The Denver Broncos (6-5) hit the road for the second straight week, this time to play the Minnesota Vikings (2-9). The Vikings have lost three straight while the Broncos are looking for their fifth win in a row, a feat that the team has not accomplished since the 1998 season. The Vikings have won 7 of the last 12 meetings with the Broncos, but this has been one of the most tumultuous times in team history. Kickoff is set for 11:00 am MT.
Broncos: The Broncos lead the league in rushing with 159.7 yards per game and an astounding 201.4 yards per game in their last seven games. They are forcing defenses to play their style of football – heavy run and read option. That’s why teams have not been able to apply a lot of pressure to Tim Tebow. Tebow has had all day in the pocket, and if the trend continues, he could have a big game in the air against the Vikings. Minnesota is ranked 29th in pass defense. Since Tebow has been in the starting lineup, Denver’s wide receivers have not been catching as many balls. However, their yards per catch have increased. They are using the run to move the ball down the field, and the pass to score touchdowns. The big matchup up to watch will be left tackle Ryan Clady against the league’s second best pass rusher, Jared Allen.
Vikings: The Vikings did the same thing that the Broncos did by benching their veteran quarterback in favor of their younger quarterback. In fact, Donovan McNabb was released from the team yesterday. Christian Ponder has the offense under his control and he’s a very good scrambling QB that can extend the play. He’s got a descent arm, but he’s prone to those rookie picks and taking sacks in bad spots. He has 6 TDs and 6 INTs on the year. Adrain Peterson (ankle) did not participate in Thursday’s practice, but the team hopes that he will at least be limited in Friday’s practice. If not, Toby Gerhart will get the call. Gerhart won’t necessarily make defenders miss, but he will power through an open hole created by his blockers. The Vikes will orchestrate more runs for Gerhart’s style of play. Percy Harvin will reunite with former college teammate, Tim Tebow. Since their bye three weeks ago, the Vikings have had trouble putting points up on the board in the first half. They have just 7 first half points in the last three weeks.
Broncos: The Vikings bread and butter is the run. They are 5th in rushing and 30th in passing. The Broncos defense is 19th against the run and 17th against the pass. Von Miller didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice, but he is being fitted for a brace for his surgically repaired thumb. His status is questionable at this point, but if he is able to go, his presence plus Elvis Dumervil should create headaches for Ponder. The Vikings have given up 18 sacks in Ponder’s three games. That information is like putting blood in the water for the Broncos intense pass rushing duo. Once they are able to stop the run, the team can focus more on the pass rush and making it a historic day in terms of sacks. The secondary should have a chance at interceptions in facing the rookie QB who will be pressured every time he throws.
Vikings: Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac has said that the Vikings will approach each down as if they are facing the Wildcat. They will play “assignment football” meaning that everyone will have a specific job on every play. Someone will have the dive, the pitch in the zone read, the QB, etc. The team is ranked 9th against the rush and 29th against the pass. They will be rotating their players a lot to keep legs fresh so that they can stop the Broncos running attack and contain Tebow. Jared Allen is a monster in the sack department as he has 14 on the year. Chad Greenway is third in the league in tackles with 104 on the season. The Vikings are giving up 26.8 points per game which is 30th in the league.
Broncos: Britton Colquitt has been the MVP of special teams. When the offense can’t score, Colquitt steps in and regularly places the ball inside the 20-yard line. He’s been the key instrument in the Broncos field positioning. Lately the return game with Eddie Royal and Quan Cosby has been impressive as has kickoff coverage. There have been many games where the only reason the Broncos have won the game is because of special teams.
Vikings: The Vikings are 4th in the league in kickoff returns averaging 28.4 yards per return. As far as punt returns go, they’re more middle of the road. Percy Harvin is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Ryan Longwell is connecting on 72.3% of his field goals.
Broncos: John Fox is warning his team not to take the 2-9 Vikings lightly. The Broncos will leave for Minnesota on Friday rather than on Saturday to get better adjusted to the time difference and early kickoff. Expect the coaching staff to let Tebow throw a little more in this one, but the offense will still be a primarily ball-carrying offense.
Vikings: Leslie Frazier is just trying to save face at this point. His team has gone down hill since their bye week. Communication amongst the coaching staff is poor. These are the issues that surface for a 2-9 team.
Prediction: Broncos – 26 Vikings – 14.
Make sure to catch this week’s episode of Predominantly Orange Sports Talk Radio. Chris Krier drops in on Vaughn Carter to chat about the state of the Broncos. Vaughn also gets into this week’s game against the Vikings.