Because I’m bored out of my mind waiting for the draft, I’m going to do a detailed analysis of each of the Falcons 13 opponents this year, week by week, and basically evaluate the team and how they match up against the Falcons.
Of course, the first game to analyze and evaluate is the season opener vs. the Vikings. This will be a road game. Last season, the Vikings were 3-5 at home, while the Falcons were 4-4 on the road. Those records are relatively meaningless, which should mean the home field advantage won’t be too significant.
Offense: The Vikings underachieved last year. Brad Johnson had his worst season as a starter, with his lowest passer rating (72.0) since becoming a starter in 1996 and his worst TD-INT ratio (9:15) in that span as well. The team replaced him with Tarvaris Jackson late in the year, and he was not much better. But he’s an athletic passer that gives them a playmaker that could rival Vick to a certain extent. It wouldn’t be a stretch to consider him the third best athlete playing the QB position in the league behind Vick and Vince Young. The one bright spot of the Vikings offense last year was Chester Taylor, who is a fast and powerful runner that rushed for over 1200 yards. The Vikings offensive line improved from an abysmal 2005 season, but still was a weakness. But they have the potential to be one of the better units around, and assuming they maintain continuity, they should improve this year as well. The major weakness offensively is the passing game for the Vikings. Unless the light suddenly comes on for Troy Williamson, they really have no major weapons at this position. Their next best option is Bobby Wade, a perennial disappointment in Chicago for years, but played a lot better last year in Tennessee as a reserve. Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser play tight end, and both have shown they are better blockers than receivers. Although I should note that Shiancoe was a touted prospect coming into the league due to his athleticism, so perhaps all he needs is the opportunity to shine after years sitting behind Jeremy Shockey in New York.
Defense: The reason why the Vikings were respectable last year was their defense. Although DC Mike Tomlin left for Pittsburgh. Their run defense was the best in the league, allowing an uncannily low 2.8 yards per carry, mainly due to the Williamses in the middle. Kevin and Pat Williams are arguably the best pair of tackles in the league, which allowed underachievers like E.J. Henderson, Napoleon Harris and Ben Leber to shine at linebacker. Harris is gone, and last year’s No. 1 pick Chad Greenway will step up in his place. The secondary is solid with Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper. The other cornerback spot is questionable with Cedric Griffin the most likely candidate. The pass rush was weak last year, but a healthy Erasmus James should help. Their pass defense is much better than their 31st ranking, mainly because few teams tried to run against them, meaning they were able to rack up a lot of passing yards (obvious from the 37.4 pass attempts averaged against them per game).
Off-season: In the off-season, the Vikings didn’t add too mcuh. They picked up SS Mike Doss, WR Bobby Wade, and TE Visanthe Shiancoe, none of whom are locks to be starters this year and look more like situational options. But injured players from a year ago like James and Greenway will function similarly as pickups. They lost 5 starters from last year so far: QB Johnson, TE Jermaine Wiggins, WR Travis Taylor, LB Harris, and CB Fred Smoot. Clearly, it’s the idea of addition by subtraction as all of their departures were expendable veterans.
Draft: Most expect the Vikings to address the wide receiver, defensive line, and secondary early in the draft. However, many mock drafts believe that Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson is a possible candidate for them to take at pick No. 7. If so, it should greatly enhance their ground attack.
Overall: On offense the Vikings have no weapons besides Jackson and Taylor. It’ll be interesting to see how effective Jackson’s feet are since there is very little he’ll be throwing to on the outside. If they get Peterson, then it means that their ground attack could take a lot of pressure off a crappy passing game (sounds like the ’06 Falcons). Defensively, the Vikings should be tough, but there might be some dropoff due to Tomlin’s departure.
How they Matchup: Best case scenario will mean the ’07 Vikings will be similar to the best of the Falcons teams we’ve seen the past few years. Mobile QB, strong running game, and outstanding defensive play. But luckily for the Falcons we get them in Week 1, so they may still be working out kinks. We should feature enough speed on defense to help contain players like Jackson, Taylor, and Williamson. Offensively, it will be a testament to Petrino if he can establish a ground game against them. This is a much closer matchup than many would initially think, just because the Vikings play such tough defense. But getting the passing game going in this game could be a key to success.
Key Individual Matchups:
John Abraham & Rod Coleman vs. Bryant McKinnie & Steve Hutchinson – Coleman lines up against the right guard, and I imagine for this game the Falcons will try to maximize the amount of instances that occurs since Hutchinson is very good. A healthy Abraham can potentially dominate McKinnie, but they still are a very formidable left side.
Demorrio Williams vs. Tarvaris Jackson – I’d imagine that Williams is the guy that would likely be used most often to spy Jackson, due to his speed. Demo definitely has the speed to shadow Jackson, just does he have the discipline at this point?
Joe Horn vs. Cedric Griffin – I suspect Griffin will be the opening day starter at RCB, which means he’ll likely find himself matching up against Joe Horn. The wily veteran vs. the promising upstart.
Kynan Forney vs. Kevin Williams – Williams is probably the best pass-rushing DT in the league, and Forney is going to have his hands full.