If ever there was a no-brainer Matchup to Watch, it might be this week. For several critical reasons the play-by-play battle that will be waged by Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil and Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie is without question this week's Matchup to Watch.
In recent weeks, Vikings opponents have turned up the heat on the running game, forcing eight and nine men in the box. They have almost dared offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel to throw and put the onus on Tarvaris Jackson to beat them. Against both the Bears and the Redskins, the Vikings struggled mightily in that regard. So, it would only make sense for Denver to do the same.
If the Vikings are forced to pass more, it will be incumbent upon McKinnie to neutralize Dumervil, who is tied for 10th in the league with 11.5 sacks – more than the Vikings' top two sack leaders combined. At just 5-11, 250, Dumervil is capable of being smothered by McKinnie, who has an enormous size and reach advantage on him. But, he has made his bread and butter as a relentless speed rusher. Bigger offensive tackles have been able to force Dumervil to rush too wide and take himself out of plays, but, as games have progressed, many of those same tackles have been worn down by his non-stop motor and given up sacks.
If the Broncos can limit the Vikings' effectiveness in the run, protecting Jackson's blind side will be critical. Dumervil has a knack for making big hits and forcing passes to go wobbling into the air for potential interceptions or fumbled by a blind-sided sack. If he can do either to Jackson, who seems to be rattled relatively easily by NFL standards, he could make the big play that changes the tide of the game.
The best the Vikings can for hope for is to not hear Dumervil's name mentioned too often. He's going to be smothered by McKinnie on a lot of plays – it happens to him regularly. But his ability to keep hard-charging and wearing down the bigger, slower man opposite him will be a challenge McKinnie will face all day. One mistake and Jackson will get drilled from behind and be at risk of a fumble or interception that could be the difference between finishing off a playoff run or finishing 8-8 with a disappointing end to the season.