Falcons defense crumbles in Minnesota

With safety William Moore out, the Falcons defense struggled against the Vikings.

You will rarely see a NFL game where one team loses three offensive linemen. That’s what happened Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons.

But that’s not the reason they lost 41-28 to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. They lost because they gave up 41 points to a team that was starting a rookie quarterback and was without its best offensive player.

There was no Adrian Peterson running up and down the field on the Falcons. Instead, it was Jerick McKinnon, a name familiar to football fans in the state of Georgia as McKinnon was a star player at Georgia Southern the last few years. He had 135 rushing yards on 18 carries.

The Vikings had 558 yards total offense. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked anything but a first-year player. He was 19-for-30 for 317 yards. The Falcons did not force Bridgewater to throw an interception and they did not sack him, either.

The story of the game for Atlanta was injuries. It cannot be denied, even though it was, again, not the reason the team lost. Offensive linemen Joe Hawley, Justin Blalock and Lamar Holmes were all knocked out with injuries. The situation was so dire tight end Levine Toilolo had to play right tackle for a large chunk of the second half.

The defense did get hit, as well. Safety William Moore left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. Moore is the leader of the defense so that’s not something that should be minimalized. However, the Falcons got no pressure on Bridgewater and could not stop McKinnon.

Atlanta looked to be better on defense when it shut down Tampa Bay for most of the Thursday night game 10 days ago. The Bucs didn’t score until late in the game. But Atlanta took a huge step backwards Sunday with the loss to the Vikings.

The Falcons just do not have a marquee player on defense. Osi Umenyiora was expected to be the pass rush specialist, but he’s been non-existent through the first four games of the season. The rebuilt defensive front, with free agents Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, is not stopping the running game.

Atlanta allowed 241 yards rushing to the Vikings on Sunday, and Peterson, arguably the best running back in the NFL before his legal trouble popped up, did not play. Minnesota rushed the ball 44 times, for a 5.5 yards per rush ratio. The Falcons kept the Bucs to only 64 yards rushing in the last game, as Bobby Rainey, who shredded the Falcons defense last season, was not a factor.

Two weeks ago against Cincinnati the Falcons allowed the Bengals to rush for 170 yards on 45 carries. That was not a great yards per rush ratio (3.8), but Giovani Bernard did have 90 yards on the ground. In week one, New Orleans rushed for 139 yards on 28 carries (5.0 yards per rush).

Next week the Falcons play at New York against the Giants, a team that just put up 45 points on Washington last Thursday. Atlanta will have to deal with quarterback Eli Manning and his new favorite target, tight end Larry Donnell, who caught three touchdowns last week. The Giants have averaged 120 yards rushing per game so far this season, with journeyman Rashad Jennings the leading rusher with 341 yards 81 carries.

Of course, the Falcons secondary will also have to deal with the always-dangerous Victor Cruz (299 receiving yards) and former LSU star Rueben Randle (156 yards).

The Falcons will be in desperate trouble if Moore has to miss significant playing time. Kemal Ishmael replaced Moore Sunday and would undoubtedly get more playing time if Moore is out. But the more important thing is someone else needs to step up and be the star on this defense, or the Falcons are going to find the next several weeks very challenging.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is under the gun. He was already under fire after last season’s debacle. Now, with the defense struggling again, Nolan will be forced to come up with some type of answer to stop the bleeding on the defensive side of the ball.

Nolan did make one lineup change for the game against the Vikings when he started rookie Prince Shembo in place of second-year player Joplo Bartu. Shembo had eight tackles in the game. Could there be more changes, considering the poor play? Nolan will undoubtedly look into who needs to be on the field after giving up so many points to a team that was missing its star running back and was forced to start a rookie quarterback.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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