|Photo Courtesy of Bleacher Report|
The Vikings (7-3) will be traveling to Atlanta (6-4) to square off with the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Can the Vikings reclaim first place in the NFC North? Daniel House previews the matchup and provides his keys to victory.
Updated: November 28th, 2015 9:04pm
Updated: November 28th, 2015 9:04pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings (7-3) will be traveling to Atlanta (6-4) to square off with the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. This battle features two teams that are currently battling for the NFC Wild Card spots. Atlanta has lost three consecutive games and have been plagued by inconsistent play and turnovers. The Vikings are fresh off a 30-13 loss to the Packers, but after a Green Bay loss on Thanksgiving Day, have the chance to reclaim first place in the NFC North. In order to win on the road, the Vikings need to eliminate their mistakes, while handling the weapons Atlanta has on offense. With Harrison Smith out, the backend of the defense will need to step up. In addition, Teddy Bridgewater needs to have time to make throws in the pocket. Those are just a few aspects of the game Minnesota will need to execute well to leave Atlanta victorious.
Last week, the Vikings offensive line didn't protect Teddy Bridgewater and it resulted in six sacks. Green Bay brought pressure on every play to cause headaches up front. According to Pro Football Focus, Bridgewater was pressured on 60% of his dropbacks. Not to mention, the Vikings uncharacteristically committed a massive amount of penalties. Bridgewater was dealing with long down situations on 40% of the total offensive plays. The Vikings offense isn't built to play in these situations. Fortunately, the Falcons have corralled the fewest sacks (12) of any team. They haven't dialed up a significant pass rush through the first ten games. If Bridgewater has time to move in the pocket and can step into his throws, he's a different player. The Falcons have allowed middle of the road yardage through the air and the Vikings must get their passing game going. The receivers need to get separation and the offense must find a rhythm by completing short passes. Later in the game, finding receivers vertically off play action would help open this offense up. Being a well-rounded and balanced offense is something the Vikings haven't found at all this season.
Running the ball against a stout Falcons run defense
The Falcons have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL through the first ten games of the season. The interior of their defensive line has done a great job containing running backs up front. Adrian Peterson was held to 45 yards last week, but rarely has two consecutive performances where he is shut down. In fact, he has been held to under 50 yards rushing just 18 times in his career. With that being said, it will be very difficult to contain Peterson again. Yardage might not be the most important for him. Hanging onto the ball is more critical. Peterson has put the ball on the ground six times this season. The Vikings can't give the Falcons a short field or more opportunities to make plays offensively. Again, establishing the run and becoming more balanced is critical for this team moving forward. When Peterson can't run the ball, the Vikings offense is totally different and that can't happen for them to win against Atlanta.
Covering and containing Julio Jones
Julio Jones is leading the NFL in receptions and yardage and is the major aspect of the Falcons offense. With Devonta Freeman out, this is even more of the case. Atlanta's vertical passing game is one of the best in the league when they are clicking. Recently, they've been making too many mistakes that are resulting in turnovers. That's why they've lost three consecutive contests. Atlanta has surrendered the fifth-most giveaways. Xavier Rhodes will need to make sure he plays physical and handles the one-on-one matchup. Jones has the speed and adjustment skills to make difficult vertical receptions. The backend of the defense will need to be ready to handle this. With Harrison Smith out, Antone Exum will be making the start. Andrew Sendejo and Exum will need to be ready to handle the vertical passing that comes over the top.
Keeping Matt Ryan inside the pocket
Matt Ryan is a good, but not great quarterback at this level. He can throw three touchdowns, along with three interceptions too. The key for the Vikings will be to keep him inside the pocket. Ryan is good at extending plays and making tough throws outside the pocket. However, when he is relegated to staying inside the pocket, he's not nearly as effective. The Falcons have allowed the fifth-fewest sacks of any offensive line. Nonetheless, the Vikings need to send blitzes and disguises that get the Atlanta offense out of the rhythm. Last week, they couldn't prevent the big plays and let Aaron Rodgers dictate the tempo. That can't happen with this squad either. Their offense is very rhythm based, but has the big-play ability too. Rushing the quarterback will be pivotal to being successful on the road in Atlanta.
Force the Falcons into making mistakes
The Falcons have surrendered the fifth-most turnovers (18) and it has contributed to their three-game losing streak. Matt Ryan has thrown two or more interceptions in four of the first ten games and hasn't been nearly as impressive. With Devonta Freeman out, running back Tevin Coleman will get the start. He has more career fumbles than touchdowns and has consistently struggled with ball security. If the Vikings can force Atlanta into making mistakes, they'll benefit. Winning the turnover battle will be more important in this game. The Vikings haven't been creating enough takeaways and need to improve in this aspect.