Another week for the Vikings defense, another Pro Bowl quality quarterback.
Coming off losses to past Super Bowl champions Tom Brady and Drew Brees, things don’t get much easier as the Vikings return home Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. They’re going up against Matt Ryan, who is leading Atlanta with the NFL’s top-ranked offense.
While it has started to sound like a broken record, players like safety Harrison Smith are wondering when the Murderer’s Row is going to stop. Once again, the Vikings are facing a quarterback that, if allowed to be comfortable in the pocket, can pick a defense apart.
“We’re going through the list of quarterbacks here,” Smith said. “Matt Ryan plays with a lot of poise and can pull the trigger quickly. He has a command of their offense and you can see that confidence in him. He makes plays and has the weapons to hurt you if you make mistakes or don’t execute.”
One of the biggest problems Ryan poses to a defense is that, even when a defense gets pressure on him, he doesn’t seem fazed by it and stays cool under pressure as bodies are flying around him.
“Matty is one of those quarterbacks who really doesn’t get rattled quick,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “You have to stay on him.”
It is that calm demeanor that has earned Ryan the nickname Matty Ice. Captain Munnerlyn has faced Ryan several times from his days with Carolina and can attest that the nickname is justified.
“Matty Ice, they call him that for a reason,” Munnerlyn said. “They’ve got the No. 1 offense in the league right now. It’s a great test for us and I know for the secondary, we’re ready.”
The guys up front are going to have to be ready as well. If the Vikings pass rush can’t force Ryan to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to, he has the skill to pick them apart.
“He’s another one of those quarterbacks who will be a big challenge for us,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “We have to go out and execute our jobs to get him off his spot. He has shown that if you let him stand back there and pat the ball he can make big plays. We have to rush him on every play and make sure that if he drops back to pass that we’re coming and will make him pay for it.”
While Ryan is a great quarterback, he doesn’t do it alone. He is flanked on either side by two of the top receivers in the league – potential Hall of Famer Roddy White and arguably the best receiver in the game today in Julio Jones.
With two superstar talents at his disposal, double covering both of them won’t be possible and the Vikings will have to mix and match their coverages to keep Ryan off-balance and not able to lock in on the single-covered deep threat.
“Both of them can be home run receivers,” Brinkley said. “You just have to pick your poison.”
More troubling for the Vikings is that Jones and White are not the only threats capable of making big plays downfield. The top two threats are the primary big receivers, but, as Munnerlyn can attest, they aren’t just a dynamic duo, they’re a fab four in the Falcons’ high-flying receiver corps.
“Julio is a big physical guy who you don’t want to play that guy off because he can catch the ball, get the YAC yards after the catch and make big plays,” Munnerlyn said. “Roddy White, it’s simple – he’s a veteran. He’s crafty, he can catch and he’s also sneaky fast. He can get behind you and make those big plays. And you can’t forget about Devin Hester and Harry Douglas. They’ve got a great group, an explosive group.”
Once again, the Vikings defense is going to be charged with slowing down an explosive pass-happy offense. After a rocky start against New Orleans last week, the Vikings defense played well in the final three quarters. This time around, the challenge is just as daunting, but the Vikings are convinced that, if they can get off to a strong start, they can stop their current two-game losing streak and get back to .500 before they hit the divisional portion of the 2014 schedule.
“Last week was a tough week, but I think we played some good football at times, but we didn’t get the win,” Munnerlyn said. “This is another test, another great team coming in – a playoff-potential team. We’ve just got to go out there, execute and play football. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – playing football and getting a win. We’re a physical, tough defense, but we also have to be a smarter defense. Hopefully, we can put all that together and get a win”
Vikings know the dangers of Falcons offense
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