You can be sure the Vikings have been watching a lot of college football game tape this past week. Specifically, tape of the Louisville Cardinals, where Bobby Petrino was the head coach last year.
The Atlanta Falcons Offense
At Louisville, Petrino implemented a Power/Spread offense 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.
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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 Joey Harrington 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 Joe Horn. First rounders Roddy White and Michael Jenkins have yet to fulfill their promise.
The Falcons do have some rough running backs in Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood 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 Artose Pinner, 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 Roderick Coleman is out (thank God) along with starting safety Chris Crocker and defensive tackle Grady Jackson is questionable, the Falcons still have a lot of talent on D.
On the line, the Falcons have veteran John Abraham and highly regarded rookie Jamaal Anderson at the ends. Though listed as questionable, Jackson will likely start at nose tackle with Jonathan Babineaux replacing Coleman.
They have two talented linebackers in Keith Brooking and Demorrio Williams.
In the defensive backfield they have DeAngelo Hall at one of the corner spots, 33 year old Lawyer Milloy at strong safety, with two-year man Jimmy Williams 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 Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson in order to minimize the chances for Tarvaris Jackson 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 Ryan Cook, 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 Michael Vick saga and I think you’ve got the ingredients for an Atlanta loss.