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Vikings Limit of Falcons Big Plays Could Help Keep Points Low

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Big plays — 28 of 'em — have led to plenty of points — 75 of 'em — for the Falcons in the past three weeks.

With Minnesota (9-2) heading to Atlanta (7-4) for a showdown against the defending NFC Champions, the Vikings will try to continue their limitation of explosive plays, which are defined as runs of 11 or more yards or passes of 15-plus yards.

The Vikings have allowed the fewest explosive plays (63) of any team this season, which has helped Minnesota rank second in run defense (75.5 yards allowed/game), 11th in pass defense (214.9) and fifth in total defense (290.4), along with fifth in points against (17.7).

Zimmer mentioned the threats posed by Atlanta's explosive offense on Wednesday. Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Xavier Rhodes all talked this week about what they expect from an offense that is looking like it did in 2016 when the Falcons averaged an NFL-best 33.8 points per game.

"When you look at them on tape, they've still got that explosive offense," said Robison, who recorded his first two career sacks against Atlanta in the 2007 season opener. "They haven't been able to complete some of the drives and things like that they did last year. They want to be able to establish the run, get some screens in there, some play action, but they're one of those teams that has weapons on the outside that they can really take shots, get big explosive gains in the passing game and touchdowns.

"Our job is definitely going to be cut out for us this year," Robison added. "Matt Ryan is definitely a smart quarterback, but we've got to handle them as they come."

The 2016 Falcons had a touchdown rate of 61.9 percent of red zone possessions and reached the end zone on 77.8 percent of goal-to-go situations.

This year, the red zone rate is 56.7, but the goal-to-go is up to 81.8. In the past three games, Atlanta is 7-for-10 in the red zone and 5-for-6 in goal-to-go situations.

The Vikings defense has limited opponents to 4-for-10 in the red zone and 4-for-6 in goal-to-go situations in the past three games.

"They're playing well. They're clicking on all cylinders," Griffen said. "They run the ball well, throw the ball well, (use) play action to get the ball down field to their main guys. Our goal is to keep on doing what we do. Stop the run and affect Matt Ryan and get back there and win the game."

Rhodes is likely to match up with Julio Jones on Sunday. Jones is coming off a 12-catch, 253-yard, two-touchdown performance against Tampa Bay.

"One of the best. You expect that out of a guy like him," Rhodes said. "I mean, it's the norm for him. It's the norm for us to expect him to put up those types of numbers. Last year, I think he put up 300 yards in one game. Yeah, normal."

Barr cautioned that Atlanta has a "lot of playmakers."

"They like to throw the ball vertically down the field, pretty solid running game … they're a very balanced offense," Barr said. "One of the biggest challenges we'll face."

Here's a recap of how the Falcons have used explosive plays to set up 75 of their 95 points in the past three weeks:

Vs Dallas

1-2. Taylor Gabriel 15 run; Tevin Coleman 19 run; Drive result: touchdown

3-4. Coleman 17 run; Julio Jones 24 pass from Matt Ryan; Drive result: touchdown

5-6. Gabriel 34 pass from Ryan; Coleman 18 run; Drive result: touchdown

7-8. Coleman 13 run; Terron Ward 17 run; Drive result: field goal

Eight explosive plays by Atlanta led to 24 of 27 points against Dallas.

At Seattle

1.Jones 16 pass from Ryan; Drive result: touchdown

2-3.Coleman 15 pass from Ryan; Sanu 21 pass from Ryan; Drive result: field goal

4-5.Ryan 14 run; Toilolo 25 touchdown pass from Ryan; Drive result: touchdown

6-7. Jones 29 pass from Ryan; Ward 17 run; Drive result: field goal

Seven explosive plays by Atlanta led to 20 of 34 points against Seattle.

Vs Tampa Bay

1. Coleman 20 run; Drive result: punt

2.Jones 51 touchdown pass from Sanu; Drive result: touchdown

Worth noting: On third-and-1, the Falcons turned to trickery. Sanu took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff and launched the football to Jones, who was about midway down the field on a post route when Sanu released the ball. Jones tracked the ball and beat single-coverage by the Bucs.

3-5. Jones 20 pass from Ryan; Jones 15 run; Jones 25 touchdown pass from Ryan; Drive result: touchdown

Worth noting: After a 20-yard catch and rushing for a gain of 15 on an end around — his first rush attempt since 2014 — Jones made his second touchdown look easy by executing a post corner route against single coverage.

6. Jones 22 pass from Ryan; Drive result: field goal

7-9. Jones 23 pass from Ryan; Sanu 25 pass from Ryan; Austin Hooper 20 pass from Ryan; Drive result: touchdown

10. Jones 44 pass from Ryan; Drive result: fumble inside Tampa Bay 10

11-13. Jones 24 pass from Ryan; Ward 14 run; Coleman 14 touchdown run; Drive result: touchdown

Thirteen explosive plays by Atlanta led to 31 of 34 points against Tampa Bay.

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