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5 Vikings-Falcons Storylines to Watch

The Vikings (1-4) are aiming for their first win at fan-less U.S. Bank Stadium in 2020, and the Falcons are seeking their first victory this season, period.

The teams have each endured some soul-crushing losses already.

Minnesota has dropped a pair of 1-point games to the Titans and Seahawks in two of the past three weeks, bookending a 31-23 win at Houston, which is 1-4 on the year and under new leadership.

Atlanta, which squandered fourth-quarter leads against the Cowboys (15 points to lose by one) and Bears (16 points in a 4-point loss) in Weeks 2-3, also is under new guidance after the dismissal of General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Head Coach Dan Quinn.

Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris, who was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-11, has been promoted to interim head coach. Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Jeff Ulbrich has been promoted to defensive coordinator, and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee was promoted to replace Ben Kotwica as special teams coordinator. Will Harriger was shifted to coach running backs.

Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a link below to the game preview by the Vikings PR staff and a list of connections between the teams.

1. Recovery week

The Vikings bounced back from their 31-30 loss to the Titans in Week 3 by opening well against the Texans and making enough plays down the stretch.

Can the mentality of the team remain strong after victory slipped through Minnesota's fingertips in Seattle on Sunday Night Football.

Playing a night game on the West Coast leads to a shorter turnaround for players to rest and recover and less time for coaches to scheme against the next foe.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak explained to "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen on Tuesday's 9 to Noon that coaches got off the bus from the airport at 5 a.m. Monday and walked right in to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

View images of games between the Vikings and Falcons through the years.

2. What to expect?

The Vikings are 4-0 against the Falcons under Head Coach Mike Zimmer. That includes victories over Quinn by the counts of 20-10, 14-9 and 28-12.

Those three contests were along the lines of what one might expect from two head coaches who rose through the ranks as defensive assistants and coordinators.

Morris also climbed the ladder on defense and was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-11.

Will Morris bring a defensive-minded approach, even in a year when scoring has skyrocketed? What wrinkles will Ulbrich, who coached Vikings LBs Anthony Barr (IR) and Eric Kendricks, bring in his leadership of the defense? Will Parmalee implement changes on special teams or find trick plays?

Zimmer already was asked Monday about preparing for a team with a new coach, but he wasn't too far past Seattle at that point. He's likely to be asked about that again this week.

3. How healthy are the household names?

Dalvin Cook (groin) suffered an injury for the second consecutive game in Seattle in as many trips to the Pacific Northwest. Zimmer said Monday that the MRI exam on Cook "went pretty well."

Cook leads the NFL with 489 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground, providing an impressive follow-up to his first Pro Bowl season. He was relieved mostly by Alexander Mattison, who rushed for career highs of 20 carries and 112 yards against the Seahawks, and a dose of Mike Boone, who totaled 19 yards on his first two attempts of 2020.

Atlanta was without Julio Jones in Weeks 3 and 5 because of a hamstring injury. The Vikings have limited the seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in three previous outings to a combined 13 receptions for 111 yards and one score, but that was with Xavier Rhodes playing a significant role.

Wednesday will be the first day of a published injury report by each team.

4. Protect the ball and the pocket

The Vikings offense has picked up steam, averaging 29.0 points in the past three outings, but protecting the football has been problematic.

Minnesota is at minus-5 in turnover margin, which is tied for 28th in the NFL. The Vikings have nine giveaways, compared to four takeaways.

The Falcons are plus-1 in turnover margin, having forced five turnovers and committed four, and are tied for 13th in the category.

Kirk Cousins has been sacked 13 times through five games, almost half of his 28 total in 15 games last season.

Atlanta has recorded seven sacks, led by Grady Jarrett's 2.5. The 2019 Pro Bowl defensive tackle is probably well-aware of the struggles that Minnesota's interior offensive line has had when trying to pass protect for Cousins.

5. How to rattle Ryan?

There's no question that Minnesota has missed its raucous crowd in home games against the Packers and Titans.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill were each able to do things that most quarterbacks can't when they have to battle crowd noise. After Rodgers was completely comfortable against Minnesota, the Vikings affected Tannehill a little better.

It will be up to Minnesota's defense to try to rattle Matt Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler and 2016 Offensive Player of the Year.

Ryan's career passer rating of 94.5 ranks 11th all-time, but it's been tougher sledding — yep, went there with a winter term (it's coming eventually) — for the quarterback against the Vikings.

