There are few wide receivers in the NFL that can cause defenses to game plan specifically to reduce the impact that player can cause. Randy Moss has been one such player throughout his entire career. Andre Johnson of the Texans is another. Brandon Marshall is also on that list.
Marshall was one of the pre-eminent wide receivers in the league. In two years with Jay Cutler as his primary quarterback, Marshall caught 102 and 104 passes. After Josh McDaniels ran Cutler out of Denver, Kyle Orton became the QB, but Marshall's production didn't drop off. He caught 101 passes in 15 games for 1,120 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns.
When Marshall became the next superstar in Denver to butt heads with McDaniels, he, too, had to go. Miami won the bidding war and he will be playing his second game with the Dolphins Sunday when they invade the Metrodome.
It would seem a new offense and yet another new quarterback hasn't changed things for Marshall. He caught eight passes in his Dolphins debut and the Vikings expect to see similar results from him Sunday.
"He's a big, physical guy who is in fifth season and he just keeps getting better," cornerback Lito Sheppard said. "He makes a lot of his plays not because he's wide open, but he goes up and gets the ball. He's very physical in terms of yards after the catch. We're definitely going to have our hands full and have got to make some plays."
The only other time Marshall played the Vikings, he stuck the knife in their dim playoff hopes – catching 10 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and rushed twice for 31 more yards. He was dominant. Veteran Antoine Winfield was on the receiving end of that offensive explosion and said that, while he didn't want to give away the game plan, trying to limit Marshall is on their minds.
"It won't change our approach to the game, but he is a good player and clearly they will want to use him as much as they can," Winfield said. "He has the ability to take over a game because he has great size, great hands and runs great routes. He's a player and we're definitely going to pay attention to him. We're going to throw a few wrinkles at him."
Safety Madieu Williams will be key to trying to prevent Marshall from making big plays down the field. Like Moss and Johnson, Marshall commands safety help, and Williams and Husain Abdullah will be pressed into action providing double-team help on Marshall. Williams said that, with all his skills, what makes Marshall so dangerous is that he is constantly targeted – from the first drive to the last – and never changes his playing temperament, which is always set on high.
"He's definitely a threat," Williams said. "They find ways to get him the ball throughout the course of a game. He's a guy we're very familiar with from while he was in Denver. We definitely have to be aware of where he's at throughout the game."
The Vikings claim they won't change how they run their defense to attempt to take Marshall away from the offense, but they were willing to concede that Marshall is someone they have identified as being one of the players capable of singlehandedly taking over a game.
"A guy like that, you never want to let him beat you," Sheppard said. "We'll start off with our game plan and, if he becomes a problem, I'm sure we'll make some adjustments."
The veterans are aware of Marshall, but rookie Chris Cook said he doesn't mind being thrown directly into the fire if he makes his NFL debut lined up opposite Marshall. Where the vets don't want to be burned on highlight films, Cook is at the point in his fledgling career that he wants to go up against the best and see how he fares.
"That's the kind of challenge I'm looking for," Cook said. "If you're going to get your feet wet, covering somebody like him is about as tough as it gets. It kind of like ‘Here you go, welcome to the NFL.' But that's what I've been working to get to and I look forward to getting the chance to see where I stand."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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