Throughout Mike Zimmer’s tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, there have been many elements that have lacked consistency. With quarterbacks’ knees exploding, rouge play sheets and a roulette wheel at offensive coordinator, Zimmer has done well to field a winning team.
While Zimmer’s overall resume looks great, there’s one constant: The one game a year where the Vikings go into a game where they should beat their opponent with soundly but end up getting blown out. This phenomenon is known as the “WTF Game.”
Vikings fans have been subjected to this imminent disaster on an annual basis. The most glaring example is when Zimmer led his team to get slaughtered in the NFC Championship WITH A HOME SUPER BOWL ON THE LINE. There are others that have resulted in Anthony Barr getting treated like a Goomba and falling behind 20-0 to a 3-6 team.
Sunday’s game has every opportunity to be put on this list.
The Vikings enter their matchup with the Atlanta Falcons 1-4, but there are several reasons to be optimistic. They just flew out to Seattle and came within inches of beating a team expected to go to the Super Bowl. Their two blowout losses came against teams who are among the best in their conference, the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. Another loss was a 1-point defeat to the 4-0 Tennessee Titans. In the land of 10,000 moral victories, this can be considered a good thing.
With the winless Falcons on the schedule, this figures to be a game where the Vikings can feel good about themselves heading into the bye. If they can build some confidence, they can also set the tone for a post-bye schedule that kicks off with a trip to Green Bay and potentially salvage their season. But there are several reasons why the Falcons will not be a cakewalk.
Atlanta has several top offensive weapons who can burn the Vikings. Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney have improved at corner but they’re still rookies that can be taken advantage of by a top receiver, and Atlanta happens to have one of those in Calvin Ridley, who is fifth in receiving yards and ranks sixth in Pro Football Focus’ overall grades at receiver.
PFF isn’t as kind to Matt Ryan, but he’s still a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback going against a defense filled with first and second-year players. Despite being ranked 21st among qualifying passers in overall grade, Ryan has the ability to take advantage if the Vikings’ young corners give him an opening.
If not, the ground game could also be a cause of concern. Todd Gurley may have Sam Bradford-level knee issues, but he ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards. Going up against a defense that ranks 27th in DVOA against the run, there’s a scenario where Gurley looks like the fantasy football hero he was a couple of seasons ago.
Even if the Falcons’ offensive weapons have it going, the Vikings can point to Atlanta’s defense, which has allowed 161 points this season — third-most in the NFL. But the total number on the scoreboard is deceiving considering how the Vikings want to operate.
With a run-heavy approach, the Vikings would like to lean on Alexander Mattison. While Mattison performed admirably in relief of Dalvin Cook in Seattle, there were some moments where the second-year back could have gotten more out of his runs. Most particularly, a fourth-and-inches at the end of the game where he missed a wide-open lane for an easy touchdown.
Even so, we know that Mattison is going to get the rock and the Falcons are going to be ready to stop it. For as bad as the Falcons have been defensively, they rank 10th in defensive DVOA against the run. While some of that has been Atlanta’s ability to race out to an early lead, the other is Grady Jarrett, who absolutely destroyed Garrett Bradbury in their Week 1 meeting last season.
The Falcons are much more susceptible to the pass (30th in DVOA), but there’s a chance the Vikings do not have enough rational coaching to take advantage of it. This is especially true with Kirk Cousins under center, who performs when things are going well, but does things like spark a 21-0 run with two turnovers in two minutes as he did in Seattle.
Although this is complete doom and gloom, everything points to a Vikings victory on Sunday. However, with a Falcons team that could be revived with the departure of Dan Quinn, this also has the feel of a game that can quickly have fans saying those three magic words.