Minnesota Vikings Hope MASH Unit Can Hold Together for Conference Championship

Paul PreibisiusAnalyst IJanuary 21, 2010

The Minnesota Vikings have many reasons to be optimistic going into Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

They have a Hall of Fame quarterback who knows how to earn a ring. They have a great running back and potent array of offensive weapons. They also have a fearsome pass-rush that demolished Dallas by sacking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo six times, while holding the Cowboys to just three points.

One concern going into the weekend, however, is health. Half of the team’s starting defensive line, in Ray Edwards and Kevin Williams, missed two straight practices with knee troubles. Edwards especially proved dominant in the team’s first playoff game, netting three of the team’s sacks himself while being a disruptive force all day.

Wide receiver and kick returner Percy Harvin also missed practice. He had suffered throughout the season with recurring migraines, but stated he had been able to go headache free for over a month, his longest such period this season.

That ended Wednesday, as the onset of another migraine once more forced the offensive rookie of the year to miss time.

Also figuring to play hurt is Pro-Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield. His injured foot is progressing, and in his words, “feeling a lot better” after the injury forced him to miss six games during the season. He still figures to play primarily in the nickel position, a move meant to reduce the stress placed upon his foot.

Shifting to the outside in his stead will be nickelback Benny Sapp. Winfield also admitted for the first time that the foot injury was indeed a fracture, and not the sprain stated prior.

The team will need strong contributions, especially from the three injured defensive standouts, when they go up against the offensive powerhouse New Orleans Saints.  The Saints lead the league in scoring with 510 points as the only team to average more than 30 points per game.

The Saints attack, while more balanced than in years past, is still centered around Drew Brees and the aerial assault.

Edwards and Winfield especially will need strong performances both to penetrate the solid New Orleans offensive line and put pressure on Brees, as well as provide coverage against the array of weapons the Saints' quarterback has to choose from in the passing game.

Offensively, Harvin hopes to be well enough to help the Vikings attempt to exploit the NFL’s 26th ranked pass defense in the New Orleans Saints.

The Vikings will need to avoid costly turnovers, as the Saints defense yielded its fair share of yardage, but fueled 2009’s upswing over an 8-8 previous season by way of a high-scoring, ballhawking approach that had outscored some team’s offenses at one point in the season.