Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The Vikings lead the Falcons 24-14 at halftime at TCF Bank Stadium. Kicker Blair Walsh hit a 18-yard field goal with two seconds left to give the Vikings a two-score lead.
The Good: The “Teddy” chants began before rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater stepped on the field. The fans started chanting on fourth down when the Falcons punted on the opening drive, but he’s giving those at TCF Bank Stadium something to cheer about.
After the Vikings went seven quarters without scoring a touchdown, they have three in the first half. He’s 11 of 16 for 197 passing yards and has two carries for 16 yards, including a 13-yard rushing touchdown with 1:59 left in the first half.
The offense has been very productive, beyond Bridgewater. Running back Matt Asiata has two rushing touchdowns, while rookie running back Jerick McKinnon broke out a 55-yard run on his first carry. Wide receiver Jarius Wright also leads the receivers with five catches for 105 yards.
Give credit to the offensive line as well, which has done a good job protecting Bridgewater and creating lanes for McKinnon and Asiata.
The Bad: The only drive the Vikings didn’t score was on a 49-yard field goal kicker Walsh missed with 11:26 left in the first half. He sailed the kick wide right to the west end zone, which is the open end of TCF Bank Stadium. The wide was whipping left to right on the kick to drift the kick no good. Walsh was 5 for 5 before the miss.
The Ugly: The defense has been susceptible of allowing big plays this year, which has been its biggest issue through three games. That continued through the first half again. The Vikings allowed four catches of 20 yards or more during the first half with two occurring on each touchdown drive for the Falcons. They allowed the Falcons to convert on a 3rd and 20 at the Falcons 44. Quarterback Matt Ryan connected with a wide receiver Julio Jones, who was wide open, for 21 yards.
Ryan went 14 of 23 for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Julio Jones has four catches for 50 yards. Roddy White has two catches for 44 yards, including a wide open 24-yard touchdown reception.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib) is one seven players inactive on Sunday against the Falcons. It officially snaps his streak of 90 consecutive starts, the longest among active linebackers. Gerald Hodges will replace Greenway in the starting lineup.
Cornerback Josh Robisnon (hamstring), who was listed as questionable, is active. Tight end Rhett Ellison replaces Kyle Rudolph in the starting lineup. Also noteworthy that rookie offensive lineman Austin Wentworth is also active over guard David Yankey.
For the Falcons, wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring) is active while Harry Douglas (foot)is among the seven inactives after participating in practice fully this week.
Here’s the complete list of inactives:
WR Charles Johnson
LB Chad Greenway
LB Brandon Watts
G David Yankey
TE Kyle Rudolph
WR Rodney Smith
DE Scott Crichton
QB Sean Renfree
CB Javier Arenas
LB Tyler Starr
C James Stone
T Ryan Schraeder
WR Harry Douglas
DT Cliff Matthews
What would you rather do on a Sunday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?
CRAIG’S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Cardinals (3-0)
Why: The No. 1 has fallen in back-to-back weeks. Seattle lost to the Chargers and then the Broncos lost to Seattle. The best team in the league probably is still Seattle. But let’s put it this way. The Chargers beat that team. And the Cardinals beat the Chargers. Also, the Cardinals have managed to stay undefeated with Drew Stanton as their starting quarterback the past two weeks. That speaks to their strength as an overall team. At least for this week.
2. Chargers (2-1); 3. Seahawks (2-1); 4. Broncos (2-1); 5. Bengals (3-0); 6. Eagles (3-0); 7. Falcons (2-1); 8. Bills (2-1); 9. Bears (2-1); 10. Patriots (2-1); 11. Ravens (2-1); 12. Steelers (2-1); 13. Colts (1-2); 14. Panthers (2-1); 15. Lions (2-1); 16. Cowboys (2-1); 17. Packers (1-2); 18. Giants (2-2); 19. Texans (2-1); 20. 49ers (1-2); 21. Browns (1-2); 22. Saints (1-2); 23. Titans (1-2); 24. Chiefs (1-2); 25. Dolphins (1-2).
26. Vikings 1-2 (Last week: 23): Three weeks into a season, the Vikings lost their identity and five players that were supposed to drive their offense: Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Cassel, Brandon Fusco and Jerome Simpson. And their leading tackler the last six years, Chad Greenway, won’t play. But the season is early. So despite rookie Teddy Bridgewater’s claim that there is no pressure on him, there is a lot of pressure on Teddy to lead this team away from a path that looks to be nothing more than a 13-week funeral for the 2014 season.
