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.
Chad Greenway’s streak of consecutive games started appears to be in serious jeopardy.
The veteran outside linebacker, who has made 90 straight starts and has played in 115 consecutive games, walked out to practice without a helmet, a sign he was not practicing for a third straight day.
It seems likely that Greenway, who has a broken rib and a broken hand, will be listed as doubtful for Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. We’ll know for sure when the injury report comes out later.
Yesterday, coach Mike Zimmer said he needed to see Greenway practice today to activate him.
If Greenway does end up sitting out Sunday, Gerald Hodges will likely be his replacement.
For the Vikings-Falcons matchup in Week 4, we reached out to D. Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Falcons for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and is also President of the Pro Football Writers of America, for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Ledbetter about the game.
1. What has been the biggest reason for the Falcons’ 2-1 start after going 4-12 last year?
DL: The play of quarterback Matt Ryan has been exceptional in both of their victories. He completed 31 of 43 passes for 448 yards with three touchdowns and a 128.8 quarterback rating in a 37-34 overtime win over the Saints. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a 48.6 quarterback rating in a 24-10 loss to the Bengals. He completed 21 of 24 passes for 286 yards with three touchdowns and a 155.9 quarterback rating and sat much of the second half in a 56-14 win over the Buccaneers. The Falcons got well in a hurry against the woeful Bucs. His 87.5 completion percentage and 155.9 quarterback rating set single-game franchise records. According to Pro Football Focus statistics, Ryan spread the wealth against the Bucs. He was 5-of-5 for 46 yards on passes to the left, 12-of-14 for 146 yards on passes in the middle and 4-of-5 for 94 yards on passes to the right. His quarterback rating was a solid 91.7 when blitzed. He will see different and more complex pressure packages against the Vikings.
2. What does the Vikings defense have to do to stop quarterback Matt Ryan?
DL: They need to collapse the front of his pocket and get in his face. The Bengals used this strategy and also sent a lot of pressure off the edges. When the Falcons were able to hit their hot routes, the Bengals came up and tackled well. They Falcons have also turned the ball over. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has not been pleased with the offense’s seven turnover over the past two games. Against the Bengals, Ryan tossed three interceptions. Against Tampa Bay, backup quarterback T.J. Yates tossed a pick-six, Antone Smith, Devonta Freeman and tight end Levin Toilolo all had fumbles.
2. How has the Falcons secondary, allowed 387 passing yards a game, looked through three games?
DL: The secondary has actually been pretty good. Second-year cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are playing at a high level. Dwight Lowery has been solid at free safety. The problem against the Bengals was the inability to stop the run as they rushed for 170 yards and against New Orleans, they weren’t able to mount any pressure on Drew Brees. The pass rush showed signs of life against Tampa Bay. They had three sacks, seven hits and 12 quarterback hurries.
3. Where does Devin Hester fit offensively this year and has he lost a step in Atlanta?
DL: He’s the team’s fourth wide receiver on offense. They have thrown him deep passes and have tried to find him on crossing routes. He also scored on a reverse against Tampa Bay. He doesn’t appear to have lost a step at least while working on the Georgia Dome turf. He had five catches for 99 yards in the opener against the Saints at home and returned a punt 62 yards against Tamps Bay. The Falcons have been able to squeeze some life out of Hester as a wide receiver, when the Chicago Bears placed him on moth balls for the 2013 season. After he was signed in free agency, at the urging of head coach Mike Smith, Koetter and assistant head coach/wide receiver Terry Robiskie came up with a plan to get Hester integrated into the offense. The move might pay extra dividends this week as Harry Douglas, who returned to practice on Wednesday, is slowed by a foot injury in the Tampa Bay game. But after the plan was devised, Hester should receive the credit for earning his playing time.
5. In what areas will the Falcons need to execute to beat the Vikings?
DL: They’ll need to run the ball in order to balance out the offense. The offensive line also must keep Linval Joseph, Sharrif Ford and Tom Johnson out of Matt Ryan’s face. They’ll also need to send some chip blocks from tight ends and/or running backs over to Brian Robison in order to even up the matchup with right tackle Lamar Holmes. If given time, Ryan should be able to dismantle the Minnesota secondary with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. The Falcons have averaged 121.3 yards rushing per game, which is up from 77.9 last season. The threat of the run helps the passing attack. Minnesota has given up 99.3 yards per game. Steven Jackson is head of the backfield committee and has averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Jacquizz Rodgers has averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Antone Smith averages 9.5 yards per carry. Jackson, Rodgers and Smith all have touchdown runs.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— OLB Gerald Hodges is likely the next man up if OLB Chad Greenway can’t play Sunday.
