Fri, 27 Nov 2020

O'HARA'S SCOUTING REPORT: Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions
23 Oct 2020, 00:25 GMT+10

Mike OHara

The challenge that Raheem Morris put forth in his first team meeting after being promoted to interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons last week was taken to heart.

More important than that, it was taken to the field -- where the Falcons dominated the Minnesota Vikings in a 40-23 road victory.

The Falcons started strong - which they'd done consistently in losing their first five games -- by taking a 23-0 lead in the first five minutes of the second half.

And they finished strong, holding a 35-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Vikings scored two meaningless touchdowns.

Whether the Falcons can carry that level of play forward to Sunday's home game against the Detroit Lions remains to be seen.

But for a week at least, the victory gave them temporary relief from a tumultuous period in a losing atmosphere.

Dan Quinn, head coach since 2015, was fired Monday after a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers made the Falcons' won-loss record 0-5.

Morris, a Falcons assistant coach under Quinn since 2015 and head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-11, was promoted to the head job.

Morris has been popular with players at all of his NFL stops - as was Quinn in Atlanta. He was elevated from defensive coordinator to replace Quinn.

Morris also had been assistant head coach in his first four seasons with the Falcons. When he spoke to the entire team, players in all positions were hearing a familiar voice - with a strong message.

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"He challenged us to put our best ball on display," said star wide receiver Julio Jones. "We handled the week (of practice) very well, and we handled the game very well."

Morris was heartened by the way the players took his challenge and ran with it.

"To see those guys respond in that fashion with all the different challenges that were presented to us - it makes you proud to be a leader on that day," Morris said Wednesday in a conference call interview with the Detroit media.

After the coaching change, there was more adversity for the Falcons to handle. Their facility was closed on Thursday after a positive coronavirus test. All meetings were conducted virtually. The facility was reopened on Friday.

"It was one of our best Friday practices of the year," quarterback Matt Ryan said in his postgame interview. "I thought that spring-boarded us to having some success."

Against the Vikings, Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.

Jones, who missed the previous week's game with a hamstring injury, had six catches for 137 yards and two TDs. Calvin Ridley had six catches for 61 yards and a TD, his fifth of the season.

The defense held the Vikings to 32 yards rushing and had three interceptions off Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins threw for 343 yards and three TDs, but two of his TD passes came in the last four minutes, when the outcome had been decided to such a degree that it couldn't even be considered garbage time. The trucks had long since departed the building.

The Falcons' strength is on offense, led by Ryan - a four-time Pro Bowler and league MVP in 2016 - and Jones, a future Hall of Famer. The Falcons are averaging 403.2 yards per game - 291.2 passing, 112 rushing and 27 points per game.

It's a different story on defense. The Falcons rank 31st in the league with 432.5 yards per game allowed and 30.2 points allowed per game.

Jones expressed optimism about what the Falcons can accomplish.

"The season's not over," he said after the Minnesota game. "It's early season. We have to keep balling. We have the team to do it."

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