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Vikings Have Different Look This Time Around


In a long NFL season, every team changes at least a little bit from the opening game to the latter stages of the year, and this Sunday the Minnesota Vikings will look about as different as a team can from the one the Packers defeated back in Week 1.

For starters, the Vikings changed quarterbacks after an 0-2 start, benching youngster Tarvaris Jackson and going with veteran Gus Frerotte. While the offense hasn't changed from its run-first mentality with Pro Bowl back Adrian Peterson, Frerotte has brought a greater downfield threat to the passing game that the Vikings were lacking with Jackson.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy termed it a "commitment to the vertical game" he hasn't seen from the Vikings in the past, and it's a key reason Minnesota has scored 69 points in its last two games.

"They're not the one-dimensional team maybe like they were before," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "They're making big plays down the field with the pass. It's a different Minnesota team we're playing."

That's no more evident than in looking at the statistics of wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Against the Packers in Week 1, Berrian had a modest three catches for 38 yards, and he didn't have a single reception in Week 2 vs. the Colts.

But since Frerotte took over, Berrian has posted at least 78 yards receiving in each game, has surpassed 100 yards in three of the last four contests, and has posted touchdowns in his last four outings, including scoring passes of 33 yards against New Orleans, 86 yards against Detroit and 49 yards last week against Houston.

"That's their big-play guy," said cornerback Al Harris, who could draw the matchup with Berrian again, as he did in Week 1. "I guess he's going to go to who he has trust in. Not that he doesn't trust his other guys, but that's their guy."

Another more threatening target is tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Like Berrian, he had an uneventful season opener in Green Bay, with three catches for 21 yards. But he's caught four TD passes in six games with Frerotte, including scoring plays of 34, 24 and 25 yards.

Those are precisely the complements for Peterson the Vikings have needed because every defense, Green Bay's included, goes into a matchup with Minnesota determined not to let Peterson beat them.

"We understand people will be set up to come in and get after Adrian and take that element away," Minnesota head coach Brad Childress said. "And that's where you have to be able to make plays one-on-one in the passing game."

One thing the Packers don't have to worry about as much with Frerotte is his mobility. Jackson scrambled nine times for 65 yards back in Week 1, whereas Frerotte has just two rushes for 10 yards in his six starts.

Frerotte has been sacked 16 times and thrown eight interceptions, though, so the Packers know there are plays to be made, even against the savvy veteran.

"Just from an experience standpoint, he manages the game a little bit more," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "He's obviously seen things, blitzes, situations in a ballgame a lot more than Jackson has. He might not be as mobile as Jackson, so you obviously lose something there, but he's doing a nice job for them."

Quarterback isn't the only position that has changed since the first meeting between these teams, however. There have been other changes on both sides of the ball.

Back in Week 1, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was serving a suspension and Artis Hicks started in his place. Also, safety Madieu Williams, one of the Vikings' key free-agent acquisitions in the offseason, was out with a neck injury and Tyrell Johnson took his spot.

Williams missed the first seven games of the season and finally returned last week against Houston, posting eight tackles and an interception. He picked off Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels in the end zone in the third quarter to preserve Minnesota's seven-point lead.

Since the opener, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson also has been lost to a season-ending injury. He has been replaced by Napoleon Harris, who is back for a second tour of duty with the Vikings and has been the starter since Week 6 at Chicago.

"He had a little bit of background in our system," Childress said. "It was admirable getting here on Thursday and starting against the Bears on a Sunday. He's a good, smart football player. A very prideful guy, and he's still got some good football left."

The biggest potential difference on Minnesota's defense come Sunday could be at defensive end. Pass-rushing fiend Jared Allen, the highest paid defensive player in the league, has seven sacks this season, including five in his last three games. But he sprained his shoulder in last week's game and needed an injection in order to finish the contest.

{sportsad300}Childress said Wednesday he didn't think Allen would be able to practice this week, but his status for the game hasn't been determined.

"I think he'll play, if you look at his history," McCarthy said. "I think he is an old-school type pro and we are preparing for him to play. There is a reason why they paid him that kind of money. He is an impact player. He is important to their defense."

If Allen doesn't play, that would give the Vikings a different starter on each of the three levels of the defense from Week 1, plus a different quarterback.

That all creates adjustments during preparation and game-planning, but come Sunday, these rivals won't be paying as much attention to who's in the other jerseys as to how to beat them. With both teams 4-4 and trailing the Bears by one game in the NFC North, the implications are obvious.

"There's no real secret formulas in this series," Kampman said. "We know each other extremely well. We play each other obviously twice a year. We've seen each other in the playoffs.

"I don't think anyone will be lacking for motivation."

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