Notebook: What's Winfield's role?

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was used in more than just nickel situations against the Cowboys, but he wasn't on the field full-time. So what is he expecting Sunday against the Saints? Is making the Saints one-dimensional a good thing? And see what the win over the Cowboys meant to owner Zygi Wilf and Texas native Adrian Peterson.

After a Tuesday announcement, Antoine Winfield is a Pro Bowl cornerback, but the reality is that he hasn't even been a starter the last two games.

Winfield missed six games in the middle of the season with a foot injury and the team tried to get him back in a starting role Dec. 13 against Cincinnati. He played well in that game, causing a fumble and leading the team with 10 tackles.

But the lack of push-off Winfield was getting with his foot exposed him to big plays against Carolina and Chicago, and the Vikings moved him to a nickel role for the regular-season finale against the New York Giants.

He played a little more of an increased role against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the Vikings' first playoff game, adding support not only in the nickel defense but also when the Cowboys used a "jumbo" package in short-yardage situations. Winfield is widely regarded as one of the best tackling and run-support cornerbacks in the league.

"Every time they brought in a third wide receiver I would come in as the nickel back. When they would bring in a couple tight ends, because I'm better at run support, I would come in," Winfield said.

On Sunday, he was expecting more of the same during the NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints.

"It should be similar," he said. "Coaches haven't put the game plan in yet. We don't know what to expect from New Orleans."

Against the Cowboys. the Vikings knew their favorite favorite. Tight end Jason Witten led the Dallas with 94 receptions during the regular season, followed by wide receiver Miles Austin with 81. After that, no other Cowboy had 40 receptions.

While the Vikings had an NFL first with six players having 40 or more receptions in a season, the Saints aren't far off. They have five players with at least 40 receptions and seven with 35 or more – WR Marques Colston (70), WR Devery Henderson (51), TE Jeremy Shockey (48), RB Reggie Bush (47), WR Robert Meachem (45), RB Pierre Thomas (39) and TE David Thomas (35).

That could mean more playing time for Winfield, as the Saints are expected to use more three- and four-wide receiver formations.

"It's going to be a huge test for us. New Orleans can put up points so quick. Their defense is playing well," Winfield said. "They're playing at home, so I think we'll be up to the challenge."

Vikings coach Brad Childress called the Cowboys as explosive a team left in the playoffs before the Vikings faced them, but Minnesota's defense was up to the task. The Cowboys had only play that went farther than 20 yards and only three of more than 15 yards.

"It was key. We knew their number one thing was yards after the catch," Winfield said. "They catch a short, pass, a screen, guys miss tackles and they're up the field. Our defensive front did a great job. Any time you can rush four and get the pressure that we got (against the Cowboys), we've been successful."

Although the Saints led the league in scoring, Winfield said the secondary fears no one.

"We ain't scared of nobody. We're going to go out there and play. This is for everything," he said. "We got our chance to go to the Super Bowl. No, we don't fear any team."

ONE DIMENSION

The Vikings enter every game looking to make the opposing offense one-dimensional. For the most part, they were able to do that to the Cowboys by getting a 17-3 halftime lead on their way to a 34-3 win.

"I read one stat where in the (last) four games, they never trailed in the game," Winfield said. "We got some turnovers earlier in the game. Didn't give up many big plays on defense and our offense went out there and put up seven points."

Now, however, the Vikings are facing the top-rated offense in the league with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees.

"You say you want to make them one-dimensional, but those guys throw it so well they really don't mind throwing it," defensive tackle Pat Williams said.

The Vikings likely will take a similar approach as they did against Dallas – limit the explosive plays, tackle well and be sure to play solid red zone defense so scoring opportunities are limited to field goal attempts.

"Bend but don't break. In our scheme, you're going to give up some passes, but make the tackles when they catch it," Winfield said. "Once we got in the red zone, the rest was hot. Guys were coming off the edge, putting them in second- and third-and-long situations and we were getting off the field."

The Cowboys only got into the red zone once and they only made one of three field goal attempts.

BIG WIN FOR WILF

The Vikings' win over the Cowboys was the first playoff victory for coach Brad Childress and owner Zygi Wilf. In the locker room afterwards, Wilf was all smiles, but he was focusing on the franchise and the fans rather than his personal satisfaction.

"This means so much for the franchise and for our fans to be back to where we've been used to being in the history. Right now, we're in front, we're in the championship game," Wilf said. "The way they played (Sunday), they really stepped up – everybody. I'm happy for our fans, I'm happy for our organization. This is a huge milestone to win a playoff game. You look back and it's been that way every year, stepping higher and higher and we're going to New Orleans and we're going to fight for the championship.

"Football is a funny game, ups and downs, but I'm happy that these guys stepped up and made it much easier than even I ever imagined."

Several players were playing against their home-state team, including Adrian Peterson, who was asked how it feels to beat the Cowboys.

"It feels good. After we win the Super Bowl and I go back home, I don't know how they're going to treat me," he said. "It might be similar to when I went to Oklahoma instead of going to Texas or one of those Texas schools. It's all love."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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