Does The Game Plan Change?

Although Jake Plummer won't play for Denver Sunday, the Vikings will still face an experienced quarterback in Steve Beuerlein. Minnesota is using lessons from the Atlanta game to shore up potential problems against Denver.

Steve Beuerlein will start at quarterback for Denver for the second consecutive week because Jake Plummer was ruled out with a broken foot. That helps the Vikings prepare, but they're still concerned about the Broncos' third-ranked rushing attack, which averages 150.5 yards per game.

The Vikings must stuff the run while not biting on the play-action fakes. Atlanta used several of those to take advantage of overaggressive safeties Brian Russell and Corey Chavous while taking a 20-12 halftime lead two weeks ago.

The Vikings spent time working on play-action defense during the bye week and continued this week. Denver has a much more potent running game, which makes its play-action fakes even more believable.

As for Denver's defense, the No. 1 concern by the Vikings is simple: Protecting quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who returns after a month off because of small bone fractures in his lower back. Denver had seven sacks against the Steelers last week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Randy Moss against CB Lenny Walls. Finally, Moss has someone his own size to pick on. Walls is 6-4, the same height as Moss. Moss has punished smaller corners all season, especially in the red zone. Against Atlanta, he easily outjumped 5-9 corners Ray Buchanan and Kevin Mathis. Walls has 13 passes defensed in his first season as a starter. The team-high for all of 2002 was 15 by Deltha O'Neal. Walls shadowed Pittsburgh's big receiver Plaxico Burress last week. Burress had five catches for 60 yards.

  • Vikings linebackers and safeties against RB Clinton Portis. Portis is by far the most dangerous running back the Vikings will have faced this season. He's seventh in the NFL with 479 yards on only 84 carries (5.7). Weakside linebacker Chris Claiborne and middle linebacker Greg Biekert have been sound tacklers, leading the team with 48 and 35, respectively. When running backs have broken long gains against the Vikings, it's been because of missed tackles by the safeties.

  • Vikings defensive line against the Broncos' offensive line: The Vikings have a physical defensive front. Denver has a finesse offensive line. That doesn't necessarily mean the Vikings will overwhelm Denver's offensive line. The Vikings respect Denver's zone blocking scheme, which utilizes smaller more athletic blockers that cover a designated space.

  • Nose tackles Fred Robbins against Broncos C Tom Nalen. A key matchup within the DL vs. OL matchup is 306-pound nose tackle Fred Robbins against 286-pound center Tom Nalen. A key in the Broncos' blocking scheme is the ability to cut the nose tackle. "We told Fred he needs to have a big game Sunday," Tice said.

  • Vikings offensive line against the Broncos' defensive line. The Vikings' have a big, powerful offensive line. While it's agile, it isn't as quick as Denver's defensive line, which has 16 of the Broncos' 17 sacks. RE Bertrand Berry (6-3, 250) has a team-high 5.5 sacks, but is giving up nearly 100 pounds to Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 346).

  • Vikings safeties, linebackers and ends against Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. Not only do these guys have to worry about tackling Portis, they also have to find a way to slow down Sharpe, the tight end/receiver tweener who's too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties. The Vikings will have to get a bump on Sharpe at the line of scrimmage to slow him down and then bring a safety up to help cover him.

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