Vikings-Chargers Game Plan

The key for the Vikings will be if they can get Adrian Peterson free, and that may require a little more imagination in how he is used. No doubt the Chargers are concentrating most heavily on stopping the rookie running back. Plus, get several intriguing matchups to watch on Sunday.

The Vikings finally gave the majority of the carries to star RB Adrian Peterson last week, but interestingly, they didn't involve him in the passing game at all. That enabled Philadelphia to stack the box and count on the run each time Peterson touched the ball.

The key now will be to see if the Vikings learned a lesson and will try to get Peterson the ball through the air a few times Sunday in order to loosen things up. This comes after Kelly Holcomb suffered a neck injury in the third quarter against the Eagles and was replaced by Brooks Bollinger.

Who starts at that position might not make a big difference. The Vikings have one of the NFL's worst passing offenses but are second in the league in rushing, thanks in large part to Peterson.

The Chargers' run defense is seventh in the NFL, so this will be a strength vs. strength situation. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings take a few downfield shots against a San Diego pass defense that is 27th in the league.

There is no doubt the Chargers will look to throw the ball against the worst pass defense in the NFL. QB Philip Rivers is likely to go looking for RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates, among others, in the passing game.

Minnesota plays the Tampa-2 much of the time, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier might want to make some adjustments considering the fact the scheme opens up some prime real estate for opposing tight ends.

The Chargers run defense is back to its stout standards — the run-stuffing crew gets a boost with Jamal Williams' return. But the Chargers want to limit Peterson to set up third-and-longs to get after the Vikings quarterback. The Chargers pass rush has shown a pulse of late, and it could be in for a big game if it can get after either of the quarterbacks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Vikings LBs — The Vikings have yet to give up a touchdown to a tight end this season but have allowed 46 catches for 510 yards in seven games to players at that position. Thus, Gates, a Pro Bowl performer, has to be licking his chops. Among those trying to slow him will be the LBs Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber. Greenway, in his first season of starting after missing last year because of a knee injury, could be a primary target. He has been getting some on-the-job training this season, and Gates, no doubt, will show the first-round pick out of Iowa some moves he has yet to see.

Vikings DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams vs. Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson — The Williamses are the key reason the team's rushing defense has not given up a 100-yard rushing performance by an individual this season and why Minnesota is ranked third in the NFL in run defense. But that ranking is sure to be tested by Tomlinson. The Chargers star is also is a threat catching the ball, and that might be his best chance to get substantial yards against the Vikings. Pat Williams no doubt will see this as another opportunity to prove just how good he is against the run.

Vikings RT Ryan Cook vs. Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman — Cook has struggled at times this season, and his job won't get any easier as he tries to slow Merriman. Merriman is tied with fellow OLB Shaun Phillips for the team lead with 5.5 sacks. The Chargers play a 3-4, meaning that while Merriman will be coming off the left side, Phillips will be applying pressure from the right side against Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie. Look for Cook, at least, to get some help from a tight end.

Interior of the Chargers defensive line, with Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams, vs. the Vikings running game, led by the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson — Williams is a stud, but he will be playing in his first game since getting both knees cleaned out during the bye week. Williams needs to play well to keep the blockers off the linebackers as they try to create room for Peterson. The Vikings offer their Pro Bowler in the middle, C Matt Birk. If the Vikings can win the matchup in the middle, they could have a chance to stay with the Chargers.

Chargers passing game, with WRs Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers, vs. Vikings pass defense — How do you make the game's best tight end better? Put a reliable receiver out in the formation with him. Gates had two touchdown catches in the first Chargers game that included Chambers. The Vikings have to figure out how to stop these two — while keeping an eye on Tomlinson. The Vikings pass defense stinks, and the Bolts will do everything they can exploit it.

Chargers interior offense line, with backup C Cory Withrow, vs. Vikings defensive line, which has Pro Bowlers Pat and Kevin Williams --Withrow did well last week in subbing for Nick Hardwick. He needs to be on his game again Sunday — and get some help from OGs Mike Goff and Kris Dielman, to open running lanes against the talented Williams tandem (they are not related). While scuffling elsewhere, the Vikes defense is solid against the run, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry and only two rushing TDs. The Williams combo is a big reason for that.

INJURY IMPACT

  • QB Tarvaris Jackson is expected to be back as the starter after missing a game because of a broken finger. Brooks Bollinger will be the backup as Kelly Holcomb sits out because of a neck injury.

  • WR Bobby Wade's availability is questionable and Troy Williamson won't be playing because of a family funeral, meaning rookie Aundrae Allison might be active after sitting out three of the past four games. Wade's absence also could mean an increased workload for veteran WR Robert Ferguson. Either Charles Gordon or Mewelde Moore will replace Wade on punt returns.

  • Tank Williams has started the past two games at free safety but could return to a reserve role if Dwight Smith is ready to go.

  • OLB Shaun Phillips (groin) didn't practice until Friday, but was able to do some running drills on the side. That said, it's getting late in the week and there is a real chance Phillips will be down on Sunday. He would be replaced by Marques Harris.

  • WR Craig Davis (ankle) didn't practice and did some running on the side. He's listed as questionable, but his gallop still doesn't look very smooth and he likely won't go this week.

  • DT Jamal Williams (knees) continues to work and will play Sunday. That's a key with the Vikings offering Adrian Peterson at running back.

  • DT Ryon Bingham (shoulder) was back at work after missing Wednesday's session. Bingham is a big part of the defensive line's rotation and becomes more critical if Williams would to suffer a setback during Sunday's game.

  • C Nick Hardwick (foot) didn't practice and is out at least another week.

  • CB Drayton Florence was fined $15,000 by the NFL for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Texans QB Matt Schaub on Sunday. Florence will appeal.


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