I recently read something somewhere (I’d link to it, but I can’t remember where it was) that talked about how there is another mismatch for the Vikings to be concerned about outside of Ware/Spencer vs. McKinnie/Loadholt.
John Sullivan, aka the giant midget, is expected to have his hands full with Cowboy defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. Out of curiosity, I decided to explore the situation a bit.
Ratliff is tied for 11th on his team with 40 tackles, which doesn’t say much given that there are only 11 starters on a defense. However, Ratliff shows a surprising burst which allows him to be an unusually sound pass rusher. He has six sacks on the season and two forced fumbles. Ratliff did not register a single stat in the most recent playoff game against the Eagles despite playing 36 snaps.
My new favorite statistics site, Profootballfocus.com, has Ratliff rated as the Cowboys worst pass rusher on the team, second best run stopper, and also show him as having a tendency to commit penalties.
The site has Sullivan ranked as a terrible run blocker (no shocker there) and a decent pass blocker. One would look at these numbers and possibly draw a conclusion that the matchup is somewhat even.
Sullivan’s biggest disadvantage is his size. He’s a bit small for being a center, as he is listed at 6’ 4” and 301 lbs. Although, his issues do not appear to come from particular physical mismatches.
His worst games came against Baltimore’s Kelly Gregg, Detroit’s Grady Jackson (week 2), and Green Bay’s Ryan Pickett (week 8). In each of those games, the defensive tackles did not exactly dominate Sullivan, but rather the linebackers blitzed up the middle and overwhelmed him. Note that the Vikings won each of these games.
The point I am trying to make here is two-fold.
First, Sullivan has fared pretty well against larger defensive tackles like Shaun Rogers, Tommie Harris, Alan Branch. Consistency seems to be Sullivan’s biggest issue, not size, and it seems like he has been far more consistent in pass protection for the latter part of the season. Run blocking is another story, however, as Sullivan still needs to find consistent success in this area.
Second, if teams try to exploit our offensive line by blitzing heavily, we have shown time and time again that Favre and company are more than capable of beating you that way. This offense has six players that have caught 40 passes or more (second team in history to accomplish that) and Favre has a knack for getting them the ball. A part of me almost hopes that Dallas brings the blitz early and often this Sunday.
Sullivan has yet to show me that he is a long term answer to the sudden absence of Matt Birk, but saying that he will be completely overwhelmed by Jay Ratliff alone on Sunday is a stretch to me.
After all, Ratliff was non-existent in the Cowboys most recent victory.