Re-Focused: Vikings @ Falcons, Week 12
ProFootballFocus - Re-Focused: Vikings @ Falcons, Week 12
by Ben Stockwell of ProFootballFocus
Quote:After a comfortable first half in which the Atlanta Falcons seemed to be headed to as easy a win as the matchup on paper would suggest, they made life difficult for themselves in the second stanza. The Falcons took their foot off the gas and allowed the Minnesota Vikings back into the game when they should have been cruising to a 7-4 record. One key offensive drive and an even more important tackle on the ensuing kickoff spared the Falcons blushes as their defense stood tall with a four and out inside their own five yard line.
For Atlanta this was about getting another win and the second half malaise will likely have no long term effect, as they are unlikely to have such comfort in more important games. For the Vikings they at least showed some fight but at 2-9 are now boasting their worst record through eleven games since their inaugural season in 1960 and are now guaranteed back to back losing seasons for only the second time in 25 seasons. These two teams are clearly headed in opposite directions this season, let’s take a look at some key performances that set these teams apart.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Quiet day at the office
The calling card of the Minnesota Vikings’ defense this season has been pressure off of the edge. The combination of Brian Robison (-3.3) and Jared Allen (-3.2) has accounted for 21 sacks, 8 hits and 50 pressures, yet this week they could only account for one hit by Robison, which was nullified by a holding penalty (Q1 7:04). This was the first time Allen had been shutout as a pass rusher since Week 5 last season, and his matchup that week (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) was far less favorable than it was this week against Will Svitek. For Robison this was the first blank pass rushing stat sheet of his starting career and the Falcons were able to use this to allow Ryan to throw into the flats a few times. The Vikings got some pressure through the middle, but some help off of the edge may have allowed them to have more success in slowing Matt Ryan and Roddy White down. The one positive for Allen this week, if he sees a precipitous drop in his efficiency as a pass rusher as time goes by he should have a future as a long snapper. After filling in for the injured Cullen Loeffler his long snaps were all on the money with holder/punter Chris Kluwe not needing to adjust for them.
A spine to the offensive line
The Vikings’ offensive line has been poor for a number of seasons, but this season a couple of players have started to turn things around, with one in particular having a great season, that has come from absolutely nowhere. The center and guard pairing of John Sullivan (+2.4) and Joe Berger (+2.8) put in another pair of fine performances that are rapidly putting the rest of the offensive line, including the heralded Steve Hutchinson (-2.2) to shame. For the fourth straight week Sullivan yielded no pressure in pass protection and he was positively graded as a run blocker for the ninth straight game. Sullivan is displaying a consistency as a run blocker that we have not seen in the last two seasons and individual blocks such the one on Corey Peters during Toby Gerhart’s touchdown at 4:03 of the third quarter have only added to his game.
Running game can’t go all day
For the first time since Week 15 last season the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson and the running game simply could not cope with his loss this week. On the offensive line there was some solid blocking to the right side but all in all it was much the same as this season, not tremendously helpful to the back but not as big a hindrance as it was to Peterson in the last two seasons. The difference however was the man in the backfield, Toby Gerhart (-1.1) simply doesn’t have the same dynamism as Peterson in the backfield or the initial burst to get quickly to the line and challenge a defense. Gerhart had only one run of longer than ten yards and was not given all of the carries on the crucial goal line series late in the fourth quarter. The latter in particular may speak volumes about the belief of the Vikings’ coaching staff in his ability to move a pile in short yardage and the Vikings will be eagerly awaiting Peterson’s return in the coming weeks.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Hooking up through the air
Long before rookie Julio Jones (-3.3) was doing anything other than running routes for the University of Alabama it was Roddy White (+4.2) who was the go to target for Matt Ryan (+5.1). With Jones having a fairly sketchy performance this Sunday, it was White who once again came to the fore for the Falcons this Sunday. This was comfortably White’s best performance of the season and marked his first double digit catch performance since Jones’ arrival in Atlanta for the 2011 season after he had three such games in 2010. White was back at his best, working through the Vikings’ zone coverages to pick up receptions against six different defenders, whilst having his greatest success against Benny Sapp. The Falcons may still be waiting for Jones and White to hit it off in the same game but the way in which they are picking up for each other’s down games, or games they miss, should be of great encouragement for the Falcons.
Taken back to school
After a rather ignominious start to his career as an NFL starter deputizing for Todd McClure to start the season Joe Hawley had found some form at right guard in recent weeks, but that was brought crashing back to earth this week with his worst performance of the season (-4.9). Hawley faced easily his sternest test of the season coming up against Kevin Williams and failed. The Falcons RG was poor in pass protection and run blocking alike, yielding two sacks in pass protection (one to Williams and one to Everson Griffen) whilst also allowing defenders off his blocks to make three tackles for defensive stops. Hawley had made his greatest strides in his pass protection in his short time starting at guard but his two sacks along with a hold on Christian Ballard at 7:04 in the first quarter suggest there is still work to do.
Return to form
After a blip of a down week against Tennessee, Sean Weatherspoon (+4.1) re-discovered the fine form of his sophomore season with yet another strong game at WLB for the Falcons. Weatherspoon picked up six defensive stops for his work in the run and pass games, marking the fifth time he has reached this plateau in the 2011 season. Weatherspoon had his share of poor plays in the passing game, notably biting on a play fake to leave Percy Harvin open on a slant for 19 yard gain at 0:37 of the second quarter but his work in run defense and as a pass rusher overshadowed these poor plays. Weatherspoon beat three different Viking backs for pressure, beating Gerhart for a sack, making the most of those favorable matchups, and made four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in coverage and defending the run. The WLB was expected to show this form from the start of his NFL career, but if he keeps it up Falcons’ fans and officials won’t be too disappointed by that rookie season for much longer.
- After a 104 yard return this week Percy Harvin has recorded more yards, 207, in his first and last kick returns this year than the 9 returns in between, 191 yards.
- Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon both played all 56 defensive snaps for the Falcons this week. They have missed two and three snaps respectively, all of them in the Week 5 game against Green Bay.
- Kevin Williams played on 67 of the Vikings’ 69 defensive snaps in this game, his highest snap percentage (97.1%) since his return from suspension in week three.
PFF Game Ball
The Falcons had a number of worthy recipients of the game ball this week but for his fine performance in the receiving game, beating six different Viking defenders for catches, Roddy White gets the nod on this occasion.
Source - ProFootballFocus
Going to try to get back into the swing of posting these. That Saints loss really deflated me a while back, and didn't feel like really contributing there for a while.