Both the Raiders and Vikings have soft spots, but some of them match up one strength against another weakness. They are so glaring in the statistics you can't help but wonder how much they will be exploited.
VIKINGS GAME PLAN
The Vikings have the No. 1-ranked offense and an improving special teams unit. But nothing they do Sunday in Oakland matters if the defense doesn't snap out of its three-game funk.
The Vikings are preparing for attacks on their soft perimeter. The Giants, Packers and Chargers have thrashed the Vikings' defense with sweeps, misdirection plays and quick-strike passes.
If the Vikings don't get into position and make the tackles, the losing streak will reach four games.
The Raiders (2-7) have lost five consecutive games, are tied for the worst record in the NFL and are down to third-string QB Rick Mirer
. But it was only a week ago that San Diego was 1-7 and giving 41-year-old QB Doug Flutie
his first start in two years.
All Flutie did was complete 21 of 29 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns passing and two rushing. And all the Chargers' running game did was put up 211 yards on 26 carries (8.1) and four touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Vikings perimeter defense against Raiders RBs Justin Fargas
and Tyrone Wheatley
. In last week's 27-24 overtime loss to the Jets, the Raiders had a 19-play touchdown drive in which they ran on every play. Fargas isn't as fast as San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson
, who burned the Vikings on runs of 73 yards for a touchdown and 55 yards. But Fargas can get to the corner and break off big gains. The Vikings need to set the edge with corners Ken Irvin
and Brian Williams
. End Kenny Mixon
needs to hold his ground better. LBs Greg Biekert
and Chris Claiborne
need to fight through blocks better. And if the front seven breaks down, FS Brian Russell
needs to tackle better. SS Corey Chavous
needs to take better angles to the ball carrier.
Vikings secondary against Raiders QB Rick Mirer. Chavous still leads the NFL in interceptions with seven. Russell is still tied for second with six. The Vikings have 18 interceptions, but none against the Chargers. Mirer, whose career has been a major disappointment, has two interceptions and one touchdown in 53 attempts. The Raiders will try to run the ball to take pressure off Mirer, who's playing only because Rich Gannon and Marques Tuiasosopo are hurt.
Vikings WR Randy Moss against Raiders CBs Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon. Defending Moss is a team duty, but obviously it starts with the corners. Woodson, the Raiders' outspoken star, gets to test himself against the best receiver in the league. Moss leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (10) and is second in receptions (63) and receiving yards (998). Woodson has three interceptions. Buchanon has two, including an 83-yard return for a touchdown.
Vikings running game against Raiders run defense. The Vikings rank eighth in rushing (132.8), while the Raiders are 31st in stopping the run (153.3). Expect Vikings RB Michael Bennett's workload to increase this week. He has 13 carries in two games since his return from a fractured foot. He'll probably get 15-18 carries if the Vikings don't fall behind quickly like they did at San Diego. Bennett had five carries last week and lost a key fumble in the red zone early in the third quarter. Moe Williams leads the Vikings in rushing with 616 yards and three touchdowns on 129 carries (4.8). QB Daunte Culpepper also is starting to run more now that his back is healthy again.
Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie against Raiders DE Tyler Brayton. McKinnie struggled last week on a sprained left ankle. He was called for holding twice and gave up a sack. He held on the Vikings' first offensive play of the game, negating a 25-yard pass to the Chargers' 20. Brayton, a rookie, has one sack.
Vikings CBs Ken Irvin, Brian Williams and Denard Walker against Raiders WRs Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter. Yes, the Raiders' passing game is terrible. Rice has no touchdowns, while Brown has two and Porter one. But these can still be three of the more dangerous receivers in the NFL. Walker lost his starting job to Irvin last week. Irvin suffered a mild concussion in the first half against the Chargers and was limited in the second half. Walker was called for pass interference, and Williams was flagged for holding on third-down during a scoring drive before halftime.
Vikings special teams against Raiders special teams. The Vikings have made steady progress on special teams. They finally made strikes on kickoff returns last week with rookie returners Keenan Howry and Onterrio Smith. Howry had a 42-yard return, while Smith averaged 23.3 yards on three returns. The Raiders can be dangerous on returns. CB Phillip Buchanon is averaging 13.5 yards with a 78-yard TD on punt returns. Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler are weapons. Lechler leads the NFL with a 49.5-yard average. The next best average is 45.9. Janikowski is 17 of 19 on field goals and tied for second in the NFL with seven touchbacks on kickoffs. The Vikings have had one touchback, and that was by Jose Cortez, who is no longer with the team.
RAIDERS GAME PLAN
Once again, the Raiders find themselves up against a team that is having major problems stopping the run. Minnesota is dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per rush (5.3). This would seem to precipitate another game plan heavy on the running. Charlie Garner's injury may not have a bearing on that decision. They ran 52 times last week against the Jets and only had Garner for one play. The Raiders will no doubt continue to favor zone pass coverage against the Vikings and WR Randy Moss — if for no other reason than to avoid an unfavorable matchup between the 6-foot-4 Moss and 5-foot-10 cornerback Phillip Buchanon. In the exhibition season, Moss beat the other corner, Charles Woodson, twice for touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: In spite of anticipated cover-2 attention, WR Randy Moss will find himself with a six-inch height advantage over CB Phillip Buchanon. Old teammates C Barret Robbins and Vikings MLB Greg Biekert will see a good deal of one another as opponents for the first time. Another battle of ex-teammates pits Raiders LT Barry Sims against pass rush specialist Lance Johnstone (Vikings leader with 6.5 sacks).