Vikings-Saints Game Plan

The Vikings will need Daunte Culpepper to improve against less sophisticated Saints defense, while the Saints are hoping their improved defense to date isn't a mirage. Get the outlook, matchups and injury report for Sunday, when the Saints come marching in to the Metrodome.


Full panic will set in if quarterback Daunte Culpepper does not turn things around against the Saints.

Going against Tampa Bay coordinator Monte Kiffin's defense in Week 1 and Bengals coach and defensive guru Marvin Lewis in Week 2, Culpepper looked awful. He has thrown eight interceptions and accounted for 10 of the Vikings' 12 turnovers in the two losses.

Culpepper has been a stand-up guy about his struggles and addressed the media Monday in the Winter Park locker room when it would have been easy to remain scarce. But he must prove he can be as cool, calm and collected on the field as he is in front of the cameras.

There is no question Culpepper is seeing different defensive looks this season with Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss in Oakland. But these formations, i.e. eight men in the box, aren't anything out of the ordinary and should make Culpepper's life easier, not more difficult.

The Saints, no doubt, will attempt to exploit every weakness Culpepper has shown in his first eight quarters of football.

Culpepper banged up his right knee against Tampa Bay in the opener, limiting his mobility. But against a Saints team that should be tired after playing Monday night against the Giants, Culpepper will get a chance to end his slump.

He had a career day against the Saints in 2004, throwing for 425 yards and tying his career high with five touchdown passes in a 38-31 victory in a Sunday night game.

It wouldn't be shocking if Tice takes a much more active role in play-calling starting with this game. New offensive coordinator Steve Loney also could find himself no longer on the sideline but up in the press box assisting the head coach.

The one offensive positive entering Sunday's game is that the Vikings line did appear to make improvements against the Bengals after a subpar performance from center Cory Withrow and rookie right guard Marcus Johnson in Week 1.

Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, meanwhile, seems to be set on confusing opponents with multiple looks, including 3-4 and 3-3-5 alignments in Week 1 and shifting Pro Bowl under tackle Kevin Williams to end in certain situations in Week 2.

Members of the Vikings defense say there is more to come and the Saints are likely to see Cottrell's latest sets Sunday. Cottrell will have to hope this unit plays more like it did in the opener against Tampa Bay (345 yards allowed) than it did versus Cincinnati (504 yards).

But the real responsibility for the defense's performance is on the offense. The Vikings were on the field for 62 plays in the first game and a whopping 79 in the second.

That simply can't happen again.

An 0-3 start wouldn't be the end of the world for the Vikings playoff hopes, thanks to the fact they are playing in what is shaping up to be the NFL's worst division, but it would give new owner Zygi Wilf plenty of ammunition if he wanted to make a coaching change.


  • The Vikings gave up a 70-yard touchdown bomb on the second play of last Sunday's game when confusion on the defense left receiver Chad Johnson open downfield. Think Joe Horn wasn't excited to see that bit of film? Horn will be matched up against cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield on Sunday. Look for him to go right after Winfield, who left the Bengals game after blisters on both of his feet broke open. Horn caught nine passes for 143 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown catch on Monday night against the New York Giants.

  • RT Mike Rosenthal will be in charge of making sure Saints RDE Darren Howard doesn't have his first big game of the season. Howard tied his career-high last season with 11 sacks but hasn't gotten to the quarterback in two games this season. The Vikings' offensive line looked better in the second game but did surrender two sacks to the Bengals.

  • With Nate Burleson almost certainly out because of a knee injury, Travis Taylor will become the Vikings' top receiver. Taylor, who had a team-leading seven receptions for 75 yards against the Bengals, doesn't have the speed to provide a consistent deep threat but needs to establish himself as a primary option for Daunte Culpepper against Saints cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Fakhir Brown.


  • WR Nate Burleson almost certainly will sit this one out because of a sprained posterior cruciate in his left knee. Burleson is considered the Vikings' top receiver but so far all the receivers essentially have been nonfactors as Daunte Culpepper has struggled to avoid throwing the ball into the hands of opponents. Without Burleson, the Vikings will have Koren Robinson in the uniform for the first time.

  • MLB Sam Cowart sat out last Sunday's game because of a strained left calf but should return against the Saints and provide veteran leadership in the middle that was missing with Rod Davis as the starter.

  • WLB E.J. Henderson suffered a high sprain of his right ankle and is doubtful to play Sunday. Dontarrious Thomas, who started five games last season and began training camp as the starter on the weakside, would replace Henderson.

  • S Darren Sharper suffered a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament against Cincinnati but was on the field Wednesday for a part of practice. If Sharper is slowed, Corey Chavous would move to free safety and Willie Offord would sub for Chavous at strong safety.

  • DE Kenechi Udeze should play despite a calf injury but this could mean extra playing time for first round pick Erasmus James. James made his debut in Week 2 against the Bengals.


    With the Vikings struggling on offense, the Saints defense has to come up with ways to make that continue. The Saints, who have been hammered by the Vikings offense in the past, have done a much better job in the first two games than they did last year and rank 16th in total yards allowed. But keeping the Vikings in check, especially with a dangerous Daunte Culpepper lurking, will be the key. Stopping the run early in the game will allow them to play more man-to-man coverages, which they're much more comfortable doing.


  • Saints RB Deuce McAllister vs. Vikings' front seven. McAllister has had trouble getting on track in the first two games, rushing for a total of 111 yards. So he has to be excited to go against a Vikings' defense that has been gashed for 156.5 yards per game on the ground so far.

  • Saints secondary vs. Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper. The Saints have injury problems with cornerback Fakhir Brown (knee) and free safety Dwight Smith (toe) listed as questionable. That could be just what the doctor ordered for Culpepper, who's thrown eight interceptions and no touchdowns and has a 41.1 passer rating in the first two games.

  • Saints WR Joe Horn vs. Vikings CB Fred Smoot. Two of the NFL's top trash-talkers could line up against each other on more than a few occasions in this one. Horn, a four-time Pro Bowler has caught 14 passes for 109 yards in the first two games and is coming off a monster performance against the New York Giants in which he had nine receptions for 143 yards.


    The Saints finished Monday's game against the Giants with only three healthy wide receivers — Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson — after Michael Lewis sustained a left knee injury on a kickoff return with 6:31 left in the game.

    Lewis has been placed on injured reserve, which means that Az-Zahir Hakim, who missed the Giants' game with a hamstring injury, or Henderson, a second-year pro, will be the third receiver at Minnesota. Nate Poole, who was with the Saints in training camp, was signed to take Lewis' spot on the 63-man roster.

    Lewis' injury also severely impacts the kick return and kick coverage units. Stallworth will likely return punts against the Vikings, while Aaron Stecker will be the main kickoff return man. As one of the fastest players on the team, Lewis is also valued for his skills on the punt and kickoff teams.

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