Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (7-4). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the Minnesota Falcons (9-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. KILLER INSTINCT: If the Falcons get the Minnesota Vikings down, they need to stomp them out.
The rest of the nation found about this problem in the Super Bowl last season when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead.
But the Falcons went 11-5 last season and in four of the losses, they blew leads.
The Falcons had leads against Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia and Kansas City, but the defense couldn’t close out the games. They relaxed and blew a 17-point lead to the Chargers last season. The other games were tight, but the Falcons had leads they couldn’t hold.
It wasn’t too alarming last season. The Falcons were playing so many young defenders that lapses and mistakes were factored into the equation.
But those lapses continue to persist and must be eliminated.
This season, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead against the Miami Dolphins and a 10-0 lead to the Carolina Panthers in two of their losses. The Patriots pushed them around in the fog and they couldn’t pull out a victory against a game Buffalo squad in their other losses.
On Sunday, the Falcons went up 27-6 against the Bucs. The defense let them back in with two touchdown drives. After it was 27-20, the defense stood up to end the threat with a third-down and fourth-down stop on the 19-yard line.
The defense, a year older and wiser, must figure out how to put together four quarters of strong football.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows what four-quarters of forceful and dominating defense looks like.
“Really good hard-nosed, and when you watch good defensive play, they make adjustments in games,” Quinn said. “They’re able to make sure a certain player doesn’t get after you in certain ways. Those are the adjustments.”
The Falcons have their game plan heading into games, but then they must adjust and make changes to match and continue to stifle the offense.
Quinn was asked about why the Falcons continue to have problems putting teams away. He was pleased with the offense running off the clock.
“I don’t say it’s like ever anything I don’t talk about,” Quinn said. “We would have loved to have Terron (Ward) kept going and not have them have a chance to come back in it, but what I was happy about was the offense.
“To have a five-minute drive with a score in the fourth quarter, we hadn’t done that this year, and so that part lit me up in a good way to say they can go down and finish it.”
The offense couldn’t run out the clock last season at Seattle, close at Philadelphia and had two really bad picks against Kansas City. So, that’s a step forward.
“We hadn’t done that in 10 games where we had our chance to go own it at the end of the game, so offensively I was happy in that way,” Quinn said.
Quinn gave his trademark head-fake with regards to the defense letting the Bucs back in the game. He can’t rip the Brotherhood for taking their foot off the gas pedal.
“I recognize what you’re saying, when you’ve got the lead do you go finish it off right there,” Quinn said. “Yeah, I would have preferred to do it that way before having the turnover, having them drive some and go back, but I would say I was happy offensively from that mindset.”
The Falcons did finish off the Bucs. But they should have stomped them out. The game should have never become a one-score affair.
Quinn is a big boxing fan. He knows when that when the champ gets a contender on the ropes, he has to go for the knockout. Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel must get the defense to a point where it can knockout some opponents.
“We’re not where we need to be yet for sure,” Quinn said.
2. KEENUM’S BREAKTHROUGH: Minnesota’s Case Keenum, an undrafted player who set NCAA records at Houston, has helped to stabilize the quarterback position after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury and has started just two games. Teddy Bridgewater, the 2014 first-round pick and one-time starter, has returned from a severe knee injury that cost him all of 2016 and has been active for the past two games but remains behind Keenum.
Keenum, who’s with his third NFL team, has played well and has the Vikings averaging 27.4 points over the seven-game winning streak.
“He’s a good mover,” Quinn said. “He has over 100 yards rushing. He’s able to convert third downs on a scramble or get outside of the pocket and convert plays.”
Keenum, who started his career with the Texans (2013-14) and played for the Rams (2015-16), has completed 218 of 330 passes (66.1 percent) for 2,476 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. He has a passer rating of 96.2.
He has formed a bond with wide receiver Adam Thielen, who has 70 catches for 1,005 yards and three touchdowns.
Keenum’s also using wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who has 40 catches for 598 yards and five touchdowns, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has 46 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns.
Before this 7-2 run as a starter, Keenum had a 9-15 record as a starter with the Texans and the Rams. He was signed to a one-year $2 million deal as backup insurance.
“They are really equipped for throwing it,” Quinn said. “He can get out of the pocket to scramble and convert that way. We do have regard for how they are moving the ball offensively with the tight end, the backs and the receivers.”
Some contend Keenum is one bad showing away from being yanked for Bridgewater, the team’s franchise quarterback. But Keenum’s set to start against the Falcons.
