FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons have no time to linger on their tough home loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and coach Dan Quinn was primarily focused on a critical Thursday night NFC South matchup with the New Orleans Saints during his press conference on Monday.
There were some lingering questions from Sunday's hard-fought 14-9 loss that Quinn addressed, but he made it clear that the team's focus was on the Saints and preparing for a tough game on a short week.
"We have to turn the page fast to get to New Orleans," Quinn said. "We're right back into our division of how we play. It's all there for us, we know that, so we're quickly back into our preparation today with the guys and fully underway with our process."
Here are some of the key topics that Quinn touched on during his Monday press conference:
Third down issues against the Vikings
A lot has been made about the Falcons going 1-of-10 on third down in their loss, but Quinn explained that he didn't view every single one of those non-conversions on third down as a failure. In at least three of their third-and-long situations, the Falcons managed to get enough yards back to either convert a fourth down or make a pair of field goals.
In evaluating the third-down issues, Quinn admitted his team did not execute to their standard, but he viewed some the struggles as the result of problems on earlier downs. In seven of their 10 third downs, the Falcons needed seven yards or more to convert.
"My bigger question is how the hell did we get into third-and-12 and third-and-17 and third-and-13," Quinn asked. "That part, I wanted to make sure I went back through again today. It's not to say that we were on point on third down – I'm not saying that at all. There was in the second half alone a third-and-3, a third-down-and-8, a third-and-7 that we thought for sure we could have converted. And then on the other side of the ball, we played a lot of snaps on third down and 1 to 3. In fact, we played seven of those in the game. I don't know if that's a season-high, but it certainly felt like it when you're playing a good bit of the time in third down and 1,2 and 3.
"I thought third down, for us, was where it was at in this game, and I wanted to give you some insight into how I looked at it. On some of the long-yardage ones, especially."
The Saints' dynamic running back duo
While Drew Brees has been the king of New Orleans for more than a decade, the Saints boast one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL this season. Led by running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the Saints are third in the league with 142.6 yards per game on the ground this year, and they average an NFL-best 4.97 rushing yards per play.
Known for so long as having a lethal passing game, learning that the Saints are one of the best running teams this year may surprise some. According to Quinn, however, New Orleans hasn't changed its identity, the Saints are just utilizing their players effectively.
"I wouldn't say their personality has changed, because I think that's kind of been a fabric of their team through the years," Quinn said. "But they're doing it as well or better than they have. Both of their runners really have a high average, and they've got a number of explosive plays. For years, I've been impressed by their screen game, the different ways they utilize the running backs, the tight ends, the wide receivers into that package.
"When I look at their running backs right now with the two of them together over 90 catches, and that's a factor. To know that they incorporate everybody in the run game, the screens, the pass game. They make you defend the whole thing. I wouldn't say their identity has changed, but they're fully living that way this year in terms of the success they're having running. Especially with the amount of explosive runs that they've had."
The addition of Kamara for the Saints
Ingram is a player Falcons fans should be familiar with in the Saints' backfield. The veteran running back has gained 922 yards and scored nine touchdowns on 180 carries this season and remains the leading rusher for New Orleans. The biggest addition, though, is rookie Alvin Kamara. A frontrunner to be the NFL's Rookie of the Year, Kamara has 1,220 total yards and 11 total touchdowns this season and is averaging an insane 8.4 yards per touch.
"The thing that really has jumped out to me … it's his balance," Quinn said of Kamara. "I don't know how many missed tackles you can track on a player, but I'd bet he'd have one of the highest out there. It's because of his balance that he can stay, with contact, stay on his feet and extend plays. We've been impressed by him. Something that had jumped out to us is his ability to make people miss."
New Orleans' defensive resurgence
Under Sean Payton, the Saints have often boasted an elite offense but a sub-par defense. New Orleans has mostly relied on a lights-out offense to win games and cover up for a defense with multiple issues. This season, the Saints' defense has been a big part of their success.
"They had a number of guys last year that were banged up and you can see they're playing better as a unit," Quinn said. "The more a team plays together, the more communication that can take place. That part really seems intact to me. Their scheme and how they want to do things is in place, but as important as that it's the players making the calls coming together."
Like Kamara on offense, the addition of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore appears to have made a big impact on New Orleans' defense. The first-round pick has forced three turnovers and defended nine passes this season, providing energy and a spark that has been missing defensively for the Saints.
"I think anytime [a team has] a corner who can play and matchup on different guys it does change what you can do," Quinn said of Lattimore. "He's a very competitive player who can play at the line of scrimmage. Like us, they like to play their corners down by the line and challenge.
"I'd say it's his ability to match up, he can play different guys in different spots, that makes him such a unique player. He's got excellent quickness, real strength to play."
McKinley is hitting his stride
The Falcons' own first-round draft pick has played well of late. With a sack in three straight games, Takkarist McKinley now has five sacks, tied for the third-most sacks by a rookie in franchise history.
"I do feel like Takk is hitting his stride," Quinn said. "He has got great quickness off the ball, and I hope you guys can see that in his get-off. That's one of the things for us when we saw him out of college that he has, and as a pass-rusher, beating a guy to the punch is such a factor. He keeps coming on and coming on. It will be an important week for him in the matchups that we have, so we'll put him at both left end and right end, he's equipped to do both. He's definitely ready to get after it. He keeps improving, and this on-the-job-training for rookies now is the time they're kind of hitting their stride all across the league, and he's certainly one of them."
Trufant returning to practice
The Falcons will get one of their top defenders back in practice, as Quinn announced on Monday that Desmond Trufant has been cleared to return to practice after spending all of last week in the NFL's concussion protocol.
"Trufant will be able to participate today," Quinn said. "That's a great sign that he was out of the concussion protocol for us."
Moving on after the loss
In the thick of the NFC playoff race, the Falcons can't afford to linger on Sunday. With a critical matchup against a very good team coming on a short week, Quinn was asked about the mindset of his team and how well they can shake the loss and get ready for Thursday. "We have to be," Quinn said of being ready to move on to the next game. "I am confident in that, I know the resiliency of our group. We were definitely disappointed in our locker room last night, but I also know the resiliency we [have] and the group of guys that we have. We're ready to get rolling."