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.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
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.
SAINTS GAME PLAN
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.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
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.