The Vikings offense is lighting it up, but the defense was as big of a concern as Randy Moss' hamstring this week. In Tennessee, the concern is how to play their safeties against a successful run <I>and</I> pass offense. Get the late-week notes and injury updates.
Another practice came and went Friday without All-Pro WR Randy Moss
, who is recovering from a strained right hamstring.
Yes, that's what fans are talking about in the Twin Cities. But the team is more worried about its defense, and for good reason.
If not for QB Daunte Culpepper
's out-of-his mind start this season, the Vikings could very well be 2-3 instead of 4-1 and leading the NFC North by a game over Detroit.
The defense has given up 795 yards and 59 points the past two weeks to Houston and New Orleans. Fortunately for coordinator Ted Cottrell
's outfit, the Vikings' offense has put up a team-record 1,115 yards and 72 points over the past two weeks.
"We need to understand that we need to fix a lot of crap that's going on, on that field that is not good stuff," coach Mike Tice
Tice was speaking in general terms, but it's obvious which side of the ball isn't playing well.
The Vikings rank 30th on defense, 31st against the pass. They blew a 21-0 lead before winning in overtime at Houston two weeks ago. And last week, they couldn't shake New Orleans in a 38-31 victory despite racking up 605 yards of offense, the second highest total in team history.
There is good news on the injury front for the defense. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson
has returned to practice after missing the past two games because of a knee injury.
He is the leader of the front seven and is capable of making all of the calls and adjustments. His replacement the past two weeks, rookie Dontarrious Thomas
, is a fast promising young player, but he couldn't make the calls and adjustments that needed to be made. Other players had to chip in and help on that part of the game.
Henderson's return has been overshadowed mightily by Moss' injury. Moss hasn't missed a game in his seven NFL seasons. The Vikings aren't expected to make a decision on Moss until a closed workout on Saturday.
KR Ryan Hoag runs a 4.39 40-yard dash and sounds confident he will make a difference in the 26th-ranked kickoff return unit when he plays in his first NFL regular season game on Sunday. The Vikings average 19.1 yards per return and their longest return is 33 yards. Hoag, who uses visualization in his preparation, said he has pictured himself returning a kickoff for a touchdown on Sunday against Tennessee. "Why not me?" said the former Division III star from Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus college. "Why not take one back for a touchdown?"
TE Jermaine Wiggins is able to play well with a small brace on his fractured left hand. He broke the hand in Week 2 and returned last week to catch five passes, including two touchdowns. "That's the first time I ever caught two touchdowns in a game," Wiggins said. "But it won't be the last." Wiggins is a useful weapon in the red zone.
RB Mewelde Moore, a rookie fourth-round draft pick, has the composure of a 10-year veteran. He breaks tackles, protects the ball and has the hands of a receiver. He will get his third consecutive start. In his first two starts, he set rookie records for catches in a game by a rookie (12) and all-purpose yards by a rookie in two consecutive games (432).
RB Michael Bennett practiced again Thursday and is on pace to play his first game of the regular season on Sunday. He's wearing a bulky brace on his right knee to guard against another re-injury in practice. The last time he tried to come back this season, he tore knee cartilage on Sept. 30 and had to have arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 4. Look for Bennett to get five to seven carries as Mewelde Moore's backup.
K Morten Andersen has taken the excitement out of a Vikings' kicking game that put the thrill back into the PAT during preseason. The 23-year veteran 18 of 18 on extra points, 4 of 4 on field goals inside of 40 yards and 2 of 4 on field goals of 40 yards or longer.
The Titans head to Minnesota needing to win one-on-one matchups in run defense because they'll be unable to commit extra resources up front as they worry about the Vikings' deep passing game.
"When you have the vertical passing game that they have, you have to commit (safeties to it)," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "You watch teams, they'll line safeties up at 22 yards when the ball is snapped and still make plays on the deep ball so you're going to be late to (run) support.
"With all the run action you have to be sure. They are going to crease you. So our challenge is to able to manage the run game yet still not give up the plays downfield."
Moss has caught a touchdown pass in 10 consecutive games, but suffered a right hamstring strain after falling to the turf when he got tied up with a defender in Sunday night's win over New Orleans.
Asked if he wanted to line up across from Moss, Titans cornerback Samari Rolle said: "Oh yeah, of course. Who else are we going to put on him? Nothing against my teammates, but that's what I am here for."
But it's not just Moss, and Rolle said if the Pro Bowler is out the Titans might have a more difficult time predicting what the Vikings will do. Minnesota has 27 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Seven different players have caught the passes, with Moss accounting for only a quarter of them.
QB Steve McNair does not have a history of playing his best games indoors, but the Titans will need a big game from him to have a chance against the high-octane Vikings Sunday in Minnesota.
RB Chris Brown has shown no ill effects this week from the hit to the shoulder he took against the Texans that left him out for the late part of the game.
WR Drew Bennett (calf) didn't do much on Thursday. The decision to hold him back was the team's, not his, and he is expected to be fine to play Sunday.
WR Jason McAddley, signed Oct. 7, could see his first action of the season on offense Sunday. The Titans are looking for help and say he's now comfortable with the offense. Steve McNair took extra time to talk with him about routes details at practice on Thursday.
RG Benji Olson did not practice Thursday because of a groin strain, but there remains a good chance he will be able to rejoin the team Sunday after missing a game.
RT Fred Miller is dealing with a bad ankle and couldn't finish practice on Thursday. Still, he expects to be good to go on Sunday.
TE Shad Meier is out as he continues to recover from an appendectomy last Sunday.
TE Erron Kinney (calf) is out of the Minnesota game.