Vikings-Packers Game Plan

When the Vikings and Packers meet, the unusual is the norm — from postgame fights to game-deciding controversial calls. But when looking at the matchups, the Packers might be best served by keeping it simple, while the Vikings could be looking to strike with flare. Get the matchups that matter most and the injuries that will affect this division-deciding showdown.

VIKINGS GAME PLAN

Obviously, Brett Favre can be dangerous. But the Vikings' game plan is to load up against the run and, basically, put the game in Favre's hands.

They have no other choice. The Vikings have lost two consecutive games to the Packers, giving up 261 yards rushing at the Metrodome last season and 206 this year at Lambeau Field.

Offensively, the Vikings will try to strike deep downfield early against the 25th-ranked passing defense. WR Randy Moss finally is healthy enough to run past defenders.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Vikings secondary vs. Packers QB Brett Favre — Favre has five interceptions in his last three games. He had two in the 47-17 loss to Philadelphia three weeks ago and three in Sunday's 28-25 upset loss to Jacksonville. Favre also is 3-9 at the Metrodome. The Vikings' secondary has been horrendous since CB Antoine Winfield suffered a high left ankle sprain against in the 24-14 loss to the Bears three weeks ago. The low point came when Lions QB Joey Harrington drove the Lions 80 yards for a touchdown with 97 seconds left and no timeouts. Winfield returns this week, which is a huge lift. Not only does he return, but the Vikings were able to release Derek Ross, who was the dime back and the main culprit in the defensive meltdowns the last three weeks.

Vikings front seven vs. Packers RB Ahman Green — Green ran for 145 yards on 21 carries (6.9) as the Packers steamrolled the Vikings with 206 yards rushing in their 34-31 victory at Lambeau Field on Nov. 14. Green hasn't topped 100 yards rushing since that game, mostly because he has been battling bruised ribs since the Houston game the following week. The Vikings, meanwhile, have improved against the run, but they still aren't the Baltimore Ravens. There haven't been as many alignment mistakes by the linebackers, particularly MLB E.J. Henderson, since the Green Bay game. WLB Chris Claiborne has put together three consecutive solid games. DT Kevin Williams might be the best tackle in the league.

Vikings WR Randy Moss vs. Packers CB Al Harris — Harris is expected to shadow Moss on Friday. Moss' strained right hamstring has healed and his back problems haven't slowed him too much on the field. He caught a career-long 82-yard touchdown pass against the Lions last week by simply running past three defenders and catching a deep ball from QB Daunte Culpepper. Harris has only one interception, but his 25 passes defensed leads the team by 15. Moss didn't play in the first Packers game this season because of his hamstring strain.

INJURY IMPACT

  • CB Antoine Winfield, who missed the past two games because of a high left ankle sprain, is expected to return this week, either as a nickel back or his usual starting left corner spot. If Winfield is healthy enough to play the way he did for the first 11 games of the season, his return will make a huge impact. He is the second-best player on the defense behind tackle Kevin Williams.

  • C Matt Birk, who missed the last four games because of hernia surgery, will return this week. Backup Cory Withrow did a decent job in Birk's absence, but Birk is one of the top centers in the league. Even rusty, Birk will add strength to the line.

  • LT Bryant McKinnie missed most of the last three quarters of the Detroit game because of back spasms. He will play, but don't be surprised if he doesn't make it the entire game. McKinnie isn't having a stellar season, but his replacement, rookie Nat Dorsey, was terrible in relief of McKinnie last Sunday.

  • RB Onterrio Smith has the flu. He was listed as probable on the injury report Wednesday. He will play. CB Terrance Shaw played the Detroit game with the flu.


    PACKERS GAME PLAN

    On offense, the Packers want to do everything in their power to run the ball on the suspect Vikings defense. If successful, it would keep their own suspect defense off the field and take the quick-to-turn Metrodome crowd out of the game.

    It shouldn't be a big problem. The Vikings have a small NT in Spencer Johnson and don't have much at linebacker. The key is whether coach Mike Sherman, who is calling the plays, will be patient. The Packers have run the ball on just 41 percent of their snaps.

    On defense, the Packers need major pass rush from RE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and dime DT Cullen Jenkins. If Daunte Culpepper can stand back there and scan the field, the Packers' shaky secondary will be overmatched. Heck, they were overmatched in Week 9 by the Vikings' receiving corps, and Randy Moss didn't even play.

    "KGB" has had success against LT Bryant McKinnie and also will get cracks at young RT Adam Goldberg. The Packers no doubt will put S Darren Sharper over the top behind Moss and bump with Al Harris. That leaves Ahmad Carroll to try to cover Nate Burleson.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    Packers RG Marco Rivera vs. Vikings DT Kevin Williams — Rivera had Williams 85 percent over him in the first game and held up adequately. Williams is a finesse rusher with a lot of head fakes and swim moves. Rivera is better against bulk. He gave up his first full sack in 66 games last week on a stunt by Jacksonville LB Daryl Smith.

    Packers CB Al Harris vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss — Harris is coming off a terrible game against Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith, but the Packers have no choice but to put Harris on Moss because rookie Ahmad Carroll can't stop being penalized for overaggressive coverage. Harris will get a jam on Moss, but he can't come close to running with him.

    INJURY IMPACT

  • WR Robert Ferguson, who is out, continues to suffer loss of feeling in his foot and hand and is experiencing back pain.

  • NT James Lee is out with complications from the left knee cartilage damage that he suffered in mid-September.

  • T Kevin Barry (quad tendon) might be able to play for the first time since Dec. 5 as a second tight end.

  • LB Na'il Diggs will start after missing two games with a bruised kidney. He returned to practice Wednesday.

  • NT Grady Jackson (knee) missed another day of practice Wednesday but is expected to start.


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