The Minnasota Vikings without Adrian Peterson is like listening to Aerosmith without Steven Tyler, or Rage Against the Machine without Zach de la Rocha. It is like hiring Austin Powers minus his mojo. He is the beard of the Vikings; the absolute identity that has been associated with the team. AP has been ruled out of today’s one o’clock kickoff in the Georgia Dome, and without him, the Vikings become a totally different team.
The Vikings have struggled to say the least this season, even with AP. Their (2-8) record puts them in the running for the infamous “Luck Lottery” come April 2012. They are tied for the worst record in the NFC with the Carolina Panthers and the St. Louis Rams.
Stanford standout Toby Gerhart will have to have one of the best games of his career in replacing Peterson in order for the Vikings to have a chance in this game. He is a very capable runner and the Falcons will have to hit him hard and early. Fortunately for Falcons’ fans, we have been able to witness the progression of this stingy run defense with a beefy defensive middle and young, fast, hard hitting linebackers. The Falcons run defense has shot up the charts, ranking second in the NFL now, only allowing 85 yards per game. The front seven has improved with every game, and teams have totally stopped even trying to run the ball late in games.
The Falcons pass defense must play better though against another young rookie Vikings QB Christian Ponder. The Vikings have been very pleased with the evolution of Ponder in his few games started, and the Falcons must control him unlike they did against fellow rookie Jake Locker last week against the Titans. Although Ponder and Vikings playmaker Percy Harvin were long time rivals in college (Ponder at Florida State and Harvin at Florida), they now have created this bond which is helping both players. Harvin is getting more touches and Ponder has found a comfort zone.
Harvin will line up all over the field. The Falcons could see him at running back, in the slot, out wide, and maybe even returning kicks. The Falcons will have to know where he is at all times in order to lock him down and not allow him to break free for a big gainer.
Look for Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense to try to control the tempo in this one. The Vikings, being another dome team, will be comfortable on the turf and will seek to control the game. I really think offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will let Ryan make most of the calls this week. This is the perfect game for Ryan to settle in and call all the plays. Ryan is inching toward becoming that Peyton Manning type of player that can not only control the throws, but also the game; specifically the plays and the tempo. Ryan has learned that the no huddle offense doesn’t just have to be in 2 minute situations. He has learned how to use it to keep tired defensive players on the field, and to keep the defensive play calls out of the coaches control.
The Falcons must win every game they are supposed to win down the stretch. This play-off race in the NFC is tighter than Richard Simmons’ workout onzie. If the Falcons have post season plans for a push, they must take care of business against the weaker teams, especially at home. Look for the Falcons to fly over the Vikings, and hopefully leave them in the past.