Behind Enemy Lines: A Closer Look At the Minnesota Vikings


Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

After such an emphatic win last Thursday this week the Atlanta Falcons head to Minnesota full of confidence as they are set to play a Minnesota Vikings franchise in turmoil. However, Mike Zimmer’s team hasn’t hit a full tail spin just yet. While it is true that the Vikings are currently in some sort of crisis mode the Vikings still have more than enough talent both on the field and in the coaching staff that they should not be overlooked as simply another step on the Falcons road to redemption.

Firstly let’s just take stock of what players the Vikings will be without when they take the field Sunday:

  • Adrian Peterson
  • Matt Cassel
  • Kyle Rudolph
  • Jerome Simpson
  • Brandon Fusco

All the above players are confirmed as being out of Sunday’s matchup which means that in essence the Vikings have lost their starting; QB, RB, TE, WR and RG. To add insult to injury, Chad Greenway the Vikings middle linebacker and tackling machine has missed practice all week and looks unlikely to play. Corner Josh Robinson has also been limited in practice this week. On paper these injuries look pretty devastating but not all of them are quite as damaging as we may first imagine.

Minnesota’s Offense:

Matt Cassel was the starting QB, but in reality he was the short term starter up until rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater was acclimatized with this offense. Now obviously the Vikings never planned to get Bridgewater involved so early, but to be honest, after the start to the season Cassel has had the Vikings will more than likely be better off with the rookie QB at the helm, as was seen in last week’s game vs New Orleans.

Despite his draft position Bridgewater was the best QB available in this year’s draft and the Falcons would be foolish to take him lightly. What will be interesting is just how much of the playbook the Vikings open up for Bridgewater, especially considering the team is without all-pro RB Adrian Peterson. Obviously we only have a very small sample of tape on Teddy in the NFL but even so his cameo against the Saints was very impressive. Bridgewater displayed a calmness in the pocket that many veteran QB’s don’t have, let alone a rookie in his first NFL game.

Rookie QB’s often try and force the game early but last week Bridgewater was very calm and composed despite entering the game in a losing situation on the road. Bridgewater showed his comfort as the leader of the Vikings offense and he was happy to take what the Saints defense gave him instead of trying to force the ball downfield.

If the Falcons want to get after Bridgewater then Mike Nolan will have to find ways of confusing Teddy through inventive blitzes and coverage’s. Now obviously the best way to stop a rookie QB is to hit him and hit him often and with the Vikings offensive line banged up and underperforming the Falcons look to have a decent chance of generating pressure.

The biggest surprise for the Vikings has been the play of LT Matt Kalil whose play has taken a steep drop off this season. If Kalil’s play doesn’t improve the likes of Osi Umeniyora and Jonathan Massaquoi could be in for a big day.

Another weakness for the Vikings will be the right guard spot as they have now lost Brandon Fusco. Fusco will most likely be replaced by Vladamir Ducasse who to put it bluntly is not a good football player. If Ducasse does indeed get the start expect the Falcons to get a lot of success with interior pressure. If the Falcons can consistently get the better of Ducasse then Bridgewater could be in for a long day.

With the loss of Peterson the Minnesota Vikings running game is now spear headed by Matt Asiata. Asiata hasn’t had a great start to the season since taking over from Peterson (he’s averaging 3.0 yards a carry) and the Falcon will want to make sure they eliminate the Vikings run game early. The Falcons run defense has blown hot and cold so far this year but up against a banged up offensive line and substandard running back the Falcons should have some success stopping what in reality is a fairly feeble Vikings ground game.

The Vikings have dismissed Jerome Simpson from the roster but despite this they still boast two very good wide receivers in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. Jennings is a similar receiver to Roddy White in that both are possession type receivers who create separation with their route running while neither are really a legitimate threat to take the top off a defense. Cordarrelle Patterson was drafted to replace Percy Harvin and the only real difference between the two players is that Patterson is bigger and stronger. Patterson is a physical specimen and if you put him with the ball in his hands there are very few players as dangerous as him. So far this season the Vikings have struggled to get Patterson involved much on offense but that could well change Sunday. Whether it’s as a receiver, returner or a running back the Falcons should expect to see a heavy dosage of Patterson this Sunday.

Kyle Rudolph was this week ruled out for up 6 weeks with a sports hernia injury. Rudolph was looking like heading towards a potential break out season and he will be sorely missed by both Bridgewater and the Vikings offense. The Falcons have struggled all season defending the middle of the field and so Rudolph’s injury looks like a big bullet missed for the Falcons. With Rudolph out injured the Vikings will probably split TE reps between Rhett Ellison and MarQueis Gray. Ellison is used mainly as a blocker while Gray is a fairly unique player having played multiple positions including fullback, wide receiver and quarterback. With Rudolph out it will be interesting if the Vikings try and get Gray at all involved in the passing game.

