Cowboys TE Witten one to watch

Tight ends have had their share of success against the Vikings defense this year, but Sunday Minnesota will be facing their second NFC Pro Bowl tight end this season in Jason Witten.

There are several intriguing matchups for the Vikings in their NFC divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at the Metrodome.

Among the most interesting will be how the Vikings linebackers and safeties fare against Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Witten finished ninth in the NFL this season with 94 receptions for 1,030 yards, and the Vikings have had problems against quality pass-catching tight ends.

San Francisco's Vernon Davis had seven catches for 96 yards with two touchdowns in Week 3 against the Vikings; the Packers' Jermichael Finley caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in Week 4; and Bears tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen combined for eight receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16.

The Vikings already are going to have their hands full with the Tony Romo to Miles Austin connection, but Witten might pose the biggest threat. Especially when you consider the Vikings have rookie linebacker Jasper Brinkley now playing in the middle. Safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams also have struggled at times this season.

"I've played against (Witten) several times and he's a guy that you have to concentrate on and be aware of," linebacker Ben Leber said. "He can stretch you vertically, make the short passes and turn them into long gains. So he's a great all-around tight end."

Said Brinkley of Witten: "He definitely can pose a threat, a vertical threat, but we've got great linebackers."

NOTES

  • LB Jasper Brinkley will start in the middle in the playoffs but will continue to come out in nickel situations as Chad Greenway and Ben Leber stay in the game as the linebackers. That is how the Vikings have operated since E.J. Henderson was lost for the season because of a broken leg.

  • QB Brett Favre enters the playoff second in passing yards in postseason history. Favre has thrown for 5,311 yards in 22 games. Joe Montana passed for 5,772 yards in 23 games.

  • SS Tyrell Johnson is expected to start against Dallas but could end up sharing time with rookie Jamarca Sanford. The two split time in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants and Sanford was impressive. Sanford provides a physical presence that the Vikings don't necessarily get from Johnson or free safety Madieu Williams.

  • DT Jimmy Kennedy had his left hand heavily wrapped as the Vikings returned to practice this week. Kennedy missed the regular-season finale after being injured versus the Chicago Bears.

  • CB Benny Sapp could start again at the left corner on Sunday if Antoine Winfield's injured right foot continues to bother him. Winfield played about 20 snaps against the Giants in the nickel and looked far more comfortable than he did trying to play extensive snaps at the left corner in the previous two games.


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