The Vikings' top-ranked rushing defense will get a tough test, facing one of the NFL's best running teams. There is no doubt the loss of Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams could hurt Minnesota in this one.
The Falcons, who are tied with the Giants for the NFL lead with an average of 148.7 yards per game on the ground, are likely to go right after Fred Evans, who will replace Williams as the starter at nose tackle. Nonetheless, a run defense that is giving up only 71.2 yards per game still has Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams in the middle.
The Vikings' performance in this game will be crucial because they will face the Giants in their regular-season finale. If the Falcons have success in the run game, then the Giants are sure to follow with the same plan.
The Falcons are not a completely one-dimensional team on offense. Rookie Matt Ryan leads a passing offense that is ranked 13th in the NFL (218.4 yards per game), but the Vikings pass defense should have plenty of confidence after a solid performance last Sunday at Arizona. Minnesota gave up 298 yards through the air but that was only because the Cardinals attempted 50 throws and only seven runs.
Offensively, the Vikings will look to get a second consecutive solid start out of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. This will be Jackson's first home start since Week 2 of the season, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the potential pressure.
The Falcons are ranked 23rd against the pass and 22nd against the run, so the Vikings should be able to have some success. As is usually the case, Minnesota will look to establish the ground game with Adrian Peterson and mix in some deep passes.
The Falcons' run defense has been up and down all season. Last week they held Tampa Bay to 99 yards rushing after giving up 184 to New Orleans the week before. In the game preceding New Orleans they held the great LaDainian Tomlinson to 24 yards on 14 carries. Against the Vikings, the Falcons have to at least slow down Adrian Peterson, the league's top rusher. Against Tampa Bay, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder used Coy Wire at strongside linebacker in running situations in place of Michael Boley. Wire was strong at the point of attack and shed blockers well. Boley still played in passing situations in the nickel and dime coverages.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton – These two former college teammates will figure in the outcome of this game. Peterson is coming off a 165-yard performance against Arizona and leads the league in rushing with 1,581 yards. He also has nine touchdowns. Lofton has started all games this season and has held up at the point of attack, while delivering big hits in the run game.
Vikings DRE Jared Allen vs. Falcons LT Todd Weiner – Allen has a knee injury and was listed as questionable. With the Vikings needing a victory to wrap up the NFC North title, Allen won't likely miss this one. He has 14.5 sacks and has provided the Vikings an explosive game-changer. Weiner is playing well and had fine outings against Julius Peppers and Will Smith. Weiner, a crafty veteran, uses great footwork and techniques to slow down rushers or at least make them take a real wide loop to the passer.
Vikings WR Bernard Berrian vs. Falcons CB Chris Houston – The Falcons will need to play some man-to-man coverage in order to sneak the safeties up to help against Adrian Peterson in the run game. So the Vikings will have a chance to take some shots down the field on first and second down. Berrian is averaging 20.6 yards per catch and has six touchdowns. Houston has to play more physical and make sure he gets a good jam on Berrian.
Vikings NT Fred Evans vs. Falcons RB Michael Turner – Evans, starting in place of injured Pro Bowl NT Pat Williams, will get an immediate test. Evans will be counted on to help slow down Turner, who is second to Adrian Peterson in the NFL with 1,421 rushing yards. Evans will have the advantage of having Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams beside him.
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin vs. Falcons WR Roddy White – Griffin has shown substantial improvement as the season progressed, and he could get another tough test this week. White is second in the NFL with 1,310 yards receiving and eighth with 82 receptions. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team this week. Griffin spent much of last Sunday's game matched up against Cardinals Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald and limited him to five catches for 52 yards and no touchdowns.
Vikings-Falcons game plan
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