The Vikings are coming off a seventh straight win and headed to their second of three consecutive road games.
Sunday's game is likely to be a tough matchup between Minnesota (9-2) and last year's NFC Champion, Atlanta (7-4). The Falcons offense has been especially hot over the past three games and is anticipating an aggressive Vikings defense. Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan both spoke during the week about what they can expect.
Quinn, who also was a defensive coordinator prior to stepping into a head coaching role, said he's admired Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer for a long time. As a defensive-minded coach himself, Quinn said he always looks at a team's fundamentals and its tackling.
"I don't see their team giving up many explosive plays due to missed tackles, and you can see the communication (between) the defensive line, the linebackers, the safeties," said Quinn, whose team has produced 28 explosive plays in the past trio of games. "That's a team you can tell plays really good ball together. They're able to solve their problems on the field, and that kind of goes unspoken about. When a defense can do that, and their communication on the field to defend a certain play or help on a certain leverage, those are the things that don't show up on the stat sheet.
"Their defense has that, and I see them solve the problems sometimes before they even come up, based on a formation or alert," Quinn continued. "A lot of respect for Mike and [Defensive Coordinator George Edwards] and their staff because I think a real compliment for me [to give] is that they're a real fundamental team. As a fundamental coach, I really appreciate that."
Quinn has been impressed by the progression of Everson Griffen and the way he's able to rush the passer. As Seattle's defensive coordinator from 2013-14 under former USC Head Coach Pete Carroll, Quinn said he was familiar with Griffen based on his college days with the Trojans.
According to Quinn, Griffen had a great get-off along with strength from the beginning, but he's now reached an entirely different level.
"It's certainly not like Everson is coming onto the scene this year; he's just playing at the highest level," Quinn said. "I love the fact that he can really jump off the ball and really beat a guy to the punch, much like a boxer. The best pass rushers I've been around have been able to do that.
"If you have speed and you can run around the edge, that's good," Quinn added. "But if you have speed and you can convert it into power on the tackle where he can't just bail on you, that's when the special stuff happens. He has both of those."
Ryan also will be keeping his eyes out for Griffen. Now in his 10th NFL season, the signal caller is quite familiar with Zimmer's defense.
Ryan was asked specifically about how Griffen, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith affect an offense, and he responded that he needs to always be aware of where all three are on the field.
"Griffen in their front four creates problems on the edge in terms of pass rush, but he's also very good against the run," Ryan said. "Harrison Smith is a down safety who does a great job of making plays in the run game; he's very physical. He does a great job in their pass-rush scheme, too; they use him to pressure quite a bit. He's also solid in coverage. And then Rhodes on the outside is a very good corner – very physical, strong, had a great year last year and has had a great year this year so far. Obviously we have a lot of respect for those guys."
Here are other highlights of the Falcons talking about the Vikings this week:
Ryan on Vikings ability to shut down offenses
"They've got great players, and that helps. And I think their scheme is very sound. I think Mike [Zimmer] has always done a great job defensively of having a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage, creating a lot of different pressure looks and making you be on top of your protections and really having to change your protections. He does a great job with that. And I think that's part of what creates some of the issues. I think they've done a good job of getting offenses into third-and-longer situations; they've been excellent in that third-and-seven-to-10 category, and really 11-plus. They've been very good. So to me, the key is trying to stay in front of the chains."
Falcons WR Julio Jones on Vikings secondary, Xavier Rhodes
"[Rhodes is] a very confident guy – hopefully [he'll cover me] man-to-man. Go out and hopefully get man-to-man, and we'll see. I don't know how they're going to play me. They have little tendencies to kind of cheat the safety a little bit to the star, but we'll see on Sunday.
"He's a long guy. He'll just try to get his hands on you at the line a little bit. That's it. I have to go play my game. I'm not really worried about Rhodes or thinking about Rhodes and his game."
Quinn on effectiveness of RB Jerick McKinnon
"I think it's the speed, No. 1. He's got the speed of a guy who can play outside, much like for us that's [Tevin] Coleman, who can really extend plays with his feet. I've been impressed with his pass-catching ability. He can take the small catch — the screen or out-of-the-backfield play — and extend it because even if you have good leverage on him, he can beat a player's leverage and get outside and get an explosive play.
"I would have to say it's definitely the speed factor at running back that he has that makes him unique. Not all runners can go at that kind of speed, and he certainly has that. And the fact that he's able to run inside some shows what a complete player that he is."
Quinn on QB Case Keenum
"I think there's a fearlessness about him, and you can see that when he scrambles and runs and extends plays that may have started as a normal dropback or a normal bootleg. He can extend the play that way. And then I think like most good quarterbacks, there's some really talented catchers there at tight end, at receiver, at running back … he's going to give their guys a chance to make plays."
Defensive Coordinator Marquand Manuel on Keenum
"The guys are ready for the challenge. We understand this guy (Keenum) plays with his hat on fire. He's playing with a lot of passion right now, with nothing to lose, which is awesome. When you understand a guy who loves the game and is playing it that way, has put a lot into it, and it's his time right now. He's doing great in that offense right now. He's doing a great job being precise on what they're asking him to do, getting the ball outside, handling the run game. [He's] managing the game but making plays within. We have to be ready for him."