— WR Cordarrelle Patterson says he is not lobbying for more carries.
— Head coach Mike Zimmer wants RB Jerick McKinnon to make the most of his opportunities.
— OG Brandon Fusco, who is out for the season, is set for his surgery.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Hope Niles Paul is ok, and that hit on #TNF brings up the question: When is a receiver no longer defenseless?
— Harrison Smith (@HarriSmith22) September 26, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Falcons WR Roddy White expects to play against the Vikings.
— Is WR Julio Jones, back from his injury, better than ever?
— The Falcons turned the ball over too much the past two weeks.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings, as is Friday tradition, practice in the morning at 10:50 a.m. Zimmer will speak with reporters afterward and the locker room will be open as players chow down on catered lunch.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
There have been four Thursday night games this season. The average margin of victory is 28.3 points and each game has been decided by at least 20 points. But all will not necessarily be lost when the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field next week. The Giants, the road team last night, beat the Redskins by 31 points on a short week. So visitors can win — and win big — on Thursday night.
Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon has just five carries for seven yards in three games this season. Even with running back Adrian Peterson away from the team, his workload hasn’t necessarily increased over the last two games. Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked what McKinnon has to do to receive more carries.
“That’s up to Jerick,” Zimmer said. “When he gets opportunities, he’s got to do stuff with them. As a young guy, he’s got to make sure he knows what he’s doing all the time too. He’s had good moments and bad moments, like a lot of rookies. He’s a good kid, very conscientious and he cares. That’s a good start, and he’s a good athlete.
“It’s just the normal progression of a young guy learning a new position.”
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib) did not participate in practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Outside of tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is expected to be out at least six weeks with an abdomen/groin injury, Greenway was the only player out of practice.
“We’ll see tomorrow when he comes out,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Greenway’s status for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph (shoulder) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) were limited participants. It’s the same shoulder Joseph had offseason surgery on, while Robinson dealt with a nagging hamstring injury for most of training camp. Zimmer said he isn’t concerned about both of their injuries.
Linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) was also limited. Safety Harrison Smith (knee) was upgraded from limited to full participant. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) were all listed on the injury report but were full participants.
For the Falcons, wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring) was a limited participated at practice for the second consecutive day.
Brandon Fusco has never dealt with a season-ending injury. Not at Seneca Valley High School north of Pittsburgh. Not at small-school Slippery Rock University. Not in his first three NFL seasons.
But Wednesday morning, three days after he tore his pectoral muscle in the 20-9 loss to the Saints, the Vikings placed Fusco, their starting right guard, on injured reserve, sidelining him until 2015.
“It’s disappointing that my season has come to an end,” said Fusco, who signed a five-year contract extension earlier this month. “I had high expectations for this year for my team and for me, as well.”
Fusco was blocking down on a Saints defender in the second half of Sunday’s game and felt a pop in his chest as he grappled with the defender. “I knew something was wrong right away,” said Fusco, who had never felt something like that before. He stayed in the game for two more plays before taking the injury to head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. After all, Fusco could no longer lift his arm.
Fusco will have surgery in New York on Monday and his recovery time will take about four months.
“I’ve always been healthy my whole life. I’m very disappointed. It’s something that’s new to me,” said Fusco, who has already talked to veteran Vikings teammates who have been on injured reserve. “So I have to get surgery and go from there. Rehab, work hard and come back stronger next year.”
Fusco expects to rehab at Winter Park so he can feel as much of a part of the team as possible.
“If I’m not around here, I’ll drive myself nuts,” said Fusco, one of the team’s best linemen. “I love the game of football and I’m just going to be around here with the guys and do as much as I can.”
|Oakland - J. Lester||7:07 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Shields|
|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|
|Seattle||10/6/14 7:30 PM|
|NY Islanders||6:00 PM|
|NY Rangers||6:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||7:30 PM|
|Los Angeles||9:30 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|