Skip to main content

Five things to watch when Falcons host Minnesota Vikings in Week 9 

Taylor Heinicke is the Falcons starting quarterback on Sunday. What are the ripple effects of this decision? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There's absolutely nothing to talk about when it comes to the Falcons' Week 9 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, right? We have no questions for either team at all, correct? 

Wrong, and wrong, again. 

There are so many -- too many -- questions about this singular game. Fortunately for you, we're going to go through a few of the highlights in your Week 9 five things to watch. Let's waste no time.


1. The quarterback conundrum

The Falcons and Vikings are experiencing their own versions of the quarterback carrousel this week. For the Vikings, they're having to replace veteran Kirk Cousins, who ruptured his Achilles last week. He is out for the season, leaving Minnesota looking to rookie quarterback Jaren Hall.

Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said the Falcons won't have much to go off of in terms of tape when it comes to preparing for a Vikings offense led by Hall.

"That's always tough," Nielsen said. "... I thought he did a really good job coming in (last week after Cousins' injury), managing the game, closing those guys out. That was good. Obviously, not a lot of tape. A couple of preseason games you see out there."

Still, there are pieces to pick up on.

"He's savvy in the pocket, good pocket awareness," Nielsen said. "He had a really good college career. Good arm, good thrower, good decision-maker, so, sure, it will be something along the lines to use his strengths... but rely on their run game. We'll see some play-action. Stuff that we saw last week."

As for the Falcons, they're choosing to start Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Desmond Ridder started the first eight games of the season, but was pulled at halftime of their most recent loss to the Titans. He was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return to the game. However, Heinicke finished the game at quarterback, where he will start this Sunday.

Smith said the decision to stick with Heinicke is one based on "a lot of variables," and it is a decision the team is making in the short-term.

As we question what a Hall-led Vikings team will look like Sunday, we also have to question what the Heinicke-led Falcons will look like, too. How does Heinicke step into the role? What changes do we see offensively when he does? How does Ridder respond? All of these questions hopefully become clearer this Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke #4 and quarterback Desmond Ridder #9 during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

2. Replacing Drake London

Arthur Smith ruled London out of Sunday's game with a groin injury. This will be the first game London has missed since being drafted by the Falcons in 2022.

London suffered a groin injury in the second half of the Falcons loss to the Titans last weekend. He has not practiced at all in Week 9. In 2023, London has totaled 37 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He and Kyle Pitts are the Falcons leading receivers.

Not having London on the field does change things. Fortunately for the Falcons they do have target depth, especially considering how important tight ends and running backs are to the Falcons pass game.

Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson are always an option for the quarterback. As are Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge and Scotty Miller, three true receivers who Smith said this week stepped up in London's absence at the end of game in Nashville.

How the Falcons make up for London's absence again this week will be something to monitor, especially if this groin injury lingers into the bye week.

3. Replacing Grady Jarrett

There's no replacing Jarrett. There just isn't. With Jarrett out for the season with a torn ACL, though, you have to start thinking about it.

Jarrett is the heart, soul and undisputed leader of this defense. His absence aches. It just does. But let's think about this for a second to bring us some perspective: What would have happened if Jarrett's injury would have come in 2020? Or 2021? Or -- God forbid -- 2022? If a season-ending injury happens in those years you probably feel differently than you do now.

Jarrett's hypothetic loss in those seasons is catastrophic.

Is it still a gut punch in 2023? Yes, but it's not the end of the world because of the acquisitions the Falcons made this offseason. Having David Onyemata, Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree around make a difference. It makes the blow not hurt as bad. You're down because it'll always hurt losing someone of Jarrett's leadership and talent, but you're not down for the count along the defensive line.

4. Big day for Bijan?

As highlighted in this week's Nerdy Birds article, Bijan Robinson is en route to franchise history.

Through eight games, the rookie running back has totaled 655 scrimmage yards. With either 45 total rushing or receiving yards on Sunday he will become the second fastest player to reach 700 yards from scrimmage in franchise history.

Only William Andrews surpassed that mark sooner. He accomplished the feat in eight games. Julio Jones (10 games), Kyle Pitts (12 games) and Tyler Allgeier (13 games) round out the record book.

5. Getting to the bye

The Falcons are two games away from their Week 11 bye. The Vikings and Cardinals stand in their way, and how the Falcons show up in both of these games will dictate how you feel about the team coming out of said bye.

The bulk of the Falcons divisional games come after Week 11, with Atlanta being thrown right into the fire with the Saints coming to town after Thanksgiving. What the Falcons can't have is a slide in the next two games before they get to that point. They're sitting at 4-4 right now. They haven't been able to find a way to string wins together yet, sticking right around .500 for a while now.

Remember a couple weeks back, when I wrote about the "middle eight" in my notebook? Remember how we took note of the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half being important momentum swings for any team if used productively? Well, consider these next two games and the games that directly follow the Falcons bye week the "middle eight" of the season.

The Falcons need more touchdowns in the middle eight of games just like they need consecutive wins now that we're in the middle of the season.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Minnesota Vikings, sponsored by Fast Twitch.

Related Content