The Falcons may have started out 5-0, but things have turned sour for the team playing under first-year coach Dan Quinn. Quarterback Matt Quinn and Co. have now lost four of their last five games and have lost 13 turnovers in the same stretch. If the season would have ended after last week, Atlanta’s 6-4 record placed them one game behind Minnesota in the wildcard race for the playoffs. Therefore, Sunday’s game will be an important one for both teams; a win for the Vikings would be huge, especially after their recent loss to Green Bay.
Let’s see how Minnesota’s offense will match up against the Falcons.
The offensive line has been holding its own, especially considering its patchwork makeup, but Week 11 was a different story entirely. Green Bay’s defense shook the offensive line significantly, and the results were undeniable. The Packers sacked Teddy Bridgewater six times, and beyond that he received plenty of pressure on (seemingly) most plays. The Vikings were the least-penalized team heading into last week, but they finished the game with eight penalties that cost them 110 yards; four of those were against offensive linemen, and three were against tackle Matt Kalil, who has been having a strong season thus far.
The unit also struggled with blocking, unable to create many holes for Adrian Peterson. Atlanta’s defense ranks No. 10 overall, but its pass rushing is not as much of a threat as one might expect, with only 12 total sacks on the season. That being said, there’s no question: Minnesota’s O-line needs to step it up Sunday in order for the Vikings to be successful. Bridgewater had his highest passing yards of the season against Green Bay, despite being on the ground so often; just think what could happen if he had solid protection.
Bridgewater got sacked six times against the Packers, but it looked like it could have been a lot more. The second-year quarterback received a disappointing amount of pressure, but he was able to slip away from the defense in more than one near-death situation. Although the score didn’t reflect it, Bridgewater finished the game with 296 yards, a 68 completion percentage, and no interceptions. He made some nice passes throughout the afternoon and connected with nine different players, including six completed passes apiece to both Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs. I was pretty happy with Bridgewater’s performance last week—both passing-wise and his ability to keep his composure despite poor protection. Hopefully, getting a handful of solid connections and almost 300 yards helped Bridgewater find a groove heading into Atlanta this week.
After a 200+ yard game against Oakland Week 10, Peterson ran for just 45 yards against Green Bay. Ironically, Bridgewater finished with almost more ground yardage, rushing four times for 43 yards. It will be interesting to see how Norv Turner utilizes Peterson against the Falcons, especially since they have the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL. The Vikings will be facing linebacker Paul Worrilow, who leads Atlanta with 62 tackles (46 solo) on the year; he also has two interceptions.
We all know AP can be incredibly dynamic and dangerous to opposing defenses, but Sunday could be a challenge for the running back. Peterson also fumbled against the Packers, his sixth dropped ball of the season; hopefully for Minnesota, he will finish Week 12 without any errors. As Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman pointed out recently, it’s hard to keep Peterson from producing two games in a row.
Minnesota’s receiving game has struggled a bit during the 2015 season, but the corps looked fairly solid against Green Bay. Receivers Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright combined for 116 yards off 10 passes, and the tight ends also played a big part in receiving yards. Rudolph more than made up for his dropped TD pass in Oakland, ending the game with 106 yards and a touchdown. He made two especially impressive catches, and the chemistry between him and Bridgewater was great to see. Rhett Ellison made two receptions as well, and MyCole Pruitt snagged one. Rudolph and Diggs have stood out as Bridgewater favored targets as of late, and it will be crucial for both of them to have another big day against Atlanta. Being that the Falcons’ run defense is so strong, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more passing plays by the Vikings Sunday.
For Vikings fans, playing Atlanta may never stop drudging up painful memories of the 1998 playoff game; hopefully, Minnesota will be able to find a win this time around and help secure a wildcard spot in this year’s postseason. There is a lot riding on this game for both teams, but I feel confident that after a week to go over their mistakes from the loss, the Vikings will rebound and come out on top. Both squads’ defenses tend to take the cake, and I’m expecting another lower-scoring game.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Falcons 13