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Week 1 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 12, Minnesota Vikings 28

What you need to know

Atlanta Falcons

Xavier Rhodes faced Julio Jones for 12 plays yielding 2catches for 15 yards during the first three quarters of the game. Jones’ score came against a rookie cornerback in garbage time. The Vikings defense sacked Matt Ryan four times and Everson Griffin beat Jake Matthews for two of them—each from spin moves. Matthews gave up a third sack due to a missed assignment on a late shift during the first drive of the game. The Falcons offensive line allowed enough pressure that it forced Matt Ryan into a pair of interceptions—including one in the Vikings’ end zone in the third quarter. The Vikings running backs and offensive line eviscerated the Falcons defense with a variety of run plays.

Minnesota Vikings

After a disappointing season last year, the Vikings set out to make a statement in week 1. They were able to do just that as the dismantled the Falcons from the start. The final score made this one look much closer than it really was. The Vikings ran all over the Falcons and showed that they do not need Kirk Cousins to throw the ball 50 times in order to win but can do it with a team effort. The defense stepped up with a blocked punt, a fumble recovery, 2 interceptions, and 4 sacks this week. Xavier Rhodes did a great job shadowing Julio Jones and limiting the damage, and the running game kept Cousins from having to throw too much. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison looked as advertised with their combined 160 yards on the ground, and everything just seemed to click. It is a good day when your quarterback only has to throw the ball 10 times and the team can win with less than 100 yards passing. Minnesota will travel to Green Bay next week to take on the divisional rival Packers.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 78 offensive snaps, Pass: 33 - 46 - 304 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - 24 - 0
Minnesota’s blitz packages wreaked havoc on Atlanta offensive line and when Ryan wasn’t sacked or forced to throw the ball away, he made a pair of throws with pressure in this face that led to interceptions. The first was a crossing route intended for Julio Jones that Anthony Harris pulled away from Jones for an interception. The second was a route to the back pylon in the end zone that Luke Stocker did not continue and it gave Harris a chance to run down the ball. The Vikings gave up flat routes to Austin Hooper when the game was still a contest. By the fourth quarter, the game was out of reach and Ryan was able to find Calvin Ridley on two big-play throws—including a touchdown thrown to the front pylon and a crossing route where Ridley made multiple defenders miss until he reached the Vikings’ two. Middle pressure or pressure in Ryan’s face has always been the best way to break-down Ryan’s game and the Vikings succeeded this week.

RB Devonta Freeman, 39 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 19 - 0, Rec: 3 - 12 - 0 (4 targets)
The runner took what he could get during the first quarter but Atlanta wound up in pass mode after the Vikings went up by 14 points early in the game. Freeman lost a fumble while trying to split a pair of defenders at the edge of the defense early in the second quarter. He continued to earn most of the touches, rotating time with Ito Smith late in the half. Late in the game Freeman caught a pair of passes as the check-down option—only one of them went for positive yards. Overall, Freeman ran hard and hit creases decisively, but there weren’t many open creases during the game and the gaem script got away from Atlanta to sustain the run.

RB Ito Smith, 39 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 31 - 0, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (1 targets)
A bright spot during this debacle, Smith’s best gain was a 17-yard run on a cutback from a two tight end set and later in the same drive a pass reception that set up a short-yardage run for a first down. Smith had a pair of blitz pickup opportunities during the game. The first came late in the half when he got pushed back into Matt Ryan’s lap by Anthony Barr and the second was a nice pick-up through the A gap that set up a third-down conversion for Austin Hooper. Smith later spun off a pair of tackles on a cutback during the fourth quarter.

WR Julio Jones, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 31 - 1 (11 targets)
Atlanta kept the tight end and running back at the line to pass protect the Vikings’ edge defenders who had the physical advantage, which led to pressure and Ryan throwing an interception into traffic over the middle with Julio Jones as the intended target. The pass protection plan asked the tight end and running back to cross the line of scrimmage to match up each opponent and they were out-matched. Ryan and Jones were not on the same page during the third series, which led to a target where Ryan should have been called for intentional grounding. Ryan found Jones on third down during this series but threw the ball well behind the receiver on a crossing route while under pressure and forced a difficult catch. Ryan tried to target Jones over the middle but Eric Kendricks broke up the pass. Xavier Rhodes faced Jones for nine plays yielding two catches for 15 yards during the first half. Jones dropped a crossing route over the middle when Eric Knedricks wrapped up the receiver on a high third-down throw at the end of the third quarter. Jones dropped another late-game target on a high throw with Harrison Smith delivering the hit ot his back. He caught a short crossing route on fourth down late in the game. A few plays later he caught a fade with a minute left against a rookie defensive back Mark Fields.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 57 - 0 (6 targets)
He caught a crossing route for a first down but a James Carpenter hold nullified this play inside the two-minute warning. Sanu’s biggest gain came as the clock ran out during the first half when he caught a target across an open zone. Sanu earned a short gain in the flat but had more if not for a great ankle tackle by Eric Kendricks in the open field.

WR Calvin Ridley, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 64 - 1 (6 targets)
His first catch came with 5:25 in the third quarter for a first down in the right flat. Ryan targeted Ridley in the end zone late in the third quarter and drew a defensive pass interference call that was questionable, at best. Ridley dropped a low throw against tight coverage late in the third quarter. Ryan exhibited good touch on a throw to the pylon where Trae Waynes tied up Ridely during the stem, but Ridley worked free and ran to the pylong and under the target for the touchdown with nine minutes left. Ridley’s most impressive play was a crossing route where made multiple men miss in the open field with a little more than a minute left to reach the Vikings two.

