FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta begins its defining stretch of the season with a tough matchup against a very good Minnesota Vikings team. Having found its stride in recent weeks, the Falcons' offense will now get to compete against one of the best defenses in the NFL, which should make for several thrilling moments.
Today's Early Bird Report includes some high praise for the red-hot Falcons' offense as well as some flaws the Vikings are hoping to fix before they become exposed.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
*The Washington Post: *Falcons offense resembles last year's squad, and it's no fluke
The Falcons' offense has found a rhythm during their current three-game win streak, and they seem to be getting hot at just the right time. According to Mike Renner of *The Washington Post, *the offense is beginning to play a lot like the one that carried Atlanta to a Super Bowl last season. Renner says the two key factors that indicate the recent success for the Falcons' offense is no fluke are their success throwing the ball downfield and an increased usage of play-action passes. Of course, having a quarterback playing the way Matt Ryan has recently is also a major plus.
"The fact that Ryan hasn't taking a step back in terms of performance is the scariest thing for Falcons opponents," Renner writes. "With him playing at an elite level, and a bevy of weapons at his disposal, the Falcons offense is officially back."
*Atlanta Journal-Constitution: *McKinley mounts a charge for the Falcons
First-round pick Takkarist McKinley has registered a sack in back-to-back games and the progress he's made throughout his rookie season is apparent. McKinley's explosion off the line was obvious coming out of UCLA, but the *AJC's *Matt Winkeljohn learned of the surprising power and strength that he possesses after talking with several coaches and teammates. In his first season, McKinley has laid a solid foundation to build upon.
"Actually, I knew he had speed, I knew he was physical, but he has this ... it's kind of uncanny, when he makes contact he has momentum, he can knock dudes back," Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young told Winkeljohn. "He's really strong at the point of contact. To me that's not a surprise, but an absolute bonus."
Here are a few more stories pertaining to the Falcons:
- NFL.com: The 25 greatest QB runs of all time
- ESPN: Steve Young thinks Falcons have edge 'over just about anyone'
- CBS Sports: Falcons face big test vs. Vikings
- Pro Football Focus: Previewing Falcons vs. Vikings
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Minnesota Vikings
Bleacher Report: Welcome to the Adam Thielen experience
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen is currently third among all NFL players in receiving yards behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. While his performance this season has been incredible, Thielen's personal journey is even more so. In a feature piece for Bleacher Report Tyler Dunne details the entire Thielen experience, and it's very much worth a read.
*Minneapolis Star Tribune: *Vikings have flaws they hope to fix before being exposed
Although they are 9-2 and have the second-best record in the NFL, the Vikings believe there are still some flaws that need to be fixed. Among the flaws that Ben Goessling details in an article for the *Star Tribune *are special teams and protecting quarterback Case Keenum. As they continue to surge towards the playoffs, the Vikings aren't afraid to point out the work that still needs to be done.
"It doesn't matter if you're 9-2, 11-0 or 2-9, [Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is] going to focus on what we're not doing well," tight end Kyle Rudolph told Goessling. "That's just kind of the way we go about things here, and it's always better to go back and make corrections after a win. They're a lot easier to make after wins, but wins don't cover that up."
Here are other articles covering the Vikings:
- *Star Tribune: *Atlanta could be bump in the road for Minnesota's Super Bowl drive
- *Star Tribune: *Keenum named NFC Offensive Player of the Month
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Charlotte Observer: *Where was Greg Olsen at Thursday's practice?
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen made his return for the Panthers against the Jets on Sunday after injuring his foot in Week 2. Olsen's time on the field didn't last long, however, as he left in the third quarter after aggravating his foot injury. Reports indicate that Olsen's foot is okay after his first game back, but he was limited during Wednesday's practice and was nowhere to be seen on Thursday, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of *The Charlotte Observer. *
"It's just one of those things that we wanted him to back off, and then go from there," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, per Rodrigue. "I'd go as far as to say it's precautionary."
ESPN: Zach Strief will remain on IR for rest of season
Citing a source, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported Thursday that Saints right tackle Zach Strief will not return from injured reserve this season. Strief underwent surgery to repair his ACL and MCL two weeks ago after injuring his ligaments in Week 5, putting an end to his season. First-round draft pick Ryan Ramczyk has played well for the Saints in Strief's absence, but the veteran tackle would have provided some useful depth on the offensive line.
Here is some more news from around the division:
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