Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/23/11
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. When the Falcons host 2-8 Minnesota on Sunday gunning for their fifth win in six games, the match-up will present a case of strength versus strength, weakness versus weakness that is, if Vikings running back Adrian Peterson can play. After their impressive effort last week against a former NFL rushing champion they held Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 13 yards on 12 carries -- the Falcons now boast the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL and are preparing to take on another former league rushing champion in Peterson. The Vikings own the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense at 143.1 yards per game, but the status of Peterson, who entered last week fifth in the NFL in average rushing yards per game, remains up in the air after he suffered a high-ankle sprain early in last Sunday's loss to Oakland. Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday that Peterson will have a walking boot removed on Friday and at that point the Vikings will evaluate Peterson. Even if he plays, one would have to assume that Peterson will not be at 100 percent. Falcons head coach Mike Smith was asked how the Vikings' offense would be affected without Peterson. "Well, Adrian Peterson is a big part of their offense, there's no doubt about it," Smith said. "He's probably been the premier running back the last three seasons." Both match-ups regarding the Falcons' defense against Minnesota's offense would seem to favor Atlanta. Even without Peterson, expect the Falcons to load up to defend he run. Minnesota, now on its second starting quarterback of the season in 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder (Florida State), ranks 29th in passing offense. Three of the Falcons' four losses have come when an opposing quarterback has thrown for more than 300 yards against them. Defending the pass has proved a persistent issue for the Falcons, who rank 26th in the league that category, and against a weak passing offense, the Falcons should be in good stead, as they were for much of last week's 23-17 win over the Titans. So while the defensive match-ups might favor the Falcons, the Vikings will enter with an intimate knowledge of the Falcons' personnel and schemes. Minnesota's offensive coordinator is Bill Musgrave, who mentored Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan through Ryan's first three seasons in the league as Atlanta's quarterbacks coach and also held the title of assistant head coach in his final season here in 2010. Ryan has major respect for Musgrave. "Bill Musgrave extremely influential into my transition into the NFL as much as anybody else," Ryan said. "I mean, he really was. Taught me a ton about preparing. Taught me a ton about offensive football, playing the quarterback position, understanding, making good decisions, when to take chances, when not to take chances -- those kinds of things. "Really even, more so, off the field, too, having played quarterback in the league, played with some really good guys (he backed up Joe Montana and Steve Young). You know, setting up my week. Understanding when to push, when to work, when to get some rest so you're mentally fresh. Those things were invaluable and I'm really glad to have had Bill for the time that I did." Musgrave runs many of the plays in Minnesota that Falcons defenders are used to seeing in practice, as Musgrave worked under Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. As a result, not too much should fool them, scheme-wise. "They have a lot of things that are the same," said Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, as nine of 11 current Falcons defensive starters were on the team last season. "But it's not the same offense. They do a lot of misdirection stuff and we're familiar with a lot of things they do." The Vikings' roster now also includes former Falcons wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who spent his first seven seasons in Atlanta after being selected in the first-round by the franchise. The Falcons cut Jenkins for salary cap reasons during training camp after he became expendable when the Falcons drafted rookie Julio Jones. On the opposite side of the ledger, the Falcons' top offseason free-agent acquisition, defensive end Ray Edwards, played his first five seasons in Minnesota four of which were under Frazier, who became Minnesota's defensive coordinator in 2007. Edwards was asked about practice match-ups as a Viking when his unit went up against Peterson and the offense. "Come on, man, we were the number one rushing defense when I was in Minnesota, so we know who won that battle," Edwards said.
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