THE REST OF THE REST
27. Jets (1-2); 28. Rams (1-2); 29. Raiders (0-3); 30. Redskins (1-2); 31. Jaguars (0-3).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (0-3): The Jaguars, Redskins and Raiders are beating on the basement door. But we’ll stick with the Bucs until they do something besides lose back-to-back home games and then get beat 56-14 on the road.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, The Falcons are 3-10 in their past 13 road games going back to midway through the 2012 season, which was before their injuries began last season. Atlanta lost 24-10 at Cincinnati in Week 2 this year. The Bengals, of course, still play Mike Zimmer’s defense. So, ya never know.
2, Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel played well in the preseason and the season opener. But his four-interception game in Week 2 proved that hopes can only go so high with Cassel. Hopes, on the other hand, should be able to reach much higher with Bridgewater. He won’t be a finished product immediately or even at any point this season. But he has shown plenty to be hopeful about.
3, Under normal circumstances, Gerald Hodges replacing Chad Greenway wouldn’t be a thing to be happy about. But a broken hand and a broken rib aren’t normal circumstances. Greenway and Zimmer admit the veteran never should have been on the field last week. Two broken body parts makes it difficult to play effectively. This could be a breakout game for Hodges. He’s fast, athletic and fits this defense. He looks confident in his assignments, which allows him to play fast. He’ll be a significant upgrade over an injured Greenway.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, You mean besides the injuries and the Peterson situation? Well, we’ll start with the lack of any sort of running game. A 2.8-yard average against the Patriots was followed by a 2.7-yard average last week. The team seems determined to make Matt Asiata a No. 1 back. So far, so bad.
2, We’ll keep it running game-related, but switch sides of the ball. All the bells and whistles on Zimmer’s defense don’t work on third down if teams are running the ball as effectively as the Patriots and Saints did the past two weeks. The Patriots just kept running because no one stopped them. The Saints were stopped, but not until they had already built a 13-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
3, Protecting Bridgewater. We’ve all spent some time this week beating up on left tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil needs to shove back and play like the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. On the other side of the line, well, everybody has to be holding their breath when it comes to the prospect of Vladimir Ducasse starting 13 games in a row.
Falcons minus-3 at Vikings. The pick: Falcons 28, Vikings 17.
Why: Pretty simple. The Falcons are the better, healthier team with the more savvy franchise quarterback. Being at home will make the Vikings competitive, but until they prove they can run the ball and stop the run, they don’t deserve upset consideration.
Last week: Vikings plus-10 at Saints. The pick: Saints 28, Vikings 21. The final: Saints 20, Vikings 9. Record: 2-1.
The pick: Saints minus-3 at Cowboys: Cowboys 34, Saints 31.
Why: First of all, the Saints are on the road. They just aren’t the same team on the road. If you’ve ever been to the Superdome, you have a good idea why. Secondly, the depleted Vikings outplayed the Saints long enough to turn an early 13-0 laugher into a 13-9 game that could have gone the Vikings’ way if Captain Munnerlyn had simply sacked Drew Brees instead of body slamming him on third-and-long at the end of the third quarter. The Cowboys aren’t as good as the Vikings on defense, but they’re a lot better than the Vikings are on offense. So we’ll take Dallas at home in the high-scoring game that everyone is predicting.
Last week: Ravens minus-1 ½ at Browns. The pick: Browns 24, Ravens 21. The final: Ravens 23, Browns 21. Record: 0-3.
Dolphins minus-4 vs. Raiders in London: Dolphins by 7
Packers minus-1 ½ at Bears: Bears by 3
Bills plus-3 at Texans: Texans by 6
Titans plus-7 ½ at Colts: Colts by 10
Panthers plus-3 ½ at Ravens: Ravens by 3
Lions minus-1 ½ at Jets: Jets by 3
Buccaneers plus-7 ½ at Steelers: Steelers by 6
Jaguars plus-13 at Chargers: Chargers by 10
Eagles plus-5 ½ at 49ers: 49ers by 3
Patriots minus-3 ½ at Chiefs: Patriots by 7
Record: Last week/overall: 12-3/24-21. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 8-7/17-28.
