Time To Clinch – Minnesota Vikings Vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview

Today’s game is the best chance the Vikings have among the two remaining games of the season of controlling their own destiny. Though the Falcons boast the second best runner (second only to Adrian Peterson, of course) in the league, the Vikings match up better against Atlanta than they do against the last team on their regular season schedule, the New York Giants.

After an abysmal year with Michael Vick‘s legal troubles and the coach abandoning his team, this year’s Falcons squad is a great story. Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has been stellar and running back Michael Turner has been the steal of free agency.

Still, like the Cardinals, Atlanta seems to be a better team on paper than they are in person. Yes, they have a winning record (9-5) but like Arizona, their victories have mostly come at the expense of soft teams. They’ve split their series with division rivals and only barely pulled out a win last week at home against a fading Tampa Bay team minus starting quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Division games are unique in that division opponents are much more familiar with one another since they play each other twice a season, every season.

Take away their division victories and the only team Atlanta has beat with a winning record has been Chicago, and that game they won by only two points. Outside of their division, they lost to the two teams they’ve played with winning records, Philadelphia and Denver. Atlanta’s losses within their division all occurred on the road.

The Vikings are coming off their first victory in which they really played together as a team for the first time this season. They made few mistakes. Even on the drive that began with two false starts, which earlier in the year would have derailed a drive, they overcame the penalties by capping the drive with a score.

Minnesota Vikings v Arizona Cardinals

Cedric Griffin had his best day as a Viking and has steadily improved over the course of the season. Matched up against Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald with league MVP candidate Curt Warner throwing them the ball, Griffin more than held his own. He jammed receivers off the line, stayed with them in coverage, and made an amazing one-handed interception (and he probably should have had two more). Griffin doesn’t give receivers nearly as much cushion and when he goes for the tackle now he’s not only quick but also under control. Remember how he used to fly off receivers because he came in too fast to wrap them up? No longer.

While Griffin can credit Jared Allen and the pressure the defensive line brings to bear on opposing quarterbacks, there’s no question his game has improved immensely.

Despite Arizona’s blocked kick return for a touchdown, special teams were uncharacteristically solid during recent weeks. I can only imagine that Childress heeded the screams of Bud Grant telling him to use more veterans on the unit.

It’s true that Tarvaris Jackson has looked a lot better during the game and a half since subbing for the injured Gus Frerotte, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I know the clamor among fans and media alike has been to start Jackson for the rest of the season but let’s be real. He rallied us to a win against…the Lions. And his primary job last week was to hand off to Adrian Peterson. It was Frerotte, after all, who got us to this point.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to be happy about Jackson’s recent play and hopeful about his future. He did not looked panicked under center, which is probably the most important improvement in his play. He made good reads for the most part and threw some very tough passes–the touchdown’s to Sidney Rice and Bobby Wade in particular.

A primary complaint I’ve had of Jackson during his entire tenure as a Viking has been his abysmal inaccuracy on the long ball. The commentators and post-game analysts proclaimed Jackson’s TD pass to Bernard Berrian “perfect” but it wasn’t; it was under thrown and Berrian had to pull up to haul it in. It was a great catch by Berrian. But at least it was catchable and I’ll take that over his typical unreachable overthrow.

But as we’re looking to clinch a playoff berth, shouldn’t we be dancing with the one who brung us? That’s why I’m a little surprised Childress has opted for inexperience over the unflappable veteran leadership of Frerotte.

The Vikings’ game plan against the Falcons should be pretty much the same plan they used against the Cardinals. Run the ball a lot on offense, control the clock to keep the ball out of the hands of Ryan and Turner, and to put Jackson in high-percentage passing situations.

Minnesota Vikings v Arizona Cardinals

A heavy dose of Peterson and Chester Taylor will help to neutralize pass rusher extraordinaire John Abraham. The Falcons will play Abraham on either side to take advantage of mismatches, so the Vikes can’t put Ryan Cook out on an island against him or we may see Jackson become panicky again.

On defense, the Vikings will need to do what they’ve done all season: Shut down the run and harass the quarterback. This will be much easier said than done. The Falcons have not only dynamic running back Michael Turner in their backfield but also Jerious Norwood, who, though he doesn’t get much action, is no slouch. You can’t have the second leading rusher in the league without having a great offensive line, regardless of the softness of your schedule. This line has given up precious few sacks, as well. And we’ll be facing Turner and Ryan minus Pat Williams. Today we get to see what kind of depth we’ve got at defensive tackle.

But that’s what we need to do to win. Shut ’em down and make Matt Ryan beat us. The Falcons haven’t fared too well when Ryan throws 30 to 40 passes. While he’s clearly talented, he’s still a rookie and he’s never played in a venue as loud as the Dome. We’ll need to get in his face and make him uncomfortable, if not sack him.

Our corners will need to bump the receivers off the line to delay their routes, especially Roddy White, who has finally decided to turn into the elite receiver many expected him to become.

While Darren Sharper ma y have plenty of fond memories of Eli Manning interceptions, the New York Giants are a very good team and the Falcons may not be. This is our best chance for victory of the two games that remain.

