Vikings-Bills Game Plan

This looks to be a matchup of running games, but there are plenty of intriguing pairing to follow. Get the feelings from both camps, the matchups to watch and the injuries that could affect the outcome.

VIKINGS

The Vikings offense will attempt to produce its first touchdown in more than nine quarters Sunday against a Bills defense that gave up 21 points in a 28-20 loss to the New York Jets.

The Vikings have shown a commitment to establishing the run game with Chester Taylor, but quarterback Brad Johnson also needs to start taking shots in the end zone, especially when the Vikings are inside the Bills' 20-yard line.

The offense also needs to cut down on penalties and cut out turnovers or the self-inflicted problems are going to continue. The Bills defense did not give up big yards to the Jets either on the ground (74 yards on 24 carries) or through the air (182).

Look for the Vikings to try to involve tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who has caught only three passes in the past two games after catching five balls in the opener at Washington. Wiggins isn't a big-play guy, but he should be able to gain valuable yards in the West Coast offense.

The Vikings defense, meanwhile, continues to play very well and last week accounted for the team's only touchdown against Chicago when cornerback Antoine Winfield returned an interception 7 yards for a score.

Winfield and nose tackle Pat Williams will be making their first appearances in Buffalo since leaving the Bills. Those two should be sky high, but it's likely the rest of the Vikings defense will be right there with them. Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has gotten the most out of this unit at most times through three games. It's a credit to the players on that side of the ball that they haven't become frustrated by the offense's lack of production.

Bills quarterback J.P. Losman threw for 328 yards and a touchdown and ran for a 12-yard score against the Jets. The Vikings will be focused on getting pressure on Losman from their front four and also with blitzes from the linebackers and secondary.

BILLS

Two teams good at running the football square off, but the edge goes to the Vikings' ability to stop the run. Led by ex-Bill Pat Williams and veteran star Kevin Williams, Minnesota ranks 10th against the run, allowing 87 yards per game. The Williams combination has combined for 30 tackles, 15 QB hurries, three tackles for losses and one forced fumble.

The Bills can't shy from working Willis McGahee and may find better success with off-tackle runs and toss pitches, although running to the side of ex-Bills CB Antoine Winfield (team-leading 21 tackles) is no sure thing.

QB J.P. Losman, who had two costly fumbles after sacks last week against the Jets, should have time to throw (the Vikings have just three sacks) and the scheme he'll face (Tampa 2) is the one he sees in practice every day in Buffalo. The pass could open up the running game in this case.

Defensively for Buffalo, it has to stop RB Chester Taylor from heating up. That will allow them to get pressure on 38-year-old QB Brad Johnson, who is hitting 60 percent of his passes but who has been sacked seven times.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Vikings CBs Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot will have to slow Bills WRs Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish, who are both coming off big games. Evans had eight catches for 107 yards against the Jets and Parris caught four balls for 104 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown grab to open the scoring. Smoot had a tough game last week, being benched for the opening defensive series and then suffering a concussion from which he returned. Smoot is considered the better cover corner and Winfield is the bigger hitter and much better tackler. The Vikings haven't seemed to try to get specific match-ups so far this season against specific receivers. However, it would seem the Vikings would want Smoot on Evans as much as possible.

  • Vikings MLB Napoleon Harris will be counted on to play a major role in containing Bills RB Willis McGahee, who leads the NFL in rushing. Harris has been solid in run support for the most part this season and McGahee will prove to be another test.

  • At well over 300 pounds, Vikings NT Pat Williams figures to be too much for starting Bills C Melvin Fowler (6-3, 295 pounds). Fowler was with the Vikings last season and is a very smart player, but he figures to be overpowered by Williams. Look for Fowler to get help. Of course, the Bills also have to concern themselves with defensive tackle Kevin Williams.

  • Bills RDE Aaron Schobel, who disappeared last week against the Jets, vs. Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie and LG Steve Hutchinson, one of best 1-2 blocking tandems in NFL.

  • Bills MLB London Fletcher, who leads the team with 27 tackles, vs. Vikings FB Tony Richardson, one of the NFL's best blocking fullbacks and Chester Taylor's bodyguard.

    INJURY IMPACT



  • Weak-side linebacker Ben Leber sprained his left knee early in last Sunday's game against Chicago but continued to play with a brace on. Leber has been getting treatment this week and the Vikings surely will have a contingency plan if he is slowed or unable to go. He is listed as questionable on the injury report.

  • As expected, Kenechi Udeze shifted from the left to right end in the starting base defense to take the placed of the injured Erasmus James. James is out for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Rookie Ray Edwards also saw time at right end in certain situations. Darrion Scott is starting at left end.

  • Nose tackle Pat Williams has a sprained ankle and is listed as questionable. That could slow his ability to get into the Bills' backfield.

  • FB Daimon Shelton's unavailability in the second half last week against the Jets after suffering a concussion while blocking on a kickoff return hurt Buffalo's short-yardage package. TE Ryan Neufeld took Shelton's place but at 250 pounds, he's about 15 pounds lighter than Shelton, one of the NFL's best blocking fullbacks. Without Shelton, the Bills opted to try a naked bootleg on third-and-goal at the Jets' 1-yard line that resulted in QB J.P. Losman being tackled for a nine-yard loss. Shelton should be fine for the Vikings game but head injuries are always monitored closely. The Bills would sorely miss his presence trying to crack the Vikings formidable defensive line.


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