Rookie receiver Percy Harvin hasn't had many opportunities to return kicks in the second half of the season, but the short kickoffs likely won't be part of the Cowboys' strategy on Sunday.
The Vikings are hoping David Buehler
's kickoffs don't turn into Percy Harvin
's day off.
Buehler, Dallas' kickoff specialist, had a league-high 29 touchbacks in 2009. He added three more last weekend against the Eagles, the second-most in Cowboys postseason history.
Buehler's leg could help neutralize one of Percy Harvin's greatest strengths as a kickoff returner.
"If it's too far in the end zone, we'll take it at the 20," Harvin said. "If they give me something I can handle that will be in the best of the team's interests, I will bring it out and try to pop one. But I'll just be patient and wait for one."
That should happen about half the time, which is better than teams that have been kicking short to avoid Harvin lately. Ever since the Green Bay Packers
started kicking away from Harvin on Nov. 1, the number of return opportunities he has gotten has been on the decline. Following that Packers game, he had only six returns in the next four games.
In the final three games of the season, only Chicago kicked at him often (six times) and held him in check, limiting him to a 23.2-yard average. Carolina kicked to him twice and the Giants avoided him altogether, but they only kicked off twice.
Buehler is likely to try to kick it deep enough and get Harvin to down the ball in the end zone.
"If its eight yards deep in the end zone, hold it in there," special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said. "We've talked about it, and watching tape, you know how far that ball goes up the lettering and where a safe zone would be in relationship to hang time to bring it out."
Murphy said Buehler is one of the top two kickoff men in the league as far as leg strength and he doesn't sacrifice hang time for distance.
While the Vikings finished second in the NFL with an average starting field position of the 31.2-yard line, some of that was from teams kicking short and allowing the Vikings' up men to return the kicks after Harvin took two kickoffs back for touchdowns in the first half of the season.
He likely will get the opportunity to touch a few kickoffs on Sunday.
"All it is is a different opportunity," Murphy said. "… When your opportunity comes, you've got to be ready to take advantage of it, and you can't be distracted or you can't be discouraged if you do get a couple of touchbacks in a row because the next one may be the one that you can bring out and return."
The Vikings find themselves in relatively good health heading into the weekend. FB Naufahu Tahi (back) and DT Jimmy Kennedy (thumb) are questionable for Sunday's game. G Steve Hutchinson (shoulder), P Chris Kluwe (back), TE Visanthe Shiancoe (quad), DT Pat Williams (elbow) and CB Antoine Winfield (foot) are all probable.
The Cowboys are in even better shape. They list five players on their injury report –Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Gerald Sensabaugh, DeMarcus Ware and Patrick Watkins – and all are probable, meaning they are a virtual certainty to play.
Despite a bye week and the first playoff game of the year, Brad Childress said it felt like a normal week by Friday. "It was long early in the week. It seemed like it wouldn't get here, but it seems like our regular Friday routine, so I think they're OK," Childress said.
With one of the key matchups being Bryant McKinnie being able to handle Ware, Childress said the coaching staff has to put the offense in the right schemes as well. "(McKinnie) has got one-eleventh of the responsibility. It's our responsibility as coaches to take care of the schemes and what we need to around him," Childress said.
Rookie safety Jamarca Sanford could continue to see some defensive snaps on Sunday. "We've got a good plan for that, I think, rolling guys in and out and getting the most out of all of those guys, waving guys as we can throughout that whole defense," Childress said.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe on receiving the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award from the media: "The reason I got this award is because I love to run my mouth. Ya'll know I love that," Shiancoe said. "… It's always good to communicate with your fans and this is a way of doing it."
Where do the Vikings rank among the teams still left in the playoffs? Scout.com's Adam Caplan puts the Vikings at No. 5. Read his analysis here. Despite ranking the Cowboys one spot ahead of the Vikings, Caplan picks the home Vikings to beat the Cowboys in his divisional round previews.
Players from two teams the Vikings have played this year – LB Tim Shaw of the Chicago Bears and TE Kevin Boss of the New York Giants – gave their take on this weekend's playoff games to Scout.com's Ed Thompson. They had a split decision over the Vikings game.
The Scout.com free-agent database is now live. The restricted-unrestricted designation makes the assumption that there will be no extension to the collective bargaining agreement before the March 5 start of free agency, meaning that players would need six or more years of accrued service in the NFL to become unrestricted. The database is right here.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.