Vikings Vs. Falcons Post Game Analysis

I thought the would beat the ; I just didn’t imagine it would be by such a wide margin. But, you know, I don’t know why stomping on the Falcons would be so implausible, considering who was quarterbacking the team.

did what Joey Harrington does; he made disastrous mistakes. It is, therefore, tough to judge how the Vikings are going to fare this year based on this game. The Falcons just aren’t that good. Let’s try, though.

The Offense

Tarvaris Jackson
Originally uploaded by derft.com

At least we scored a touchdown.

Actually, I was pretty encouraged by a lot of things about the offense. The offensive line played fairly well and looked a lot better than they did last year. didn’t have a great game, what with two mis-snaps and a couple of whiffs on blocks. And committed a holding penalty that turned a first-and-five into a first-and-fifteen. I also thought he totally missed a block that would have sprung for a long gain on his end-around carry.

Nevertheless, the line played pretty well, even on the right side, and held his own against rookie left end . They opened holes for Peterson and and provided with a reasonable amount of time in the pocket.

Taylor looked good for the few plays for which he was on the field; hopefully, his hip injury won’t keep him out. Adrian Peterson got to show he could carry the load and proved he could.

A 22 yard kick return, 103 yards rushing on 19 carries for a 5.4 yard average, 60 yards and a touchdown through the air, and a huge fumble recovery that prevented an Atlanta touchdown; not a bad day at the office for Adrian Peterson.

We haven’t seen this kind of speed since s one good year with us and we haven’t seen this kind of explosion and moves since and we haven’t seen this combination of speed and power since . This is gonna be fun.

The receiving corps did pretty well. caught both catchable balls thrown to him and one was a very tough catch with a defender all over him. made a nice catch for a reception and another on the sideline for a near reception. That kid’s got great body control. had a 28 yard catch during which he was wide open because Willamson cleared out the defenders. Tight end made two catches and even got into the act with a very tough catch on a short slant.

Tarvaris Jackson did a good job of managing the the game, made a couple of nice passes and a few that were off and one that was insanely ill-advised. He’s got great velocity on his throws.

He can also put great touch on the ball. That was demonstrated during Peterson’s 60 yard touchdown reception. That play, in fact, revealed several reasons for optimism about Jackson. He had enough patience to let the play develop and only released the ball when was nearly on top of him. When Jackson did release the ball, he did so with great touch, looping it over the defensive end to where Peterson would be, not where he was.

By the time Peterson got to the spot, the ball had dropped into his fingers. Perhaps it was surprise at how perfectly Jackson had placed the ball that made Peterson bobble it. After he’d secured the ball, all he had to do was follow Sidney Rice’s block and outrun the defense to the end zone.

Jackson does appear to have some problems throwing the deep ball. He overthrew Williamson on a deep pass where Williamson had his man beat by a step or two. And he threw out of bounds to Sidney Rice deep as well as on a twenty or thirty yard pass on which Rice was wide open.

Jackson also made a boneheaded play when he was about to be sacked by making a no-look toss behind his back to try and throw the ball out of bounds. It went out of bounds and he got lucky. That’s the type of pass that usually gets picked off and returned for a touchdown.

The Defense

The defense looks better than it did last year. We game up more rushing yards but still kept them under 100. But both the coverage and the pass rush is much better this year.

I know it was Harrington, but still, six sacks is six sacks. had two of them and was an absolute terror against the Birds. My boy got two, one of them from the left side, which is encouraging as hell because we rarely had pressure from that side last year. Back up DT had one and even had a sack…on the very last play of the game. It was great watching defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and and his fellow players jump all over Udeze to congratulate him after the game.

‘ interception return was an amazing display of athleticism. Williams was only trying to bat the ball down and no one in that situation expects to intercept the ball so the fact that he stayed with the ball and hung onto it says a lot about his reflexes and instinct.

Special Teams

So what the hell?!? Where did these guys come from?!? I was dreading watching the special teams units, specifically, the coverage unit.

But they did a great job. Do veterans really make that much of a difference? They looked abysmal during the preseason but great last Sunday.

consistently pinned the Falcons down behind their own twenty and the coverage units ensured they stayed there. Kluwe pinned Atlanta down at their 11 yard line, their 10, their 3, their 19, and their 12.  consistently launched the ball to the one, two, or three yard line and the coverage units kept Atlanta back around their twenty. Longwell made all his extra points and added a 49 yard field goal as well.


Vikings Bloggers On Minnesota/Atlanta Game

These are what other Vikings bloggers think about the Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons matchup:

Minnesota Vikings Vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview

You can be sure the have been watching a lot of college football game tape this past week. Specifically, tape of the , where was the head coach last year.

The Atlanta Falcons Offense

At Louisville, Petrino implemented a and he’s taken that philosophy with him and installed it in Atlanta. There is a long list of college coaches who have brought their philosophies to the NFL and failed but Petrino has something most of those others do not: experience. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks coach from 1999 to 2000 and the team’s offensive coordinator in 2001, so he’s called plays at this level.

So we’ll see about that but we are going to find out very quickly if the Vikings have an answer to spread formations.

