Vikings-Seahawks Game Plan

Neither the Seahawks nor the Vikings have lived up to the preseason billing of being NFC favorites, yet each of them have a good shot at the playoffs. This game, however, will be critical for both teams — for Seattle as a wild card and for Minnesota's division title hopes. Get the game plan, matchups and injuries that affect Sunday's showdown.

VIKINGS GAME PLAN

If ever the Vikings needed to beat on a team with its running game, this is the game. Seattle is almost certain to duplicate Chicago's blitz-heavy game plan that helped the Bears upset the Vikings 24-14. The best answer for that, especially since Randy Moss still isn't 100 percent, is to hammer the ball straight ahead with hard-nosed RB Onterrio Smith.

Dallas rookie Julius Jones ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in the Cowboys' 43-39 victory over the Seahawks on Monday night. Look for the Vikings to call much more than the 15 running plays they called against the Bears.

Rookie RB Mewelde Moore finally will play after missing the last five weeks because of a high left ankle sprain. His primary job will be to return kickoffs, but the Vikings also might use him for some extra juice in the backfield.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper vs. Seattle's secondary — Culpepper threw three interceptions in the red zone in Sunday's loss at Chicago, including one on first-and-goal at the 3. Seattle leads the NFL in interceptions with 19. Cornerback Ken Lucas has five picks, and free safety Ken Hamlin and backup strong safety Michael Boulware have four apiece. Cornerback Marcus Trufant has three.

Vikings LCB Terrance Shaw vs. Seahawks WR Jerry Rice — Shaw gets the start because Antoine Winfield will be inactive with a high left ankle sprain. Shaw is a 10-year journeyman who was a member of New England's first Super Bowl championship three seasons ago. Rice, obviously, is the greatest receiver of all time. Yes, he's 42, but he also caught eight passes for 145 yards and one touchdown in last week's 42-39 loss to Dallas. However, Rice suffered a left quadriceps injury while running a deep pattern at practice Wednesday. He is expected to play, but could be limited.

Vikings MLB E.J. Henderson vs. RB Shaun Alexander — The Vikings are one of the worst teams in the league against the run. Although they improved last week against the Bears, the Vikings have had problems with misalignments and missed tackles. Alexander averaged 4.9 yards per carry and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Stopping him begins with Henderson but doesn't end there. The linemen need to fill the proper gaps and the safeties need to make quicker decisions and better tackles. Also, the pressure is on new starting CB Terrance Shaw. He replaces CB Antoine Winfield, the team's best tackler, and leading tackler.

INJURY IMPACT

  • WR Randy Moss' strained right hamstring is improving, but now his back has begun to stiffen up. He took himself out on some plays in the Vikings' two-minute drill last week against the Bears. The team believes the stiffness is a natural occurrence because Moss is playing his way back into shape after missing essentially five weeks because of the hamstring injury. Moss clearly is affected by his back stiffness and a hamstring that still isn't 100 percent. And when Moss is affected, the Vikings are affected.

  • CB Antoine Winfield will miss his first game of the season because of a high left ankle sprain. It will be a huge loss. Terrance Shaw replaces Winfield and isn't bad. But the trickle-down effect brings Derek Ross off the bench to play Shaw's nickel back position. Ross is getting a second chance this week after almost getting cut for his horrendous play against the Bears' two-minute offense at the end of the first half last week. Ross gave up a 31-yard completion on third-and-17 and a 15-yard touchdown pass on third down.

  • WLB Raonall Smith might miss a sixth consecutive game because of two concussions earlier in the season. He might end up on injured reserve. The Vikings could use him on special teams and maybe at linebacker. But they've moved on. Chris Claiborne has settled back in at linebacker after leg injuries earlier in the season. And Mike Nattiel and Rod Davis made strides on special teams last week.

  • C Matt Birk will miss his third consecutive game because of hernia surgery. Backup Cory Withrow will start again. The Vikings are 2-1 this season with Withrow starting.


    SEAHAWKS GAME PLAN

    The Seahawks need to crank up their offense and try to win a shootout. Seattle's defense is too banged up to keep the Vikings' powerful offense in check, particularly in the Metrodome. It's important for Seattle's offense to match the Vikings score for score. Falling behind would be disastrous because Seattle might be prone to getting blown out for the second time in three weeks.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    Seahawks CB Ken Lucas vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss — Lucas won't be the only DB trying to defend Moss, but the matchup is relevant in light of recent history. Moss lit up Lucas last season during a 34-7 Vikings victory in the Metrodome. Lucas is a better player this time around, but Seattle's pass rush hasn't been helping out enough. Of course, Moss would win this matchup even with an in-his-prime Reggie White rushing the passer for Seattle.

    Seahawks OLB Solomon Bates vs. the Vikings' OL — Bates has been starting only because of injury. He barely earned a roster spot as the third middle linebacker, but now he's starting on the outside. Minnesota is missing Pro Bowl C Matt Birk, but the Vikings' line should be able to expose Bates and the rest of Seattle's overmatched LB corps.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Seattle is extremely banged up on defense. Starting DT Cedric Woodard should be able to play, but it won't matter. The Seahawks are down too many players at the position to compete reasonably. Linebacker is another nightmare. There's an outside chance Chad Brown could be back, but his return from a knee injury is probably a week away. On offense, QB Matt Hasselbeck is feeling a lot better lately, giving Seattle its best chance to put some points on the board.


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