The Falcons face on paper arguably their weakest opponent of the season this week. Standing at lowly 2-8 the Vikings have struggled to compete in a fierce NFC North.
The first concern for the Falcons Defense need to contend with is the Vikings offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave formerly the Falcons QB Coach. This familiarity with each other could go either way but I expect some new wrinkles from Musgrave when attacking our defense.
The bread and butter of this Vikings attack is the run game featuring All Pro RB Adrian Peterson. The Falcons may catch a big break as Adrian Peterson could miss the game with a high ankle sprain. Missing Peterson would be a devastating blow to the Vikings’ chances and would be forced to turn to backup RB Tony Gerhart for the lion share of the carries.
Even if Peterson is able to go on Sunday, he will likely struggle anyway (despite his great talent) against a Falcons Defense, now ranked 2nd in the NFL against the run.
The success or failure of the Vikings this Sunday, will be on the shoulders of rookie QB Christian Ponder. The 12th overall pick from 2011 hasn’t wowed anybody like Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, but has done a decent job in replacing Donavon McNabb, since taking over the role a few weeks ago. In five games this season he has completed 52.1% thrown for 955 yards, 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
He is limited in arm strength and will struggle to get over the top of our defense. The area of the field the Vikings will likely look to exploit is over the middle behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties (an area where we have been exploited in recent times, with speedy WR Percy Harvin and former Falcon WR Michael Jenkins. Harvin provides the ability to get yards after the catch and could provide a speed mismatch in our secondary, if given opportunities in space. Jenkins on the other hand is a big possession receiver that has had a decent year in Minnestota despite the lack of talent around him. Snagging 36 balls for 441 yards and 3 touchdowns.
An ageing offensive line and lack of major production from the tight ends make this offense pretty week and something the improving Falcons D should be able to shut down.
On the Vikings Defensive side, there has been a major reshift this season. Whilst the Vikings were known for the Williams wall in recent years, neither will be playing against the Falcons due to injuries and retirement. The Vikings are also missing former key defensive lineman Ray Edwards, who is now in a Falcons uniform. A line which used to read Edwards-P.Williams-K.Williams-Allen, now reads a slightly less formidable Robison-Guion-Ayodele-Allen.
One name that has remained constant over the years has been DE Jared Allen. Whilst the rest of the team has slumped, he certainly has not recording 13.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles through 10 games! Those are ridiculous stats on a losing team. Allen is obviously the main player the Falcons O-Line need to focus on. Whilst I expect and hope that Svitek remains the starter at Left Tackle, I would still recommend giving him the support of a tight end or running back to help block this awesome defensive end.
The linebacking group features very strong outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who was franchised by the Vikings this past season. He should certainly be a player the Falcons, keep an eye out for. E.J Henderson, may also be a recognizable name, but he is a shadow of his former self. Although he is still a force to be reckoned with in the run game, he should be able to exploited in pass coverage by the Falcons armory of weapons.
The Secondary another former pro bowler in CB Antoine Winfield, who is declining with age. The rest of the group, lacks both the name recognition and elite ability. If Julio Jones is able to play on sunday, he would be a serious mismatch in particular against this pedestrian Vikings secondary.
Whilst the Vikings do boost a small group of stars, the talent level of the entire team is relatively poor. The Falcons are clearly a better football team and should have the tools to win this game. In truth, unless they beat themselves they should come out on top on Sunday. However, in the NFL, on any given Sunday a team can win, so the Falcons must focus on this game, prepare well and play hard to avoid any potential upset.
The Falcons play the Vikings at 1pm ET on Sunday. Go Falcons!