The Power/Spread is requires a balanced unit that uses spread formations with one or no running backs and four or five receivers. When they’re not in the spread, they use a traditional Power I formation. They use a great deal of personnel groupings so they can run the same play from as many as ten different formations.

The power part of the Power/Spread is, of course, the traditional Power I running game. Petrino has also some play-action from the Indianapolis Colts.

Joey Harrington 
Originally uploaded by

But here’s where Petrino’s plan might break down. The Power/Spread requires excellent quarterbacks and receivers and tough running backs. Petrino is depending on as his signal caller. Harrington can usually be relied upon to make at least two big mistakes a game. The Vikings have owned Harrington.

The only proven receiver on the Atlanta squad is 35 year old former Saints receiver . First rounders and have yet to fulfill their promise.

The Falcons do have some rough running backs in and but it’s not like they are behemoths; Dunn stands 5’9" and weighs in at 180 lbs. while Norwood is 5’11" and 204 lbs. Our good friend, third stringer , outweighs them both by a good 30 to 50 pounds!

But the Falcons offensive line is employing a new blocking scheme this year, so it’s likely they are not fully practiced or comfortable in it yet.

You defeat the Power/Spread by shutting down the run, which, if memory serves, the Vikings are pretty good at. If we can force Harrington into second and third and long situations, we can force him to make those deliciously disastrous mistakes he’s so prone to make.

The Atlanta Falcons Defense

The Falcons defense is the hard part. While starting defensive tackle is out (thank God) along with starting safety and defensive tackle is questionable, the Falcons still have a lot of talent on D.

On the line, the Falcons have veteran and highly regarded rookie at the ends. Though listed as questionable, Jackson will likely start at nose tackle with replacing Coleman.

They have two talented linebackers in and .

In the defensive backfield they have at one of the corner spots, 33 year old at strong safety, with two-year man replacing Crocker at free safety.

That’s quite a bit of talent.

The Vikings On Offense

I’d expect the Vikings to play a very conservative offense filled with a lot of and in order to minimize the chances for to make a mistake.

When Jackson does throw, he’ll be limited to the side of the field opposite DeAngelo Hall but don’t be surprised if they attack safety Jimmy Williams, who is a good run defender but is often caught out of position against the pass.

Right tackle , I fear, will have a very long day against Jamaal Anderson during passing situations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another of those games where the Vikings D scores the touchdowns and the offense contributes a field goal or three.

Even so, I think the Vikings will pull this one out. Add it up: Joey Harrington, iffy receivers, injuries on defense, and the Falcons are playing here; throw in the saga and I think you’ve got the ingredients for an Atlanta loss.

Falcons Blogs:

2007 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

The thing about this season is that the just have to get a little better than last year to win a lot more games. Consider the games the Vikings lost last year:

  • In September, the Vikings lost to the Bears, 16-19
  • In October, the Vikings lost to the Bills, 17-12
  • and to the Patriots, 7-31
  • In November, the Vikings lost to the 49ers, 9-3
  • to the Packers, 17-23
  • and to the Dolphins, 24-20
  • In December, the Vikings lost to the Bears again, 23-13
  • to the Jets, 13-26
  • again to the Packers, 9-7
  • and to the Rams, 21-41

The two games against the Packers and Bears each were winnable. The margins of victory for each of those four games were 3 points, 6 points, 10 points, and 2 points. The Vikings lost to the Bills by 5 points; to the 49ers by 6 points; and to the Dolphins by four point.

Instead of 6 and 10, they could have easily been 10 and 6 and division winners.

With the addition of , , and , I think the defense has gotten much stronger and much harder to pass against than last season.

But the defense, of course, wasn’t the problem last year. The offense was.

We improved on offense significantly with the addition of . I am officially a converted fan of , who has proven very adept at making yards after the catch. is a great addition if he can stay healthy. is a nice big target who has shown he’s got good hands, is not afraid to catch the ball in a crowd, is very athletic and has excellent body control. And if we can get to catch a few long bombs, we’ll at least have the semblance of a deep threat.

The offensive line returns with one year together playing the zone blocking scheme, so they’ve got to improve simply because they are more familiar with one another and with zone blocking.

The big question is . He looks very poised and by all accounts is a smart kid, a quick study, and a quick decision maker. The main thing for Jackson is to avoid mistakes, which is to say turnovers, while he learns the ropes.

The most glaring weakness of this team is the coverage units, which are absolutely horrible. I’m not too confident that they’ll improve that much.

Looking at the schedule, I think it’s reasonable to think that the Vikings could go 9-7 or even 10-6 this year. I’m giving the Vikings both games against the , even with . That team has to prove to me they can win, cause they’ve never done it before. I’d split the series as I would the series, though I think the Vikings could sweep them as well.

We should beat the Vickless to open the season. We play the , the , and the , all of which should be wins.

So that’s eight wins.

The are beatable with at QB. The are beatable. They’ve got a rookie coach and we don’t yet know whether is the real thing. The and the look as if they will be good, but they’re sorta at that stage where it’s too early to tell. Even the could be beatable because you never know if will be healthy.

Thee only guaranteed loss is to the .