Vikings-Packers Game Plan

Will the Vikings stick with the 3-4 defense as part of the game plan against the Packers? There are pros and cons to each side of the argument. Plus, we give you the key matchups and injury outlook for each time in the Vikings' biggest rivalry game.

VIKINGS The Vikings get an opportunity to get back into the thick of the NFC North race when they face division rival Green Bay on Sunday at the Metrodome.

The 3-4 base defense Minnesota used against Chicago might have been a bust versus Green Bay in past seasons when the Packers pounded the ball with Ahman Green, but with Green hurting and his offensive line floundering it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings stick with it.

The Packers lost their home opener against Cleveland, which also plays a 3-4 base defense. The Vikings' hope would be to give quarterback Brett Favre an unfamiliar look and see if the Packers' run game has much left.

This might have been dangerous in past seasons but might be a strategy that could work this year. Free safety Darren Sharper also should be sky high for this one, playing against the Packers for the first time in his career after eight seasons with that team.

Offensively, the Vikings desperately need quarterback Daunte Culpepper to get on track. Culpepper has been anywhere from below average to downright awful in 2005 and has done nothing to prove that he can operate successfully without Randy Moss.

It would help Culpepper's cause if the Vikings are able to establish the run. Minnesota has only one 100-yard rushing performance as a team this season and needs more consistency from its line and running back Mewelde Moore.

Mistakes killed the Vikings in Chicago, as they were called for 14 penalties for 91 yards. The offsides and false-start calls, mental mistakes, have been especially troubling to coach Mike Tice and must be eliminated if things are going to be turned around.


  • Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams is coming off his best performance of the season (seven tackles and two sacks) and will be going against either second-year center Scott Wells or injured Mike Flanagan. Either way Williams stands to have a big day if he continues to perform like he did against four-time Pro Bowl selection Olin Kreutz. Pat Williams' success is key because the better he plays the more it will help end/under tackle Kevin Williams have an opportunity to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2004.

  • Quarterback Daunte Culpepper could have a big game against a suspect Green Bay defense that likely will attempt to slow him with special attention from middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Culpepper has battled a sore right knee for much of the season and only scrambled once against Chicago. That eliminates a huge part of Culpepper's game. If he shows a willingness to run Sunday, it will pressure Barnett into making a choice and might open some receivers or real estate for Culpepper.


    With Nate Burleson expected back, Daunte Culpepper would be playing with his No. 1 receiver for only the third time this season. That should be a boost to a struggling offense.

  • Left end Spencer Johnson could miss a second consecutive game, forcing the Vikings to stay in a 3-4 defense. However, even if Johnson returns, the 3-4 could remain the base defense because its unclear how many snaps for which he could be on the field.


    Generally, what few times the Packers have come out on the winning end of their annual visits to the raucous Metrodome, it's been attributable to a demonstrative rushing attack that controlled the clock and hushed the crowd. Ahman Green ran for 161 yards in a 2000 victory and 137 yards in a 2003 triumph. Last year, though, Green was held in check, but the Packers managed to pull out a 34-31, division-clinching win on Christmas Eve because the Brett Favre-led aerial attack under the Teflon roof was nearly flawless.

    With Green moving on a balky right leg and the running game nearly nonexistent this season, the Packers probably will need Favre to be sharp again to win this battle of 1-4 lightweights.

    The defense also has to come to the forefront, much like it did in creating five takeaways and scoring two touchdowns against New Orleans in the last game. As much as Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper would seem ripe for a few more picks, he hasn't thrown an interception in the last five meetings with Green Bay.


  • The Packers' assertive interior of the defensive line against the Vikings' disjointed interior of the offensive line. Green Bay's liberal rotation of starting tackles Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins with Corey Williams, Colin Cole and Kenny Peterson has been at the heart of its ascending to No. 3 in the league in allowing opponents an average of only 3.3 yards per rush. The group also has generated some pressure on passing downs and could have its way against Minnesota's Matt Birk-less line, which has allowed quarterback Daunte Culpepper to be sacked 24 times.

  • Conversely, a Packers offensive line likely without Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan, who's recovering from surgery for a sports hernia, and still in the early development process with new guards Adrian Klemm and rookie Will Whitticker will have to contend with the Vikings' new-look 3-4 alignment.

    Previous encounters with the scheme this year - against San Diego and New England in the preseason and Cleveland in Week 2 - caused Green Bay's run-oriented offense fits. Ahman Green gained but 93 yards in 35 carries in those three games.


  • RB Ahman Green is less than 100 percent with a bruised knee and a strained thigh, but the coaching staff is cautiously optimistic the four-time Pro Bowler will be ready for Sunday after he missed the last game prior to the bye.

    It's critical the Packers get Green back up to speed, never mind his disappointing start to the season, because they lost top backup Najeh Davenport to a season-ending broken ankle the last time out. The jury is out on whether Tony Fisher, who's been dependable as both a ball carrier and a pass catcher in third-down situations, or recent addition ReShard Lee can adequately complement Green.

    Otherwise, the glaring struggles of the running game, which is foundering near the bottom of the league rankings, figure to persist.

  • That may be all the more true if TE Bubba Franks isn't deemed fully recovered from the torn MCL in his left knee, which has essentially kept him out the last three games. Franks earned three trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl because of his penchant for catching passes in the red zone.

    Yet, he's underrated as a blocker, and his prolonged absence early in the season has contributed to the offense's ineptitude on the ground.

    With Franks listed as questionable and not certain to play Sunday, the Packers could have a tough time getting the running game on track once and for all.

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