The Atlanta Falcons were awful against the rush in 2014 under Mike Smith. They ranked 21st in total yards allowed and gave up an average of 118.4 yards per game to opponents to go along with a league worst 21 rushing touchdowns allowed. With Dan Quinn coming in as the new head coach, most people could have predicted Atlanta to be much improved against the run, but I do not think anybody saw this much improvement coming. The Falcons rank 1st against the run through the first 11 games of the NFL season, allowing just 87.4 yards rushing and only 3.6 yards per rush attempt. The Falcons front seven has been spectacular , but they will meet a similarly dominating force on Sunday in the Minnesota Vikings running attack.
The Vikings rushing attack starts with the best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson. Peterson has been an elite back ever since his college days in Oklahoma. He is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game, and the Vikings as a team are averaging 141.9 yards per game on the ground, good for fourth in the NFL. They are also tied for first in yards per carry at 4.9. It is possibly going to be the most challenging running attack the Atlanta defense has faced all season, but their success against the run so far suggests they are up to the task.
Atlanta has played two of the top ten rushing attacks thus far. In week one, the Falcons defense faced Demarco Murray and Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Atlanta had no problem dealing with the Eagles ground game. They allowed just 63 yards on the ground to Philadelphia and most of that came from the all-around back, Darren Sproles, who had 5 carries for 50 yards. Atlanta keyed in on DeMarco Murray, who ran for just 9 yards on 8 carries. In week 8, the Falcons met up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who rank 3rd in the NFL in rushing. Once again, it was tough for the opponent to find any running room. The Bucs were able to rack up 117 yards on the ground, but it took them 32 total carries to get there (3.7 YPC). Doug Martin was held to just 71 yards rushing on 23 attempts (3.1 YPC).
The Vikings will undoubtedly try to get Adrian Peterson going early and often, but I think this Atlanta front seven is more than capable of slowing down AP. Teddy Bridgewater had great success throwing the ball against the Atlanta defense last season. He was 19 for 30 for 317 yards. It was his first 300 yard game of his career, and he has only improved since that game. If the Vikings want move the ball on the Falcons, it is going to have to be through the air, because the Falcons’ run defense is no fluke.