Facing Tim Tebow and his primitive passing skills might seem like a breather for a depleted secondary that's faced Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers twice in the past five games.
If the Vikings can stay gap sound against the run and not lose containment when Tebow takes off running – easier said than done – this is a winnable game at home.
Even if the team has to go with Toby Gerhart at running back, the offense can still put up some points if it finds a way to max protect and get Percy Harvin the ball. Again, that will be easier said than done since the Vikings now have no other wideout with at least 10 catches. Harvin will receive extra attention, but it's not like that wasn't already happening before Michael Jenkins ended up on injured reserve because of a knee injury.
Perhaps Tim Tebow won't carry the ball 22 times, as he did last week in the overtime win vs. San Diego. But unless the Broncos fall behind, expect Denver to follow the same formula that's led the team to four consecutive wins.
Denver will be aggressive via its No. 1-ranked rush offense and take its shots with the pass while bypassing unnecessary risks that create turnovers. It will then let its defense do the rest.
Minnesota's offense could be at a steep disadvantage vs. a Denver defense that's gaining more confidence by the week.
Denver's last three opponents have been held to 13 points or fewer. And if the Vikings are missing RB Adrian Peterson, one of the league's premier players, while also featuring a receiving corps that includes only Percy Harvin with 10-plus catches, it should allow defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to mix coverage and perhaps dial up increased blitzes to rattle rookie QB Christian Ponder.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
LT Ryan Clady, a 2009 Pro Bowl starter still trying to regain that previous form, vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen, the second-leading sack producer in the NFC (13.5). Clady had knee surgery prior to last season to repair a torn patellar tendon, and the sum effect is that while he's played well and is still plenty athletic to protect the blindside, he's had more difficult dealing with speed rushers since that injury. Denver has run two-tight-end formations significantly as its gone run-crazy in recent games. Chris Clark, a converted tackle used in those formations, could give Clady help at times on obvious passing downs – if there is such a thing, given Denver's current philosophy.
QB Tim Tebow, with the element of surprise firmly on his side, vs. a Vikings secondary decimated by injuries. No, the Broncos aren't about to ditch their option-based philosophy that produced 50-plus carries twice in the past three weeks. And, no, Tebow isn't suddenly going to have the deep accuracy of Aaron Rodgers. However, Tebow has had success by sucking in defenders hell-bent on stopping Denver's No. 1 ground game, then hitting big plays over the top. The Vikings already are without CB Antoine Winfield (collarbone) and possibly CB Asher Allen (shoulder). Two of the top three safeties also are on injured reserve – Hussain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (hamstring). That could open opportunities for another Eric Decker touchdown or perhaps reintroduce folks to 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas.
Vikings OLB Chad Greenway, who has 39 tackles the past two weeks, vs. Broncos unconventional QB Tim Tebow, who has 78 rushes for 455 yards (5.8) and three touchdowns this season. The responsibility for Tebow goes way beyond any one player, but Greenway is now being credited with having 22 tackles two weeks ago against the Raiders and 17 last week against the Falcons. Too many of the tackles come too far downfield, so he'll have to have better positioning and take better angles. If the Vikings are gap sound across the board, they should be able to contain Tebow. And if they do that, Tebow could be in trouble facing the Vikings' pass rush at the Metrodome.
Vikings OTs Charlie Johnson and Phil Loadholt, who have been inconsistent at best this season, vs. Broncos SLB Von Miller. Miller, the second overall draft pick this year, has 4.5 sacks during Denver's current four-game winning streak. He has 10.5 on the year and has a chance of breaking Jevon Kearse's NFL rookie record of 14.5 set in 1999. Johnson is a one-year stopgap left tackle that most likely will be replaced after this season. Loadholt has a future with the team, but is inconsistent and susceptible to speed rushers.
Vikings-Broncos game plan
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