Injuries and suspensions have severely weakened this Vikings offense but even so with Bridgewater now inserted as the starter there are still enough playmakers on this team to make a defense as poor as Atlanta’s pay. If the Falcons want to shut this offense down they need to eliminate the Vikings run game early on and force Teddy to throw the ball. The danger with having Bridgewater throw the ball a lot is that if he is given time he is more than good enough to make a defense pay and so the Falcons will have to make sure they mix things up and make the rookie uncomfortable from the word go.

Minnesota Vikings’ Defense:

On defense the Vikings are very good. While there are no real superstars on this defense Mike Zimmer is one of the league’s best defensive minds and he is extremely good at figuring out opposing quarterbacks weaknesses and then scheming a game plan around those weaknesses.

The Vikings defensive line is headlined by Brian Robinson and Linval Joseph. Robinson is an active player who can contribute against both the pass and the run. One of Robinson’s problems at least in previous years has been his ability to finish plays but just because his pressures don’t always turn into sacks doesn’t mean we should underestimate Robinson. Lamar Holmes has been incredibly bipolar so far this season and if the bad Lamar shows up there is no doubting that Robinson is capable of making him pay.

Linval Joseph is that prototypical big bodied space eating lineman. Joseph makes his paycheck in run defense where he takes on double teams and provides linebackers with free lanes to ball carriers. Jospeh is probably an underrated player as he does a lot of things well and against Joe Hawley (a player who struggles against bigger nose tackles) it wouldn’t be too farfetched to see Joseph have a big impact on the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Elsewhere on the defensive line the Vikings have Sheriff Floyd who although he hasn’t lived up to his draft pick (yet) is a more than capable player on his day. Another player who flashed a couple of times on film is Tom Johnson who the Vikings signed this offseason. Johnson has shown an ability to get after the quarterback so far this year and he is definitely a player to watch for when he checks into the game.

At linebacker it looks as though the Vikings will be without talisman Chad Greenway. While there is no denying Greenway’s toughness and resilience he’s a player who is constantly flattered by the stat sheet. While Greenway does make a ton of tackles he also misses a lot and he is a total liability in coverage. The Vikings will miss Greenway’s leadership and toughness on Sunday but his actual play will probably be missed less than most imagine.

Elsewhere at linebacker the Vikings have rookie Anthony Barr whose pro career has gotten off to a much quicker and better start then many envisioned. Barr is the type of player that Zimmer will love to work with and its already clear just how much fun the Vikings are having moving Barr around the formation.

Overall the Vikings front seven is a very stout unit and just because it lacks a superstar name doesn’t mean the Falcons should underestimate this unit.

The Vikings secondary is led by free safety Harrison Smith who has gotten off to a very good start this season. Smith is a big bodied safety who is capable of making plays both in the box and in coverage. While Smith is a fairly good athlete if he gets matched up one on one with a Falcons receiver that’s going to be advantage Atlanta almost every time.

Smith is partnered by strong safety Robert Blanton who is unquestionably the weak link in this Vikings secondary. The Falcons will hopefully be targeting Blanton as much as possible as this is a player the Falcons offense can definitely expose.

The Vikings have three solid corner backs in Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn. Robinson has started off this season well but the Falcons will hope he is slowed down by the injury that has had him limited in practice this week. Opposite Robinson the Vikings have Xavier Rhodes, a long, physical corner. While Rhodes does have some nice qualities his lack of top end speed looks a potential area the Falcons can exploit. The Vikings slot corner is a player the Falcons know well from his time in Carolina. Captain Munerlyn seemed to always be underrated with the Panthers but he is a good slot corner who could have some success with whoever the Falcons line up inside.

The Vikings defense lacks a superstar but they are still a very stout unit who are coached very well, underestimate them at your peril.


Many people will look at the Vikings this week and write them off because of the players they have missing. However, the Falcons need to be wary of underestimating anyone, particularly a defense as capable as this one. Last week’s win vs the Bucs while impressive was much more about the Bucs awfulness than it was about the Falcons effectiveness. Before anyone gets too excited about this matchup its important to remember last week the Vikings held the Saints (at home) to 20 points while limiting Jimmy Graham to 54 yards on 6 catches. Any team that can limit the high flying Saints offense to that extent deserves serious respect.