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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Falcons?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (9-2) will face one of their toughest tests of the season on Sunday as they travel on the road to take on the Atlanta Falcons (7-4). Both teams are coming in on winning streaks, with the Vikings winning their last seven and Falcons taking three in a row. Over that time, we’ve seen Atlanta’s offense look much like the 2016 version. How do the two teams compare from top to bottom? Let’s have a look…


Quarterback

Atlanta: Matt Ryan

Don’t let his fantasy stats fool you into thinking Matt Ryan is having a down year. Pro Football Focus ranks Ryan as the second best quarterback in the NFL this year behind only Tom Brady. His numbers are very much like 2016 over the last six games in which Ryan has a 106.1 quarterback rating, completing 69% of his passes at 8.0 yards per attempt and tossed 10 touchdowns and only two picks. The Falcons’ Pro Bowl quarterback is exceptional at using the middle of the field. When throwing to the middle, he’s completed 43-of-53 passes at 12.7 yards per attempt.

Minnesota: Case Keenum

Vikings’ key to keep Keenum rolling: Third-and-short success

For the Vikings, Case Keenum has received all sorts of praise for his play recently. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. In the last three games, he has a 114.0 quarterback rating. The Vikings’ quarterback has gone from doing just enough to win games against Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland to driving wins over Washington and Detroit. The Falcons offer a tough test for Keenum as they have a pass rush that ranks ninth in the NFL in sacks and an exceptionally quick secondary. The Falcons’ Cover-3 zone defense may make play-action a little more difficult on the Vikings’ quarterback and require him to be patient in the pocket.

Advantage: Falcons


Running back

Atlanta: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

The Falcons receive a huge boost getting star runner Devonta Freeman back in the lineup. He’s an explosive, all-around back, who averages 4.4 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per catch this season. The Vikings’ defense has been one of the best in the NFL at limiting explosive plays – that will be important against Freeman, who has 13 runs over 10 yards on 116 carries. Running back Tevin Coleman is just as dangerous. He also has 13 runs over 10 yards on 122 rushes. Coleman is also a big-play threat out of the backfield as he averages nearly 13 yards per catch for his career.

Minnesota: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon

Latvius Murray forces teams to respect the run up the middle. He’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry up the gut and ripped off a 46-yard run last week against Detroit. Murray has played an especially big role setting up the offense for manageable second and third down situations as he’s gaining 4.8 YPC on first-and-10. After a slow start, the Vikings are seeing the fast, powerful runner they saw in Oakland. Jerick McKinnon has been at his most dangerous in the passing game where he averages 7.3 yards per reception. Last week against the Lions, he ripped off a key 37-yard catch on. a screen pass. The Vikings have also used him to motion to receiver, sometimes creating mismatches in the secondary.

Advantage: Slight edge to Atlanta


Wide receiver

Atlanta: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel

Julio Jones says he hopes Vikings play him man-to-man

Last week, Julio Jones reminded everyone that he’s either the No. 1 or 1A (Antonio Brown) receiver in the NFL by picking up 253 yards on 12 catches against the Bucs. He’s an absolute force of size, speed and technique. His matchup against Vikings’ shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes alone will make the game worth the price of admission. The Falcons have targeted Jones 101 times, the next highest is Sanu with 61 targets, many of which have been underneath. He only has one catch this year that has traveled over 20 yards in the air. And Gabriel is a dangerous playmaker – though Kyle Shanahan seemed better at using his strengths as he averaged 4.9 more yards per catch in 2016 than this year.

Minnesota: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, ?????

The national attention has shifted recently to Adam Thielen, but both he and Stefon Diggs are in the top five percent at their position. Thielen’s health and chemistry with Case Keenum has helped him rise to the top of the league in receptions and yards, proving that last year’s success was no fluke (not that anyone in Minnesota thought it was). He’s unguardable one-on-one, has incredible feel for zone coverage and catches anything within state boundaries. You can say the same thing for Diggs, who picked up a huge 31-yard catch to seal the game against the Lions. He’s one of the best in the NFL at contested catches and is a league leader in receptions on third downs with fewer than six yards to go. Diggs is also one of the highest ranked run blockers by Pro Football Focus standards. As for the rotating No. 3 spot, Michael Floyd may be in for more work soon and Jarius Wright has been effective when called upon. Laquon Treadwell’s snap counts have cut in half over the past few weeks.

