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Benny Sapp figures to get playing time after just getting signed this past week.

Elizabeth Flores, Dml - Star Tribune Star Tribune

Vikings defensive backs will piece it together

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • November 19, 2011 - 12:53 AM

As the Vikings head into Sunday's game against the Raiders, here are four questions we're trying to answer:

1. Will the secondary survive?

Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is coming off one of his best games as a pro and faces a Vikings secondary that is in shambles. Cornerback Antoine Winfield (clavicle) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and free safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) was listed as out on Friday.

Tyrell Johnson, the backup strong safety, will start at free safety while cornerback Benny Sapp appears set to handle the bulk of the nickelback duties in a rotation with Marcus Sherels. Signed on Wednesday, Sapp hasn't played since Week 1, when an embarrassing prime-time performance led the Dolphins to release him immediately.

"We've got to do a good job," coach Leslie Frazier said. "[The Raiders] are fast, the quarterback is throwing the ball down the field. [Darrius] Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, they're doing a good job. But [the secondary] will hold up. They'll do fine."

In the Raiders' last game, a 24-17 win at San Diego on Nov. 10, Palmer -- in just his second start with Oakland -- set the franchise record for average yards per pass attempt, a whopping 14.95, breaking Daryle Lamonica's record of 14.33 set in 1968. He had six completions of at least 20 yards and four of at least 30.

Answer: Yes. It won't be pretty, but the Vikings' pass rush at home will carry the secondary.

2. Will the Vikings rebound emotionally?

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams remembers the last time the Vikings came back from Lambeau Field with the worst loss in the history of the Packers rivalry. It was 2007 and the Vikings had just lost 34-0 in Green Bay.

"I remember we played Oakland the next week at home," Williams said. "Hopefully, we do the same thing this week that we did four years ago. I think we've moved on."

The Vikings beat the Raiders 29-22 for to raise their record to 4-6. This week, the Vikings are trying to come back from a 38-point loss (45-7) at Lambeau.

"Based on the way we practiced, the mindset seems to be where it needs to be," Frazier said. "Now, we have to go out and play the game."

The difference between now and 2007 is the Raiders were a two-win team then. Now, they are 5-4 and in first place in the AFC West.

Answer: Yes. Returning home, the Vikings are poised for a surprising, yet typical NFL bounce-back game.

3. Are the Vikings catching a break in Bush?

The dangerous Darren McFadden won't play because of a foot injury. But, as Frazier said, "You look at that San Diego game and [ask] 'How does Michael Bush be a backup?' "

The 6-1, 245-pound Bush hurt the Chargers with three plays of 30 or more yards, carrying the ball 44 and 30 yards and taking a screen pass another 55 yards. He finished with 242 yards from scrimmage (157 rushing, 85 receiving), the most by a Raiders player since Art Powell had 247 in 1963.

"The Raiders are coming in here with a great running game," Williams said of the league's No. 4-ranked attack. "We have to stop the run and put the game in Palmer's hands. And then hopefully we can get some of those turnovers he's been handing out."

Answer: No. The Vikings rank sixth in run defense, but that's misleading because there have been key breakdowns in critical situations all season. Bush is a weapon that should worry the Vikings.

4. Is Cullen Loeffler's streak in jeopardy?

Quick. Name the last person not named Cullen Loeffler to perform a special teams long snap in a Vikings game. If you said Brody Liddiard in an 18-17 playoff-eliminating upset loss to the Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 28, 2003, you really need to take a break from following sports.

Loeffler won the job as a rookie free agent in 2004 and hasn't let go of the ball ever since. The streak reached 121 consecutive games on Monday night, but Loeffler injured his right rotator cuff and didn't practice until Friday.

"You always have in the back of your mind when something happens that this could be the week someone else has to do it," Loeffler said. "But it won't be this week. I felt really good today. I'm ready to go."

While Loeffler is among those listed as probable, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring) are questionable. Listed as out along with Abdullah is right guard Anthony Herrera (knee), who will miss his third consecutive game.

Answer: No. Loeffler will play Sunday.

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