When the NFL schedule released, no one was expected Jaren Hall vs Taylor Heinicke to be the quarterback matchup in this game. Only a time traveler could’ve predicted the amount of quarterback change that has happened in the NFL this season, and this Vikings vs Falcons game puts it on full display. With both quarterbacks making the first start of the season, I’ll break down why Heinicke gives the Falcons a significant advantage over the Vikings and their rookie quarterback.
By halftime of last week’s game against the Packers, it was starting to look like the Minnesota Vikings would be competing for a playoff spot. However, that would all change when Kirk Cousins went down with his achilles injury, leaving the team with an obstacle that looks too big to overcome. For the time being, it seems like Jaren Hall will run the offense after he went 3-4 for 23 yards after Cousins left the game.
Hall won’t have the safety net of Justin Jefferson on the outside, with the star wideout still working back from injury, so he will need to make a lot of rookie-to-rookie connections to Jordan Addison to keep the offense afloat. Addison has stepped up significantly for Minnesota, as he’s pulled in 14 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns over the past two weeks.
The true question with this offense, aside from whether Hall can operate at this level, is whether or not they can establish a run game to take pressure off the rookie. Minnesota has not shown any signs of life out of the backfield all season, entering tonight ranked 31st in rushing yards per game (73.3) and 29th in yards per carry (3.6).
Atlanta is not an ideal defense to be facing when in the position Minnesota is in. After putting up their second-worst defensive EPA of the season last weekend against the Titans at (-4.14), the Falcons still rank 6th in yards allowed per game (296.6) and 4th in opponent third down conversion percentage (33.6%).
If there was one thing holding the Falcons back this season, it was their offense, but Taylor Heinicke may offer them a new lease on life. The journeyman threw for 175 yards and a touchdown in place of Ridder while leading the Atlanta offense to a 14-point 4th quarter against the Titans.
Returning home this weekend, the Atlanta Falcons are currently listed as (-4) point favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. Atlanta is in a far better position on offense to operate than Minnesota is moving forward. Heinicke has proven he can win games in this league, and he has a legitimate run game behind him, while Jaren Hall has neither of those things.
Heinicke allows the Falcons to stick with a similar offensive game plan to the one they have run all season and might even open the passing game more. Atlanta has the 8th highest run-play percentage in the league and is averaging 126.3 rush yards per game, so as long as Heinicke makes the throws he needs to and takes advantage of the weapons around him, the Falcons should be able to sustain scoring drives.
It also helps that the Vikings have allowed the 2nd highest opponent completion percentage in the league, and they rank 26th in opponent 3rd down conversion percentage. Meanwhile, in his first start, Jaren Hall is dealing with a Falcons defense that is 8th in passing yards per game and has allowed the 10th-lowest completion percentage. Having to change their entire play style on offense due to the QB change does not bode well for Minnesota sticking around in this game.
Atlanta Falcons (-4)