Vikings-Falcons Game Plan

The Vikings will be severely limited in how they approach the Falcons because of injuries, but so far defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has been mixing his defensive looks. Meanwhile, the Falcons have the personnel to exploit some weaknesses among Minnesota's starting ranks. Get the outlook from both camps, and the matchups and injuries that will affect Sunday's game.


The Vikings will get a big test Sunday, going against Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. Success in containing Vick will start up front where the QB must be kept in the pocket.

Nose tackle Pat Williams and under tackle Kevin Williams likely will be given occasional rests to keep them fresh, meaning additional playing time for many of the defensive linemen that are active. The health of defensive ends Lance Johnstone (shoulder, doubtful) and Kenechi Udeze (knee, doubtful) will be key to what the line can do. Neither of them looked

One of Vick's favorite receiving targets is Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler, who has 10 receptions this season. The responsibility of keeping Crumpler in check will fall to the linebacker corps of Sam Cowart, Napoleon Harris and E.J. Henderson, who is trying to return after sitting out last Sunday because of a high ankle sprain.

The Vikings are hurting at safety with backup Willie Offord having suffered a season-ending injury last Sunday and free safety Darren Sharper still nursing a sore knee. Sharper remains uncertain if he will be able to play after sitting out against New Orleans. That could mean strong safety Corey Chavous could be joined by cornerback-turned-free safety Ken Irvin.

There are no such concerns at cornerback, where Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot are coming off strong performances. Winfield and Smoot almost certainly will play man-to-man throughout the game, something they had great success with against the Saints.

Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has shown a willingness to mix up his schemes, switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to a 3-3-5 at various times, and likely will do the same against Vick.

In fact, with the injury issues, coach Mike Tice has mentioned the possibility of using just one safety and inserting another linebacker. That could set up a 4-4-3 formation, with either Keith Newman or Dontarrious Thomas being used as an extra linebacker. Of course, Henderson's health will play a big role in determining if this is even a possibility.

The Falcons, meanwhile, will have to be concerned with quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who appeared to get on track after back-to-back horrible performances. Culpepper passed for 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints and also rushed for 36 yards on eight carries despite a sore right knee.

Culpepper is almost certain to be without top receiver Nate Burleson (knee) for a second consecutive game but that didn't bother him versus New Orleans. Culpepper completed passes to eight different receivers, including two touchdown tosses to Travis Taylor.

Running back Mewelde Moore will get his second consecutive start. Moore rushed for 101 yards last game and has replaced Michael Bennett as the Vikings' top running back.

The Vikings continue to look for more consistency from their offensive line, especially the interior, and a solid performance from this unit will be key to the success of both Culpepper and Moore.


Vikings linebackers vs. Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler. Saints tight end Ernie Conwell caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings last Sunday. Crumpler, if allowed, could do far greater damage. He is one of Vick's favorite receivers and has 10 receptions for 142 yards through three games.

Vikings defensive line vs. Michael Vick. The Vikings front will have to keep Vick contained in the pocket or it could be a very long day and send Minnesota into the bye week with a 1-3 record. Vick presents so many dangers because of his speed and rocket arm, that it's crucial that all assignments be executed to near perfection so order is key on the field. The front four must show discipline in staying in their lanes and keeping Vick under control.


  • WR Nate Burleson continues to rehabilitate from the sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee but will be held out of Sunday's game. That will mean greater roles for Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Troy Williamson and perhaps Koren Robinson.

  • WLB E.J. Henderson's high right ankle sprain could mean another start for Dontarrious Thomas. Thomas started last Sunday in Henderson's place.

  • FS Darren Sharper sat out Wednesday's practice and most of Thursday's because of a sprained medial collateral ligament that also kept him from playing against the Saints. Sharper has promised he won't rush back before he feels ready. Veteran Ken Irvin most likely would start in Sharper's place, but there also is a chance the Vikings could come out in a 4-4-3 formation that has only one safety.

  • Nickel back Brian Williams won't play Sunday because of a knee injury. Ralph Brown will take his place and Dovonte Edwards, Laroni Gallishaw or Ken Irvin could see time in the dime package.

  • DE Lance Johnstone, who leads the Vikings with two sacks, is listed as doubtful for Sunday because of a shoulder injury. A situational pass-rusher, Johnstone would be sorely missed if he can't be used to pressure Falcons quarterback Michael Vick off the end.

  • Starting DE Kenechi Udeze missed practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. If Udeze and Lance Johnstone can't play, the Vikings will have to rely on backup Spencer Johnson.


    The Falcons will try and do what they normally do offensively, mixing the run with Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, while quarterback Michael Vick works the passing game with a combination of his passes and runs.

    Defensively, the Falcons should be able to prevent the Vikings from making big plays, thanks to an aggressive unit that is capable of making big plays of its own.


    C Todd McClure vs. MLB Sam Cowart. With Kevin Williams and Pat Williams providing constant pressure, the Vikings will send Cowart up the middle to blow up the bottom of Atlanta's pocket. McClure must keep his feet balanced and stay low to get under Cowart's pads.

    DT Rod Coleman vs. Marcus Johnson. Pity a rookie, regardless of his talent, when asked to contain Coleman. The Falcons do a good job of keeping Coleman fresh, so Johnson could buckle in the second half.

    LCB DeAngelo Hall vs. WRs Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson or Troy Williamson. Depending on how coordinator Ed Donatell considers the matchups, Hall could take on either of these players in man-to-man coverage. If Donatell finds the balance he seeks from both sides and doesn't have to deploy SS Keion Carpenter deep all day, Hall might take less risks in guessing routes and lower his chances of an interception.


  • WR Dez White (hamstring) is expected to play, but even if he takes 20 snaps, he's unlikely to be at more than 85 percent capacity. The team likely wouldn't ask much of him other than to block in both the running and passing games.

  • RCB Jason Webster (knee) hopes to give the defense some stability on his side, particularly in jamming receivers, but his leg is problematic. Webster is probably running at about 75 percent capacity.

  • RDE Brady Smith (quadriceps) practiced Wednesday for the first time in a week, so his body is rested. Chauncey Davis played well in his absence, so Smith won't be asked to push himself all afternoon. He should be about 85 percent.

  • CB Allen Rossum (hamstring) is running at full capacity, and the Falcons want to save his bursts for punt and kickoff returns, so don't expect too many snaps from him in coverage.

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