Vkings fans who are honest with themselves have to put this game in the loss column and then hope to be pleasantly surprised. It’s not out of the question that the Vikings could beat the Atlanta Falcons today, but the odds are stacked heavily against a win.
First and foremost, the Vikings are so beat up that their depth will be sorely tested today.
On offense, we know we’ll be without wide receiver Nate Burleson; we were prepared for that and compensated well enough gainst the Saints last week, so nice as it would be to have him in the lineup, we can go without him. But Moe Williams might not play today, either, and that could hurt us on passing situations because he is our best blocking back. Mewelde Moore is expected to get the start at running back, but if he has trouble picking up the blitz, we may see Michael Bennett more than you’d think.
Those are our injuries on offense. But our problems are on defense.
Defensive end Kenechi Udeze is out for today and beyond the bye, as he is scheduled for surgery. Pass rushing specialist Lance Johnstone is likely out due to a torn pectoral muscle. That means Spencer Johnson will start and first round defensive end Erasmus James will see extended action for the first time this season. Rookie C.J. Mosely should get some time spelling the defensive tackles.
Nickelback Brian Williams is out so Ralph Brown will step in for him and we’ll have rookies Devonte Edwards and the soft-handed Laroni Gallishaw to play in dime packages. With free safety Darren Sharper likely out, and with Willie Offord gone for the season, Corey Chavos should shift to free safety and Ken Irvin will play strong safety for essentially the first time in his career.
It’s almost too much to ask for this patched-up lineup to hold their own against the rushing attack of the Atlanta Falcons. We might see extensive 3-4 defensive schemes in order to screw with the Falcons’ blocking assignments and to compensate for our banged up line.
The Falcons like to pound the ball with running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, not to mention letting Michael Vick freelance on the run.
For the Vikings to have a chance against Atlanta, they’ll need to do a reasonable job of containing the run and forcing passing situations and then keep Vick in the pocket. Yeah, I know: Rotsa Ruck with that.
Vick’s completion percentage soars when he rolls out, so you’ve got to force him to throw from the pocket. The reason Vick is as dangerous a weapon as he is begins with his footwork and running ability. Not only is he fast and can run, but he’s got amazing moves that make people miss. When Vick is in open field rolling out, defensive backs have a natural tendency to peel off their coverage to defend against him taking off. That, obviously, leaves open receivers to throw to.
But because of his excellent footwork and his ability to make people miss, he can buy time in the backfield, as well. The more time a quaterback gets to throw, the more likely recievers will shake their defenders and get open. So Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield will need to blanket their receivers and hope the the defensive line and linebackers can put the pressure on Vick.
For the Vikings to win, on defense they can’t give up the big, quick-strike scoring play and they must play extremely tough in the red zone.
On offense, the Vikings will need to play ball control like they haven’t shown they can this year. They’ll need to be able to run the ball well, eating up the clock with rushes and short passing plays. Just methodically advance the chains and keep the Falcons offense off the field.
Luckily for the Vikings, the Falcons are suspect against the run. They gave up 100-plus yard rushing games during their past two outings. Their D-line is undersized and can be pushed around. But both end Patrick Kerney and tackle Rod Coleman are terrors on the pass rush. Marcus Johnson will have his work cut out for him.
The Vikings will run most of their plays behind tackle Bryant McKinney and guard Chris Liwienski and to the Falcons’ weaker side of the D-line. Right outside linebacker Demorrio Williams is the weakest link of Atlanta’s linebacker corps, right cornerback Jason Webster is coming off an inury and strong safety Keion Carpenter hasn’t been all that this season, so the Vikings will definitely work that side of the field.
It’s a tall task, but the Falcons can be beat. The question is if the Vikings can overcome the injuries they’ve sustained and still play disciplined enough with their backups to win. I don’t think so.
I’ll be happy if the Vikings stay close and don’t get blown out. We do, after all, get to play in the NFC North.