The Vikings' task against the NFL's top-scoring team became that much tougher Wednesday when cornerback Fred Smoot was declared out for Sunday's game against the Giants because of a small fracture of his right collarbone.
That moves nickel back Brian Williams into a starting position opposite corner Antoine Winfield. It also means that receiver Plaxico Burress and tight end Jeremy Shockey, among others, have to be counting the hours until kickoff.
Not that Smoot has been a shutdown corner in his first season with the Vikings - just ask Carolina's Steve Smith - but the Vikings can ill afford to be shorthanded at any defensive position.
It becomes more important than ever that the defensive line gets pressure on Eli Manning and keeps the Giants quarterback from getting comfortable.
As if the Vikings won't be faced with a tough enough task containing Manning, veteran running back Tiki Barber, the NFC's third-leading rusher, also will command plenty of attention.
Brad Johnson starts his second game at quarterback for Minnesota, meaning the offense will need to get equal contributions from the run and the pass. Johnson threw for only 136 yards last Sunday against Detroit; the aerial game will have to be more of a threat against a Giants defense that is far better against the run than the pass.
If the Vikings can keep the run game going with either Michael Bennett or Mewelde Moore, or both, New York will have to respect the play action just as did Detroit did.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
CB Fred Smoot's fractured right collarbone, an injury revealed by the team Wednesday, will keep him out for four to six weeks. Nickel back Brian Williams will move into a starting role. Ralph Brown will move from the dime to the nickel package, and Dovonte Edwards will play in the dime.
DL Spencer Johnson, a versatile player who can fill in at multiple positions, is expected to miss his third game in four weeks because of a right knee injury. Rookie DE Erasmus James stands to be see substantial playing time if the Vikings stay in a 4-3 defense, and pass-rush specialist Lance Johnstone also should see quite a bit of action.
RB Moe Williams might miss another game because of back and knee injuries, but rookie Ciatrick Fason stepped into Williams' short-yardage role last Sunday and scored a touchdown. Starting RB Mewelde Moore has a sprained wrist but expects to play.
The Giants have basically gone into each game of the season with the same defensive plan - to stop the other team's running attack. "We have done that the last two weeks now, and it made us able to put more pressure on the passer," coach Tom Coughlin said. "That's been our plan, and I don't think it's going to change."
For the Vikings, the running game is slightly better than zero. They are 23rd in the NFL in rushing, and the Giants are ninth in stopping the run. One might assume that Michael Bennett, who had his first 100-yard game of the season last week, will not pose an intimidating threat.
The offensive plan will be to run the ball until it works so well that the secondary must come up in support, and then throw behind the defenders. It's simple on paper, not so simple to accomplish, but it is their plan, and it has worked more often than not this season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
The Giants will be without RCB Will Peterson, probably without SLB Carlos Emmons and maybe without DE Justin Tuck.