Two weeks ago, it was Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots. Last weekend, it was Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the Saints. This week, Mike Zimmer’s defense was preparing for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, and an argument can be made that it’s the toughest test yet.
Ryan leads all NFL quarterbacks at 8.69 yards per pass attempt and has thrown for 965 yards through three weeks. Jones is tops in the league with 365 receiving yards. And White, his fellow Falcons wide-out, says he will play Sunday after sitting out a week with a hamstring injury.
Throw in wide receivers Harry Douglas and Devin Hester and that’s a lot of dudes to worry about.
“Julio has been great. Obviously, Ryan can move, get out of the pocket. He’s got a great arm and throws the ball down the field very well,” Zimmer said. “But then they’ve got Roddy White and Hester’s playing great, Steven Jackson in the backfield. They’ve got a lot of weapons, so we’re going to have to do a great job of being in the right place. We’re going to have to stop the run better than what we did last week. We’ve got to make sure we’re in the right position in coverage all day.”
With Jones back to full strength after season-ending foot surgery in 2013 and Ryan throwing the ball well, the Falcons lead the league in both points per game (34.3) and yards per game (455).
Vikings cornerbacks will be tested, especially when on the outside with Jones and White.
“They’re tough to cover, man. They’re great receivers,” said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who played against the Falcons twice a year when he was with the Panthers. “You’ve got to get up in their faces and press those guys. You can’t be scared of them. You can’t play off those guys. That’s when they’re real tough — after the catch, making people miss — especially Julio Jones.”
It’s official. Vikings outside linebacker Chad Greenway has been listed as out for Sunday’s game.
Greenway, who has made 90 straight starts and played in 115 consecutive games, will be watching on the sideline at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday as the Vikings host the Atlanta Falcons. The last season in which Greenway watched a game was his first, when he tore his ACL in the preseason.
“It’s been a while,” Greenway said after today’s practice. “So it will be difficult. The whole thing is obviously not how you draw it up. But it’s part of the game. Guys deal with it all the time.”
While Greenway has a broken left hand, it is a painful rib injury that will sideline him this weekend.
“It’s fairly indescribable, to be honest with you,” he said. “Anybody who’s had a [broken] rib before, much respect.”
As for the streak itself, Greenway says he isn’t worried about it coming to an end beyond the obvious fact that he would prefer to be playing on Sunday.
“Nothing is going to be forever, so it’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) is also officially out. Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) is questionable, but coach Mike Zimmer was optimistic about his chances of playing.
|Minnesota||10/2/14 7:25 PM|
|Buffalo||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Chicago||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||10/5/14 3:05 PM|
|Kansas City||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|NY Jets||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|Cincinnati||10/5/14 7:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/2/14 6:00 PM|
|UCF||10/2/14 6:00 PM|
|Arizona||10/2/14 9:30 PM|
|Louisville||10/3/14 6:00 PM|
|San Diego St||10/3/14 9:00 PM|
|Utah State||10/3/14 9:15 PM|
|(6) Texas A&M||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(12) Miss State|
|Ball State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Iowa State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(21) Oklahoma State|
|Marshall||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Southern Miss||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(20) Ohio State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Purdue||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Florida||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|SMU||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(22) East Carolina|
|Virginia Tech||10/4/14 11:30 AM|
|Eastern Mich||10/4/14 1:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/4/14 1:30 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/4/14 1:30 PM|
|Tulsa||10/4/14 2:00 PM|
|New Mexico||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(3) Alabama||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(11) Ole Miss|
|(14) Stanford||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(9) Notre Dame|
|(17) Wisconsin||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Navy||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(7) Baylor||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(4) Oklahoma||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Wake Forest||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|NC State||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Buffalo||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Ohio U||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/4/14 4:00 PM|
|South Alabama||10/4/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|(15) LSU||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|UAB||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|(23) Kansas State|
|Michigan||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Hawaii||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Toledo||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|ULM||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Georgia State||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Memphis||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Arizona State||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|Pittsburgh||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|Miami-Florida||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|(19) Nebraska||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|(10) Michigan State|
|UNLV||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|San Jose St|
|Ga Southern||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|California||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Utah||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Boise State||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Winnipeg||10/3/14 6:00 PM|
|Calgary||10/3/14 9:00 PM|
|Edmonton||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||10/4/14 6:00 PM|