WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Tim Tebow (852 passing yards, 8 TD, INT) has helped the Broncos become the top rushing team in the NFL with his ability to keep drives alive with his legs. The former Heisman Trophy recipient had an NFL-record 22 carries for a quarterback and totaled 67 yards at San Diego and leads all AFC signal-callers with 455 rushing yards. He is second on the team in that category as well, but faces a tough challenge against Minnesota’s ninth-ranked run defense. Tebow is 5-1 as a starter and has been dominant in the fourth quarter, posting five touchdown passes and one interception for a 107.8 quarterback rating in the final period. He is also 4-0 as a starter on the road with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Running back Willis McGahee (775 rushing yards, 3 TD) provided 117 yards on 23 touches last week for the Broncos, who are averaging 159.7 rushing yards per game and notched 208 yards against the Chargers. The veteran topped the century mark in rushing for the fifth time this season. The Broncos got a few nice catches from leading receiver Eric Decker (37 receptions, 8 TD) and tight end Dante Rosario (5 receptions) during a 74-yard drive in last week’s triumph but is still only 31st in passing, averaging 153.1 yards per contest, and 21st in scoring (20.1 ppg).
Minnesota’s defense will have to deal with its own paradox on Sunday, as the unstoppable force of Tebow and the Denver run game meets the immovable object in the Vikings’ defense. Linebackers Chad Greenway (104 tackles, 1 sack) and E.J. Henderson (67 tackles, 2 sacks) finished with 16 and 12 tackles, respectively, in the loss to the Falcons and held Turner in check to leave the Atlanta offense up to Ryan and wideout Roddy White, who burned the Vikes for 120 yards and a score on 10 catches. That could be the case again if the Vikings find a way to slow down Tebow, McGahee and Company. Minnesota sack master Jared Allen (48 tackles, 14 sacks) has the speed and agility to give Tebow fits, but he still may not be able to stop him in the backfield. Minnesota is ninth in run defense, allowing 99.6 yards per contest, and has been dealing with injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Safeties Tyrell Johnson (28 tackles) and Husain Abdullah (49 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) were placed on injured reserve this week due to a hamstring problem and concussion, respectively, with the team inking safeties Jarrad Page and Andrew Sendejo to cushion the blow in the secondary. Tackle Kevin Williams (23 tackles) aims for a sack for a third straight game, while end Brian Robison (26 tackles) has six sacks in 2011.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
It appears Peterson (872 rushing yards, 11 TD) may have to take another week off, since it would be foolish for the Vikings to run their best player on the field when he’s not 100 percent. The star running back is on pace for another 1,000-yard season and been nearly unstoppable at home over his career, gaining a total of 3,710 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns. Gerhart (162 rushing yards, 1 TD) proved he was ready to handle the load last week against the Falcons and will be geared up to go for the Vikings, who are fifth in the league with 135.9 rushing yards per game. The offensive line seems to have no problem making holes for the backs, but protecting Ponder has been a different story. The rookie has great feet in the pocket, but his tendencies to roll out and hold onto the ball leave him open for hits. He has been sacked 18 times this season, including 12 times in the last three weeks. The Vikings are 30th in passing this season (179.0 ypg) and lost wide receiver Michael Jenkins (38 receptions, 3 TD) for the year after he suffered a knee injury against the Falcons. Fellow wideout Percy Harvin (51 receptions, 2 TD) led the charge in Atlanta with 95 yards and a score on eight receptions, and is also a dangerous return man.
The Broncos have allowed no more than 15 points in three of their last four road games and are beginning to play a lot better on defense after struggling the first few weeks. Miller (58 tackles, 11 sacks) is making a case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and broke Mike Croel’s team first-year mark of 10 sacks in 1991 last week. The No. 2 overall pick has a high motor and provided he can play this week, has to be excited to go against an inexperienced quarterback in Ponder. Dumervil (20 tackles, 6 sacks) can share those sentiments and owns 5 1/2 sacks in the past four games. Minnesota’s offense doesn’t do much to strike fear into any opponent with the exception of Peterson, and he may not even play Sunday. The Broncos will still have to prepare for a downhill runner in Gerhart and are 19th in run defense, yielding 120.5 rushing yards per game. Chargers running back Ryan Mathews played well against Denver last Sunday by gaining 137 yards on 22 carries, so it could be a problem slowing down Gerhart. Bailey (28 tackles) barely gets picked on by opposing offenses and has a team-best two interceptions, while linebacker D.J. Williams (56 tackles, 3 sacks) led the defense with 12 tackles last week and Miller followed with 10.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The biggest question in the NFL lately is how long will the Tebow project will last. So far it has worked for more than a month, and introducing the new technique on the road hasn’t been an issue either, as the Broncos went undefeated away from home within their division for only the fourth time in team history. Fox said his players are beginning to develop confidence on the road, but they’ll be put to the test once again in Minneapolis.
Ponder is currently the quarterback of the future for the Vikings, but he could be playing at a higher level than what he’s displayed and will likely need to for Minnesota to win. He will not have Jenkins for the rest of the season and the only deep threat left is Harvin, so finding players to step up is important. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe hasn’t been the same since Brett Favre left a few years ago and may need to dust off the cobwebs.
Miller and Dumervil have been a one-two punch for Denver’s defense. With a rookie quarterback in Ponder on the horizon, it could get ugly for the Vikings, who are trying desperately to save face and finish the season with some respectability.
Prediction – There are those who believe all good things must come to an end, and then there are others who are convinced no good thing ever dies. Tebow’s exploits in the Mile High City has fans and teammates thinking playoffs, and staying the course will get them there eventually. Sunday will be another step in the right direction, and Tebow may finally hush the critics of Denver’s eccentric style of play with another positive result. A victory in the NFL is crucial, no matter how it looks, and most teams would rather play poorly and win rather than look sharp and lose. Either way it’s depicted, the Broncos have something good going on here and the Vikings will be the latest to succumb to that particular philosophy. Broncos 20 Vikings 13
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