In four head-to-head games since Zimmer's hire in 2014, Ryan's highest passer rating has been 87.2 (in Zimmer's fourth game in Minnesota), and he has been intercepted twice in three of those four games. The third overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft has totaled a passer rating of 81.6 against Minnesota.

The Vikings sacked Russell Wilson four times on Sunday, but they were unable to affect him during the final drive. Minnesota will be able rush a little more aggressively against a less-mobile QB.

Vikings-Falcons Connections

Falcons tight ends coach Ben Steele spent time on the Vikings practice squad/in Minnesota's offseason program in 2003 and 2004.

Professional Connections

Steele also was a member of the Texans in 2006-07 (did not play) when Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak was Houston's head coach and tight ends coach Brian Pariani held the same post.

Kubiak (2006-13), Pariani (2006-13) and Vikings Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison (2010-13) coached Falcons QB Matt Schaub (2007-13) with the Texans. Kubiak, Pariani and Dennison coached with Falcons quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp in Houston (2010-11) and with the Broncos, overlapping two seasons in Denver (2015-16).

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (2012-17) was with Washington, overlapping with Falcons Interim Head Coach Raheem Morris (2012-14) and offensive line coach Chris Morgan (2011-13).

When Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer (2010-12) and Falcons running backs coach Bernie Parmalee (2010-12), who was promoted to special teams coordinator this week after changes were made to the Falcons coaching staff, worked together with the Chiefs, they overlapped with Falcons DE Allen Bailey (2011-18).

Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers was defensive coordinator for the Packers from 2009-17 when Falcons Secondary Coach/Pass Game Coordinator Joe Whitt, Jr., coached Green Bay's cornerbacks. Atlanta G Justin McCray was with Green Bay from 2017-18.

Capers (2006-07) and Falcons safeties coach Chad Walker (2005-07) worked together with the Dolphins.

Vikings assistant strength and conditioning coach Derik Keyes (2013-16) and Falcons C Alex Mack (2009-15) overlapped with the Browns. Keyes (2012) was with the Texans during part of Schaub's time at quarterback.

Falcons Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter (2007-11) overlapped in Jacksonville with Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu (2005-09) and assistant strength and conditioning coach Chaz Mahle (2006-07).

Vikings LB Hardy Nickerson (2017-19) and Falcons LB LaRoy Reynolds (2019) were with the Bengals.

College Connections

Vikings assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson (2004) and Chad Walker (2003-04) were on the LSU staff together. Walker coached outside linebackers at Arkansas in 2017, one of Vikings DT Armon Watts' seasons with the Razorbacks (2015-18).

Minnesota tight end Irv Smith, Jr., was at Alabama (2016-18) during part of Atlanta Defensive Line/Run Game Coordinator Tosh Lupoi's time on staff with the Crimson Tide. Atlanta WR Calvin Ridley (2015-17) teamed with Smith.

Vikings LBs Anthony Barr (2010-13) and Eric Kendricks (2010-14) were coached by Falcons assistant Jeff Ulbrich (2012-14) at UCLA. Ulbrich was promoted Monday to defensive coordinator. Kendricks teamed with Falcons DE Takkarist McKinley (2014-16) for the Bruins.

Minnesota WR Justin Jefferson (2017-19) and Atlanta WR Russell Gage (2014-17) were teammates at LSU.

Vikings WR Chad Beebe (2013-17) and Falcons WR Christian Blake (2014-17) are products of Northern Illinois.

Minnesota P Britton Colquitt (2005-08) and Atlanta TE Luke Stocker (2007-10) overlapped as Tennessee Vols.

Vikings DT Shamar Stephen (2010-13) and Falcons CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (2009-12) teamed together at Connecticut.

Minnesota CB Harrison Hand (2019) and Atlanta OL Matt Hennessy (2016-19) are former Temple Owls.

Vikings DE D.J. Wonnum (2016-19) and Falcons TE Hayden Hurst (2015-17) teamed at South Carolina.

Minnesota RT Brian O'Neill (2014-17) and Atlanta RB Qadree Ollison (2015-18) are former Pitt Panthers.

Vikings T Rashod Hill (2011-15) and Falcons RB Ito Smith (2014-17) overlapped at Southern Miss.

Minnesota quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak (2010-12) was on the staff at Texas A&M when Atlanta LT Jake Matthews (2010-13) played for the Aggies.

Vikings S Anthony Harris (2011-14) teamed with LaRoy Reynolds (2009-12) at Virginia.

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