Head or Heart?

The excitement heading into tonight's game centers on how hard will the offenses push the issue. Could one coach (or both) dare opt to dominate the game on the ground? Both can and they know it. The question is will either have the nerve to try it?

The head or the heart?

That is the question to be answered tonight. How do you approach a fight in which everyone else knows the outcome? Cassius Clay circa 1963. George Foreman circa 1973. Mike Tyson circa 1986. Knockout artists. Get up? Guess what? I'll knock you down again.

The head says "let's win the game." The heart says, "let's beat them down." In both theory and reality, both the Vikings and Colts can come into the game with the either approach. Which one they choose will likely decide who wins.

The focus of this game from the ABC perspective will be on the quarterbacks. While Daunte Culpepper has been taking up a lot of national headlines for his big passing days, Manning has two more touchdowns – 22 to 20. But the bigger focus will be on which team goes with its head or with its heart.

There's little question that, if given the option, the Vikings and Colts could play to a 20-17 slugfest in which each team runs the ball 40 times. And why not? Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith have both shown they can get the job done and the Vikings are averaging five yards per rush. In reasonable layman's terms, that means, on average, if the Vikings run every play, they don't face a third down. Indy too can rely on the run. Edgerrin James has averaged 21 carries for 91 yards a game. And, when aked to, he routinely carries 25-35 times in a game to secure a win.

Yet, through film study, both teams know they can exploit one another in the most heinous of ways. Manning is a surgeon on the field – given the latitude to check off in any situation and control the offense. While Culpepper doesn't have that kind of latitude, he has learned to use his alternate receivers other than Moss. It will serve him well tonight now that the Moss option has been eliminated.

The running games will be the only factor that matters tonight, and that is where the head and the heart will come into play. Both defenses are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. If one team gets up by 14 points, will they let up? What approach do you take – the 14-play, nine-minute drive or the no-huddle, seven-play, three-minute drive?

These are the choices Mike Tice and Tony Dungy face. If they both go with the head, the score will be 23-20. If they both go with the heart, the score with 48-45. If one goes one way and one goes the other, the score will be 45-27. Which will it be? Door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3?

* Today may not have been the best of days for the Vikings to be able to see other NFL games. Seeing that their home loss to the Giants was Oreo-ed in between home losses to the Lions and Bears couldn't have been viewed positively. But, seeing the Lions do their usual November favor was promising.
* The Vikings have five players with 20 receptions or more – led by unheralded Nate Burleson, who has 31 catches for 418 yards to lead the team in both categories. Through seven games, Burleson has just eight fewer catches and 67 fewer yards than Marvin Harrison.
* Indy's three primary wide receivers – Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley – have combined to catch 107 passes for 1,565 yards and 15 touchdowns. All three are on pace to catch more than 75 passes for 1,100 yards. Not average – each one of them.
* Six different Colts have two or more receiving touchdowns and James isn't one of them.
* The Colts have allowed 20 defensive touchdowns – six rushing and 14 passing. The Vikings have scored 23 offensive touchdowns – three rushing and 20 passing. The Vikings have allowed 19 defensive touchdowns – 12 rushing and seven passing. The Colts offense has scored 28 offensive TDs – 22 passing and six rushing.
* The Vikings have a three-minute edge in time of possession this year. The Colts have a five-minute disadvantage in T.O.P.
* How scared are the Colts of their defense? Despite Manning's record-setting pace, Colts opponents have outgained them by 33 yards this year – against an offense that puts up 414 yards a game.
* Manning has a QB rating of 117.4 – best in the NFL. Culpepper is next at 113.7. But opposing QBs have a 100.4 rating vs. the Colts defense and Vikings opponents have a rating of 83.3.
* The backup quarterbacks for the two teams have combined to throw one pass (by Gus Frerotte). That's two less than those thrown by non-quarterbacks – the Vikings have had passes from Moss and Mewelde Moore and the only non-Manning Colts pass was thrown by center Jeff Saturday.
* Manning has been sacked just four times. Culpepper, despite his mobility to avoid sacks, has been sacked 18 times.
* Colts opponents in 2004 have completed 70 percent of their passes – just slightly less than Culpepper's record-setting pace.

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