“He has good feature receivers and he knows how to use them and the tight end,” Quinn said. “I’m not surprised. The guy is really smart and very athletic.
“He can get outside and create plays. He certainly has a fearless mentality as a quarterback. Those are the quarterbacks that are ready to go and are ready to take it on. I respect that a lot about him.”
3. RHODES VS. JONES: Nobody shuts down Falcons two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.
You can slow him down.
And when you leave him in one-on-one coverage, Jones can excel like he did last week against Tampa Bay. Jones had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first NFL receiver to have three 250-yard or more games in league history.
But Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes had held up against Jones in man-to-man coverage.
In the last two meetings with the Falcons, Rhodes has come the closest to shutting Jones down.
While in coverage against Jones on four targets, Rhodes held him to two catches for 27 yards in the 41-28 loss on Sept. 28, 2014. Jones finished with eight catches for 82 yards overall.
In 2015, the Vikings elected to have Rhodes shadow Jones in the Georgia Dome for portions of the game. Jones was targeted seven times and caught five passes for 56 yards in the 20-10 loss on Nov. 29. He didn’t catch a pass until the second quarter. Adrian Peterson rushed 29 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings.
Jones had just two catches for 18 yards with Rhodes in coverage.
“Julio is Julio,” Rhodes told Minnesota reporters on Monday. “Big, fast, physical, can get the ball once it’s in the air. I don’t think he has a weakness. He’s focused, doesn’t talk much on the field, so it’s hard to get in his head. It’s Julio.”
Rhodes, who played at Florida State and was a first-round pick (25th overall) in 2013, since the meeting with Jones in 2015, he has regularly shadowed the opposition’s top receiver. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season and is having another stellar season.
4. RECORD BOOK: Here’s a review of the three records Jones set against the Bucs.
It was his third game with 250 yards receiving or more, the most in NFL history.
Jones has 563 career catches, the most by one receiver over their first 90 games. Anquan Boldin had 558.
Also, Jones now has 8,649 yards receiving over his first 90 games breaking the old mark of 8,502 set by Lance Alworth.
Jones passed the 100-yard mark for the third time this season against the Bucs.
Now, Jones has 38 100-yard receiving games over his career, which is second in franchise history behind Roddy White’s 39.
5. INJURY REPORT: Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Devonta Freeman remain in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“As you know we had two corners go down in (Brian) Poole and Tru during the game (against the Buccaneers Sunday),” Quinn said. “I thought a lot of (pride) was shown by the (defensive backs) answering when they had to, specifically Ricardo Allen who was in a new spot.
“Trufant went into the concussion protocol. That’s the same as we’re heading into practice this week with he and Freeman. (Brian) Poole had a back (injury).”
Poole is being evaluated “day by day,” according to Quinn.
6. SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 28th regular-season meeting between the Vikings and the Falcons. The Vikings lead 17-10. The Vikins won the last meeting 20-10 on Nov. 29, 2015 at the Georgia Dome.
7. PRO BOWL VOTING: The voting is open for the 2018 Pro Bowl. For the official fan voting rules, visit www.nfl.com/probowlvoterules.
8. THEIRRY PASSES AWAY: Former Falcons defensive end John Theirry, who spent one season with the team in 2002, died of a heart attack this past Friday.
Thierry, 46, was a first-round (11th overall) draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1994. He also played with the Browns and Packers.
After starring at Alcorn State, Theirry played in 131 NFL games and made 70 starts over his career.
9. DEPTH CHART: The depth chart was tested in the defensive backfield against the Bucs.
Ricardo Allen went to Brian Poole’s nickel back spot to play some cornerback for the first time since his rookie season. C.J. Goodwin replaced Desmond Trufant at left cornerback and rookie Damontae Kazee took over at free safety for Allen as the Falcons adjusted to the depleted secondary in a 34-20 win over the Buccaneers.
Goodwin played 47 of 71 (66 percent) of the defensive snaps. Kazee played 32 snaps (45 percent). Freeman has missed the past two games due to the concussion, his second this year and third of his career. Sharrod Neasman also played one snap at strong safety.
Linebacker Duke Riley (knee) played four snaps on defense and 18 on special teams in his first game back since undergoing knee surgery. He had one tackle on defense and one on special teams.
Here’s the depth chart for the Vikings’ game that was released by the team on Tuesday.:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 25 Terrence Magee
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett
DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Sean Weatherspoon
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole
NB 34 Brian Poole, 37 Ricardo Allen
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 20 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher