big thing. We want to make sure that in every way we provide the energy for them, and we ask them to return it. Let’s get there early, and make it as loud as we can.
“Living here, in this state, where football is big from Pop Warner to high school to college and pro ball, we’ve got excellent football fans so they know the importance of getting here early and making it really loud on third down. We’re pumped to see them.”
Do you see anything different in Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who’s playing so much better than he ever has?
“I don’t know if I’d say different. One of the things when you watch him play is you recognize he’s a fearless guy. He’s not a quarterback that gets out and slides. He runs, he’s aggressive and he’s giving his guys for sure opportunities to make plays. I’ve been impressed their corps not just at receiver, but [Kyle] Rudolph at tight end as well.
“They’ve made really some good plays outside, and he’s given them chances to go after it, so when you go back and look at them. ... He’s giving them their chances, and they’re delivering as well.”