Cleveland Game Presents Two Unique Challenges

The Vikings offense is preparing to face its first 3-4 defense of the regular season, and they have to do that on a short week of practice due to a Monday night game on the road and Thanksgiving. Plus find out about Monday's other milestones, hear from the players who had a hand in limiting Brett Favre and find out about the play that won the game.

The Vikings have won three in a row, but to push their streak to four they are being forced to accelerate the work week. While they are not among the teams playing in the two traditional Thanksgiving games, Mike Tice's crew is coming off a Monday night game at Lambeau Field, where the flight back was delayed slightly.

That means they entered the week high on hope but short on rest. Compounding the problem is that the Vikings face a team that employs the 3-4 defense, and while the Vikings have used that alignment for a few weeks on defense this year, their first-team offense hasn't seen it this year in a regular-season game situation, although San Diego and the New York Jets, both preseason opponents of the Vikings, use that defense.

"You understand the fronts and the coverages. The big thing is just knowing their personnel," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "That's why you have training camp, to understand the 3-4 defense and different fronts and coverages."

Minnesota last played Cleveland in the Metrodome in 1995, a 27-11 win, but this isn't the coach or even the same team (that one moved to Baltimore).

"When we go against a 34 defense, we have a vault of plays, a vault of plays that work best for us," Johnson said. "It's not a huge adjustments that you make, but they are slight and they are pretty easy to make. We have all played long enough to recognize those fronts and the things that come with it."

Most of the current Vikings have never played against the Browns, but Johnson has had two very average days against Cleveland. In two games, Johnson is 24-for-43 for 266 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 55.8 percent of his passes with a 55.0 passer rating.

"These are two teams that aren't familiar with each other, so there's a lot of studying going on. We're on a short week, so we'll have to recover pretty fast," Johnson said.

The Browns shouldn't be expecting a very complicated game plan with the Vikings on a short week of preparation.

"The bad news about Monday Night Football, especially when it is away and you have to travel, is that you are pretty much shot down the next day. You have a short day, less than 24 hours, because we had to come in and grade the film (Tuesday) morning to get ready for our opponent," Tice said. "The unfortunate thing for us is that we are playing a team that we don't know. Now we have to really double up and work through a late night as coaches and make sure that we put in a new game plan."


The Vikings' lack of offensive explosiveness hasn't showed itself when it comes to crunch time. In three of their last four wins, the Vikings have driven down the field and gotten into position for the game-winning field goal.

Monday night, that happened when Johnson found wide receiver Koren Robinson for a 35-yard reception, the team's longest of the game, with 52 seconds remaining. That play won the game, taking the Vikings from the Green Bay 41-yard line to the doorstep of the end zone, where they could kneel on the ground while the Packers used their timeouts. Then, with no time left, Paul Edinger kicked the winning field goal.

The pass to Robinson was set up by the use of tight end Jermaine Wiggins previously.

"There were a lot of things that happened on that play. We ran that (play) two times before ... that time they were in a single man scheme and the corner fell off (of Robinson) and the safety wasn't able to get over there fast enough," Johnson said. "Koren broke it off and threw up his hand when the corner bailed. They had been bailing a lot and we had thrown a lot of quick outs and those types of things and it came at the right time for us."

Green Bay cornerback Jason Horton started to run with Robinson, then quickly ditched his coverage there and circled back to double-team Wiggins. Who could blame Horton? Wiggins was the leading receiver in the game with seven catches and the leads Minnesota with 49 receptions this season. The play before, Johnson had connected with Wiggins for 8 yards, and the game before Wiggins had the game's most critical catch on that game-winning drive for the Vikings.

But when Horton left Robinson for Wiggins, the play that won the game was set - with Wiggins short and Robinson deep. Horton later said there was a miscommunication, where he was playing zone and expecting quicker help on what he thought was supposed to be a Cover-2 scheme.


Dovonte Edwards' 51-yard interception return was his first NFL interception and TD. It was only the sixth time in team history that the Vikings defense has returned interceptions in two consecutive weeks for touchdowns, and first time since 1992.

