In Matthew 12, Jesus explains that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Christ’s words ought to be understood within a spiritual context, and yet they illuminate an important component of NFL football: a kingdom (or, in this case, a football team) will fall if there is persistent internal division. In other words, teams need to be united in their efforts. The league is far too competitive for a team to overcome hostility and adversity from within. If they fail to beat the 0-5 Atlanta Falcons in Week 6, the Minnesota Vikings may be on the verge of an internal collapse.
Minnesota Vikings Week 6 Game Is Crucial
Harrison Smith and the Minnesota Defense
Harrison Smith, a nine-year veteran and first-time team captain, is Minnesota’s best defensive player. Many fans have probably already seen the video clip of him at the end of Week 5’s heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Cameras captured Smith clearly and concisely articulating his anger with Cameron Dantzler’s inability to cover D.K. Metcalf on the game-winning touchdown.
I’m a bad lip reader. He’s saying, “Cover your pumpkin pie,” right? Seems like a sensible cooking tip for the holiday season. pic.twitter.com/nCE0buMakW
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) October 12, 2020
There is no issue with an All-Pro safety being exasperated by his team’s lack of success. In fact, it would be concerning if Smith wasn’t upset. The issue rests in whether Smith’s frustration will bleed into the locker room. The Vikings aren’t nearly talented enough to survive their kingdom being divided against itself.
During the off-season, reporters asked Smith about the apparent decline of Minnesota’s defense. Smith responded in his typically understated manner, suggesting that he wasn’t aware that the Vikings were supposed to be bad. Five weeks into the season, the Vikings defense isn’t entirely bad, but it’s far from good. Smith wasn’t expecting this, and it’s at least possible that another loss (especially since they’re heading into the bye) could lead to frustration getting the best of Minnesota’s star safety. If it does, Minnesota will have a big problem. The easiest solution rests in getting a win against Atlanta, one of the worst teams in football.
History Against the Falcons
A quick look at the defensive stats help explain Smith’s concerns. According to ESPN, the Vikings are allowing just over 30 points per game. Teams have averaged 132.6 rushing yards and 271.4 passing yards per game.
As a result, Mike Zimmer needs to continue improving a unit that has been plagued by a myriad of issues. The changes in defensive personnel, the strange off-season due to COVID-19, the injuries in the secondary, Anthony Barr’s absence, and the lack of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce on the defensive line has made life understandably difficult for Minnesota. While these factors help explain the defensive issues, Zimmer still needs to find a solution. This is where the Falcons factor into the equation.
After starting 0-5, the Falcons decided to fire head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. It’s unclear what kind of impact these moves will have on Atlanta’s Sunday performance. The Falcons have talent, especially on offense, but they’re far from a good team. The surest way that Zimmer can ensure Smith’s frustrations don’t spiral out of control rests in getting a decisive win against Atlanta.
Matt Ryan can’t be overlooked, and Calvin Ridley has emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL. Of course, Julio Jones is an absolute monster, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be available for Sunday. The Vikings, then, should devote their attention to limiting Ridley. If they’re successful, the Falcons will likely need to rely primarily on Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst to beat Minnesota. Zimmer will gladly take this option.
Last season, the Vikings began their year with a dominating performance against the Falcons. The 28-12 final score doesn’t reflect how thoroughly Minnesota controlled the game. Kirk Cousins may have only thrown the ball ten times for less than 100 yards, but Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison controlled the game on the ground while Zimmer’s defense stifled the Atlanta offense. The Vikings are surely hoping for a repeat performance.
By no means is a 2-4 start what the Vikings were hoping for. At this point, though, it may help to stave off disastrous internal division. The Vikings would head into their bye with some momentum, and perhaps the belief that playing well immediately after their break can result in an unlikely playoff spot. In the three weeks after the bye, Minnesota plays the Green Bay Packers, then the Detroit Lions, and then the Chicago Bears in prime time.
Facing three divisional opponents in three straight weeks presents both a big challenge and a big opportunity. Of course, these three games are unlikely to matter if the Minnesota Vikings can’t handle the hapless Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. And a failure to defeat Atlanta may ensure that Smith’s Week 5 frustration merely foreshadowed the Vikings kingdom becoming divided within.