The Falcons rank 23rd in the NFL in blitzes called (68), but the Vikings are bracing for an extra dose of pass rushers in Atlanta on Sunday as they scramble to prepare rookie Jaren Hall for his first NFL start, and newly acquired veteran Joshua Dobbs with a condensed version of the offense he can run if called upon as the likely backup.
"Every week, you expect defenses to do new things, but I think this week in particular, we have to expect them to bring some extra pressure," left guard Dalton Risner said. "As an offensive line, I think it's our duty to make sure we do a good job running the ball to free up space for Jaren to get the play-action game going."
The Vikings rank 31st in rushing yards per game (73.3). Sunday, they ran for 62 yards on 31 carries (2.0) in the win at Green Bay.
Another way to counter extra pressure with a mobile quarterback like Hall is to move the pocket and target tight ends on short routes. Among tight ends, T.J. Hockenson ranks behind only Travis Kelce in targets (67-66) and catches (54-53).
"That's not a secret when you have a young quarterback because [the tight end] is kind of right in front of him," Hockenson said. "So we're an outlet, just being viable when he's getting pressured and things are in his face."
Hall doesn't appear to be rattled by what awaits him as the Vikings move on after Kirk Cousins' season-ending torn Achilles. Then again, the fifth-round draft pick is quickly gaining a reputation for not being rattled by much of anything.
"I think I'm a very chill individual," Hall said.
The Falcons have 15 sacks. Only the Bears have fewer (10). But Atlanta's pressure percentage (28.8) ranks second behind only the Jets (29.5).
"When they call pressures, they're incredibly effective," coach Kevin O'Connell said.
Heinicke named Falcons starter
Former Vikings backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who gave the Falcons a spark in the second half of Sunday's 28-23 loss at Tennessee, was named the starter against the Vikings by Atlanta coach Arthur Smith. Desmond Ridder, who started the first eight games, was listed on Wednesday's injury report as having full participation at practice and still being in the NFL's concussion protocol. Smith said Ridder could have returned against the Titans.
'Weird' goodbye to Cleveland
Center Garrett Bradbury said he'll miss Ezra Cleveland, who became a close teammate and "unbelievable friend" the past four years. Cleveland was dealt to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick before Tuesday's trade deadline.
"It's kind of a weird business side of things, where there's not a whole lot you can control," Bradbury said. "But the positive side of it is he's really wanted elsewhere. And there's a great opportunity for him to play and get paid."
Cleveland, who's in the final year of his rookie contract, suffered a foot injury and then lost his starting job to Risner the past two weeks.
"Obviously, I think it says they have confidence in me," Risner said. "But there's still a lot to prove from my end."
Lowry sits; four limited
The Vikings held a walk-through only practice Wednesday. On their estimated injury report, they listed defensive lineman Dean Lowry (groin) as not practicing. Limited were linebacker Brian Asamoah II (ankle), cornerback Akayleb Evans (neck), receiver K.J. Osborn (chest) and receiver Brandon Powell (shoulder).
Guard Chris Reed returned from the non-football injury list. The team also re-signed cornerback Joejuan Williams to the practice squad after he spent time on the Bears' active roster. Cornerback C.J. Coldon Jr. was released from the practice squad.
Star Tribune staff writer Andrew Krammer contributed to this report.