WR Justin Hardy, 22 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 41 - 0 (5 targets)
He caught a five-yard check-down during the third series. A few plays later, Ryan found Hardy for 23 yards on a check-down in the zone and gave Hardy room to run. Hardy dropped a slant against tight coverage from Xavier Rhodes on third and five with less than 10 left in the game. He dropped a two-point conversion against tight coverage on a fade against Xavier Rhodes. He caught a comeback late in the game against Rhodes down 6-28.

WR Russell Gage, 13 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (2 targets)
He took a double reverse for a loss of a yard when the Vikings stayed at home on this play late in the first quarter. He made a leaping catch on a crossing route near the boundary on third and long during the third drive of the first half but Ryan threw the ball too high for Gate to land in bounds. He made a tough catch over the middle and was helped off the field after taking a hit ot his shoulder.

TE Austin Hooper, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 77 - 0 (9 targets)
Hooper led Falcons receivers and was left open in the flats repeatedly in this game, catching five of his nine targets in this area of the field. Only one of his receptions was a pass over the middle. Hooper and the rest of the Falcons offensive line and backs struggled to contain the Vikings blitz as pass protectors and there were some questionable designs from the offensive staff in an attempt to use the backs and tight ends in this area of the game.

Minnesota Vikings

QB Kirk Cousins, 53 offensive snaps, Pass: 8 - 10 - 98 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 6 - 4 - 1
It was a very rocky first year for Cousins and all eyes were on him in week 1 to see if he would rebound and earn all of the money Minnesota gave him. To everyones surprise, Cousins only had to throw the ball 10 times this week and let the running game take over. Cousins found Thielen on the first drive of the game after a blocked punt for a 23-yard touchdown. Thielen worked his way across the middle of the field and Cousins threw him open with a great ball on the deep crossing route. Thielen did the rest of the work and broke 2 tackles for the touchdown. Cousins also helped his own cause on the ground with a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak up the middle. Cousins served as more of a game manager this week and it worked out for the Vikings. It will be a much different game next week against a revitalized Packer defense that held the Bears to 3 points in week 1. Cousins will be asked to do a little more next week and again all eyes in Minnesota will be on him to see if he is worth the money they paid.

RB Dalvin Cook, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 21 - 111 - 2, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (2 targets)
Vikings fans have been waiting for Cook to be healthy since he was drafted in 2017. It looks like they may have finally gotten their wish as Cook torched the Falcons on the ground and looked to be every bit of the back he was with Florida State. Cook showed speed, power, and vision as he carried the Vikings to their first win in 2019. Cooks first touchdown came on a 19-yard burst off the left side. He outran the defensive end to the corner and then followed the lead block of Thielen into the end zone for an easy touchdown. Cook showed a quick burst of speed and proved that his knee is finally healthy. His second touchdown was a 7-yard power run right up the middle. Cook and a host of Viking linemen pushed the pile the last 4 yards into the end zone. Cook had a 23-yard run off the right side for the longest play on the ground for either team. The Vikings exploited the speed of Cook and his ability to get the edge on several plays and helped amass his first 100-yard game of the season. Cook was the work horse this week and the Vikings do not appear to be limiting his reps to try and keep him healthy in the early going.

RB Alexander Mattison, 12 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 49 - 0
There is a reason the Vikings took Mattison in the 3rd round last season and he proved that this weekend. Serving as the primary backup to Cook, Mattison amassed 49 yards on the ground and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He was not targeted in the passing game, but only 4 Vikings were total this week. Mattison ripped off a 23-yard scamper off the right side for a big first down and accounted for nearly half of his yards on a single play. This was the same play the Vikings called for Cook on his 22-yard run and touchdown. The only threat to Mattison right now is Ameer Abdullah, but the Vikings seem to trust their rookie runner with the primary workload behind Cook to start the season.

WR Adam Thielen, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 43 - 1 (3 targets)
After reeling off 8 straight games with 100 yards to start the year last season, Thielen had a much quieter debut this year. Thielen caught all 3 of his targets this week and added the only touchdown through the air. It was a beautiful 23-yard deep crossing route where Cousins threw him open and Thielen did the rest of the work after the catch. He turned the ball up field, out ran his defender, and then ran over 2 more at the goal line for the touchdown. Thielen came into the season saying he did not care about personal stats and just wanted to see the team win. He showed this later by throwing the key block on a Dalvin Cook rushing touchdown later in the game. There will be games where Thielen is targeted 10+ times, but this week they just did not have to rely on him at all with how well the rushing attack worked.

WR Stefon Diggs, 32 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 37 - 0 (2 targets)
It was a question all week as to if Diggs was going to play this weekend. He had been nursing a strained hamstring and was questionable heading into the weekend. Diggs was able to go, and the Vikings only had 4 receivers suited up for this game. Diggs hauled in both of his targets and looked great on his 31-yard catch and run down the sideline. He did not look limited at all this week; the Vikings just did not need him. Diggs and Thielen will make up the bulk share of targets again this season and he should have a great shot at eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards again this season.

WR Josh Doctson
The former first round pick signed with the Vikings a week ago after being cut by the Redskins. Despite having played with Kirk Cousins before, the Vikings felt it best he practices another week with the offense before suiting up on Sunday. Doctson should carve out a big role with the Vikings as the team needs a reliable third receiver. The Vikings only had 4 receivers active this weekend and will need Doctson when they have to throw the ball more than 10 times in a game.

TE Kyle Rudolph, 53 offensive snaps (1 targets)
It was a tough week for Rudolph. He did not register a single catch and had 1 target the entire game. That is not a good look when a highly drafted tight end is lurking behind him on the depth chart. However, it was not his fault this week as the offense only threw the ball 10 total times and ran it 38. Rudolph has always been touchdown dependent and will continue to be so this season. There is a lot of competition in the red zone for the Vikings and it will limit the overall value for Rudolph.