"Hunter"-less: Can The Atlanta Falcons’ Offensive Line Withstand The Minnesota Vikings’ Defense?

Chris Vinel

The Atlanta Falcons’ up-and-down offensive line will either be the hunters or the hunted against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

And with the Vikings’ top pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, on injured reverse, Atlanta looks to pounce on the weakened Minnesota front seven.


Matt Hennessy’s playing time was trending upward after being on the field for 47% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4.

It crashed down against the Carolina Panthers last week. Hennessy played only 12 snaps, while James Carpenter played 53 at left guard.

The competition for that job isn’t over, but Carpenter holds a firm grasp on it heading into the team’s matchup with the Vikings. The line continues to look the same as it has for the last year.

Only Alex Mack appeared on this week’s injury list, but he will start against Minnesota.

Through five weeks, Matt Ryan has been sacked 11 times, which is an improvement from last season but still mediocre.

Todd Gurley II kicked his production up a notch last week, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the first time as a Falcon. He now averages 4.7 yards per carry with Atlanta’s line clearing the way for him.


Hunter typically causes havoc for opposing teams.

Last season, he ranked fourth in the NFL with 14.5 sacks, leading the Vikings to a fifth-place finish in the same category. This season, he was expected to continue as a vital cog on a retooled defense.

But because Hunter was placed on injured reserve before Week 1, Minnesota trots out a starting defensive line of Ifeadi Odenigbo, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson and Yannick Ngakoue.

Ngakoue, whom the Vikings received from the Jacksonville Jaguars in August, has starred in Hunter’s absence. He has five sacks in five games, tied for third in the league.

But overall, Minnesota doesn’t possess a power pass rush. It averages 2.2 sacks a game — 18th-best in the NFL. No other Viking has recorded more than two sacks.

Minnesota isn’t much better against the run. It has given up the eighth-most rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry.

Pro Football Focus graded the defense as the 22nd-best unit in the league.

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