The Falcons will be going up against one of the most complete defenses in the NFL on Sunday when they take on the Minnesota Vikings. This is a defense with legitimate talent on all 3 levels with no noticeable weaknesses to speak of. This is going to be a tough match-up for the Falcons offense. Here’s how it looks.
Note: Assessments based on PFF Edge grades
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been a good unit overall, but they have been susceptible to the pass rush during the year. Alex Mack is a rock in the middle, excelling in both pass protection and run blocking. Veteran LG Andy Levitre has continued to play well next to him. First year starter Wes Schweitzer has struggled going against some of the best defensive tackles in the league. He’s a name to watch on Sunday. Tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have played well, but have also both been prone for giving up the occasional sack. This is a unit that has played better in recent weeks but will need to play very well on Sunday if this offense is going to have success.
The Vikings have 30 sacks on the year (same as the Falcons), led by DE Everson Griffen, who is tied for the league lead at 12. On the opposite side of him, Danielle Hunter has 6 sacks and is a well rounded player also. In the middle, Linval Joseph is a criminally underrated defensive tackle that can generate pressure and stop the run effectively. The weakest link on this defensive line is Tom Johnson who is still playing very well this year. This is a very effective defensive front that doesn’t need to rotate out much. They can get to the QB and stop the run effectively.
To be honest, this is a very hard one to call. If Schweitzer is left on an island against Joseph, it could be a deciding factor. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder both need to play well or Matt Ryan could be in for a long day. As it stands, this match-up is just too close to call.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan is quietly putting together another outstanding season even if his raw stats don’t appear to show it. Julio Jones showed against the Bucs that he’s still one of the best in the league (and maybe ever). Mohamed Sanu is also having a fine season as a reliable target in traffic and a key contributor on third down conversions. Taylor Gabriel isn’t having the same impact as last year, but he could see some good opportunities on Sunday. Austin Hooper started the year rough, but has come on as of late, particularly as a blocker. Finally, the duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in the backfield is one of the best in the league. This is an amazing set of offensive firepower that will be needed desperately on Sunday.
The Vikings linebackers are a very capable unit. Eric Kendricks isn’t graded well by PFF, but is known to be a good middle linebacker. Anthony Barr is playing very good ball as of late, being a force in stopping the run and in coverage. Ben Gedeon - who comes off the field in nickel sets - is playing well in his first year. The Vikings secondary, though, is a very good one. Xavier Rhodes is one of the best corners in the league and will likely match up with Julio all day. Trae Waynes isn’t at the same level, but is still playing decent ball. Nickel sets bring in Terence Newman, who has been inconsistent in his long career, but is playing at a respectable level this year. Free safety Andrew Sendejo is playing respectably this year, but field mate Harrison Smith is arguably one of the best strong safeties in the league who excels in stopping the run and in coverage.
Again, this is another tough match-up. Xavier Rhodes has the ability to minimize the damage Julio can do and guys like Harrison Smith will be a factor in limiting everyone else. There are some potential match-ups the Falcons may be able to take advantage of, but nothing I’d be confident in saying is a guarantee.
This is about as even a match-up as you’ll find in the NFL. It’s simply too close to call for either unit. This game is going to come down to who performs the best on Sunday, which leads up to a potentially amazing game.