Mewelde Moore's 122 yards rushing moved him past Chuck Foreman for second place for most 100-yard games in first two seasons. He still needs three more 100-yard games this season to tie Michael Bennett's team mark of seven from 2001-02.

Wiggins' seven receptions gave him a career total of 119 receptions, which moved him past John Beasley's 115 and into fifth place among tight ends in team history. In front of him are Jim Kleinsasser (133) and Joe Senser (165). Wiggins also ranks third in franchise history for receptions in a player's first two seasons with the team, behind Rickey Young's 160 and Randy Moss's 149.

The Vikings' win was the first time they won two straight games at Lambeau Field since the 1991-92 seasons. The Vikings and Packers tied an NFL record for most consecutive games (four) decided by a field goal with San Diego and Seattle (2000-2002).


One rookie who feels like he's hitting his stride is defensive end Erasmus James.

"Once you get into a rhythm, like I feel like I'm in right now, it feels good and I definitely feel confident going out there," James said.

How can he not? James returned to Wisconsin, where he played college ball and earned himself a first-round draft grade from the Vikings. He was playing at historic Lambeau Field. In front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football. And, to cap it all off, his first trip there yielded a sack against legendary QB Brett Favre.

"We ran a stunt and the guard stayed on Ticket (Kevin Williams) and went straight upfield. I came around, it opened up and Brett Favre tried to go outside because he saw me come inside, but Ticket was outside," James recalled. "He tried to come back inside and he tripped and fell.

"Any sack on Brett Favre is a good sack. If you allow him to sit back there and pick you apart, he'll do it. It was really good to get some pressure on him. We were pressuring him quite a few times."

James is tied for second on the team with two sacks and is alone in second with 12 quarterback hurries.

James said he only ended up with about 25 tickets for his friends at the Monday night game, most of his friends being from the University of Wisconsin. Growing up in the Bronx, James had more family at the previous game at the Meadowlands.


While James registered his first sack against Favre, cornerback Brian Williams is getting to be an accomplished interceptor of Favre passes.

This time, Williams did it playing in a zone defense, which the Vikings employed about 50 percent of the time Monday night, he said.

"It was pretty much a zone drop. I bit up on the run fake and just turned around and ran, I saw the route; I knew what was coming. Just turned around and the ball was there," he said of his important fourth-quarter interception.

"Just him being who he is as a quarterback, a Hall of Fame quarterback, I've got about three of his balls now so that's always good."

Williams said he and Antoine Winfield maintained their sides of the field instead of one of them covering Packers wide receiver Donald Driver exclusively. In the first meeting between the Vikings and Packers, Driver had 95 yards receiving in the first half before the Vikings made a halftime adjustment that put cornerback Fred Smoot on Driver almost exclusively in the second, which severely limited Driver's production.

Williams said safety Darren Sharper's familiarity with his former team helped the Vikings' coverages in Lambeau Field.

"He's familiar with the team and helped on what they like to do. He jumped some routes that Brett was ready to throw it at that allowed sacks and all that stuff to happen," Williams said.


Defensive lineman Spencer Johnson is expecting to play Sunday, and Tice said Wednesday that he'd see how Johnson feels over the coming days after a full practice. Johnson has been inactive five of the last six games with his knee problems.

"I'm doing good. The plan is for me to come back this week. I should be back. I feel really good right now and the time off really helped," Johnson said.

The 2004 rookie free agent didn't have any side effects from practice last week, when he started out just running and eventually worked his way into the cross work.

"I should get some good playing time. It just depends on what (Cleveland) is trying to do," Johnson said. "If they're trying to run, then I'm definitely going to get a lot of playing time. If not, I'm thinking at least 25 or 30 plays so we'll how that goes."

"If I'm well, I'm going to be active. ... If I get well, I'll definitely be active and get out there and make some plays."

The Browns are expected to use a heavy dose of the running game, as Rueben Droughns is coming off a season-high 166-yard rushing performance against Miami, including a 72-yard touchdown run.

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