Advantage: Dead even


Offensive line

Atlanta: Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Wes Schweitzer, Ryan Schraeder

The Falcons’ offensive line has been solid this season, ranking ninth in adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders) and gaining eighth in adjusted run yards per carry. Alex Mack is arguably the best center in the NFL. He has incredibly high IQ, handles all the line calls and protections and can match up against any nose tackle in the NFL. Mack vs. Linval Joseph might be as good as Julio vs. Xavier. Both of Atlanta’s tackles are capable, but not invincible. Matthews ranks 17th by PFF standards and Schraeder 33rd.

Minnesota: Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, Rashod Hill

Change at center helped Falcons, Vikings bounce back from collapses

The Vikings’ offensive line had its roughest outing against Detroit, yet it still played a major role in creating the team’s three biggest plays. While their PFF grades may not reflect greatness, the Vikings’ OL’s best traits have been utilized brilliantly by OC Pat Shurmur, while their weaknesses have been mitigated. They’re a mobile, intelligent group who can handle all types of different schemes and techniques. At right tackle, the Vikings’ depth on the OL has been on display as Rashod Hill has played well filling in for Mike Remmers.

Advantage: Slight edge to Atlanta


Defensive line

Atlanta: Adrian Clayborn, Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley

Falcons’ pass rush will test Case Keenum’s pocket presence

The Falcons’ defensive line has been outstanding this season, ranking ninth in the NFL in sacks. The addition of Poe has made a big difference as he and Jarrett can both create pressure up the middle, while Clayborn and Beasley rush off the edges. Beasley is having a down year, but led the NFL last season with 15.5 sacks, so he’s capable of a big day at any time. The inside push will force Case Keenum to get rid of the ball quickly rather than stepping up in the pocket. Where the Vikings can beat Atlanta is in the running game. Football Outsiders ranks them 27th vs. power runs.

Minnesota: Everson Griffen, Tom Johnson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

The Vikings have a case for being the NFL’s best defensive line. They have allowed the third fewest yards rushing per carry in the NFL and picked up 30 sacks – not to mention the countless QB hits and pressures that have disrupted opposing teams’ offenses. Everson Griffen has been unstoppable this year, picking up 12.0 sacks and Joseph ranks among the elite nose tackles in the NFL. The only question for the Vikings’ D-line is whether Matt Ryan will find ways to get the ball out before they are on top of him.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings


Linebackers

Atlanta: De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones

Speed, speed, speed. Deion Jones is a a more lanky version of Eric Kendricks. He’s a terrific cover linebacker who closes quickly on opposing running backs and takes up a lot of space when playing zone coverage. Campbell’s speed is well known to Minnesota football fans. The former Gopher ran an incredible 4.58 40-yard dash at the Combine in 2016. He’s begun to come along as an all-around linebacker, which should be scary to opponents. Jones and Campbell’s combined quickness could make it difficult to execute screen passes or underneath throws to McKinnon.

Minnesota: Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr

Anthony Barr’s bounce back season has been vital to the Vikings’ success on defense. The Vikings are allowing just 35 yards per game through the air to opposing running backs, which is remarkable considering they have played backs like Chris Thompson, Theo Riddick, Alvin Kamara and Le’Veon Bell. He doesn’t have big sack numbers, but has created pressures up the middle and has played a role in the Vikings’ success against the run. Kendricks’ PFF rating is down, but he’s a top-notch cover linebacker who will play a key role in matching up with Freeman and Coleman out of the backfield.

Advantage: Even


Defensive backs

Atlanta: Robert Alford, Brian Poole, CJ Goodwin, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen

This would be a matchup of two excellent secondaries, but Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant is out with a concussion, which significantly weakens the Falcons’ DB group. Now the Falcons will require much more of a group effort to do battle with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. That could be bad news. Against No. 2 receivers this season, Football Outsiders’ stats rank Atlanta 28th. Safety Keanu Neal is the key to Atlanta’s attack. He can play deep or come up to the line of scrimmage and match up with a receiver one-on-one. Neal is also very aggressive and physical.

Minnesota: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo

Xavier vs. Julio and the advantages of an ‘island’ corner

Rhodes vs. Jones is a heavy weight fight and you can bet the Vikings are going to let Rhodes handle the league’s top receiver on his own. On a weekly basis, Waynes has handled a high volume of throws coming in his direction and Newman has easily slid into the slot position. Smith had his worst game against the Lions, but he’s generally been an defensive MVP candidate, making plays all over the field and lining up in different spots. He’s ranked as PFF’s No. 1 safety.

Advantage: Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Falcons? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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