Falcons to face banged-up Vikings defense

Can the Vikings' defense make Mike Smith's offense struggle on Sunday?

The Falcons will face a Minnesota team Sunday led by a new head coach, Mike Zimmer, who has a defensive background. He was in Cincinnati for the last six seasons as defensive coordinator. Zimmer even spent one season in Atlanta in that position – in 2007 under former head coach Bobby Petrino.

This is Zimmer’s first shot as a head coach. He’s had a lot of adversity in his first few weeks, with his running back, Adrian Peterson, in trouble with the law and his starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, out for the season with an injury.

But Zimmer will be even more tested this week when the high-powered offense of the Atlanta Falcons come to town. The Falcons are first in the NFL in total offense (455 yards per game) and first in passing offense (333.7 yards per game).

The Vikings are 11th in the NFL in total defense. They have given up 335.3 yards per game. Minnesota is 13th in the league in pass defense (225.3 yards allowed per game) and 15th in rush defense (110 yards per game).

Zimmer has the Minnesota defense playing hard and it is obviously a work in progress. Rookie Anthony Barr had his first sack last week when he got Drew Brees, but he was targeted by the Saints on several pass plays. Barr actually called plays on defense last week after Chad Greenway got hurt.

Safety Harrison Smith has played very well so far for the Vikings. He is an emerging star for Zimmer on the defensive side of the ball. Expect Zimmer to try and blitz on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, as he did last week on Brees.

The Vikings had three pretty important defensive players out of practice Wednesday, including linebackers Greenway and Josh Robinson and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Smith was limited with a knee issue.

In their 20-9 win over the Vikings, New Orleans had only 396 yards – 288 in the air and 108 on the ground. That was one yard less than what the Saints did the week before against the Browns, when they had 397 total yards, with 223 passing yards and 174 by the running backs.

Of course, the question many will wonder is if this Vikings defense can contain Atlanta’s wide receivers . They can make the most ordinary defense look pathetic. It will be difficult, especially if some of their more crucial players are battling injuries.

Expect a lot of blitzes and a lot of nickel coverage from Minnesota. The Vikings have Captain Munnerlyn on the roster, a player the Falcons saw a lot of when he was in Carolina with the Panthers.

The Vikings did a respectable job against New Orleans and Zimmer is definitely a defensive mind, so the Falcons will have a challenge this Sunday from a team that has had a lot to deal with in the first month of the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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