Antoine Winfield (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The Vikings are expected to get an infusion of talent and experience in their secondary when Antoine Winfield returns. Coming against a red-hot Packers passing attack, Winfield will be a welcome addition.
The Minnesota Vikings are one of the eight NFL teams this season who’ve already experienced the excellence of Aaron Rodgers.
They’re on the verge of a second showing.
The Vikings play at Green Bay next Monday night, and the Packers haven’t broken stride. They’re still unbeaten, riding a passing attack rivaling any of the best in league history. Minnesota’s secondary remains unsettled, hardly an ideal scenario for facing Rodgers and his golden right arm.
“We definitely have a tough challenge ahead,” said cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is set to return to the starting lineup after missing the last four games because of a neck injury.
Though Rodgers threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns in Green Bay’s 33-27 victory at Minnesota on Oct. 23, connecting on 80 percent of his passes with drops and spikes responsible for some of the incompletions, the Vikings’ beleaguered defensive backs actually held their own considering the mismatches that existed. Winfield was watching on the sideline and Chris Cook, the team’s best cover man, was in jail. But the Packers converted only two of their eight third downs, thanks in part to a strong pass rush by the Vikings up front.
This week, Winfield is back, giving the group a much-needed lift. Asher Allen, who started at cornerback in the win at Carolina on Oct. 30, got a boost of his own by shadowing Panthers star receiver Steve Smith and keeping him from dominating the game.
“The coaches know what I can do,” Allen said, adding: “It was good to go out there and play against somebody like that.”
Frazier indicated the Vikings are still considering signing another cornerback, and they lost practice-squad CB Dominique Johnson to the Redskins, but for now this is what they’ve got. Cook remained on the roster this week, but facing a felony domestic assault charge, he’s unlikely to be available the rest of the season. Marcus Sherels made the team as a punt returner, an overachiever the coaching staff is quite fond of, but his role is essentially limited to the dime packages.
That puts the onus for improvement squarely on cornerback Cedric Griffin, whose comeback from a second reconstructive knee surgery – he has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in each leg – has been a struggle. He hasn’t missed any time, but his production and ability to stick with opposing top receivers has been spotty.
Griffin has declined to discuss his recovery this season, speaking only in sugar-coated generalities. Allen was assigned to Smith, not Griffin, one sign of where he’s at. But Frazier said Monday that Griffin, at this point, remains the starter.
“They wouldn’t put him out there if they didn’t feel like he was ready to play. He’s out there, so he has everybody’s confidence,” Allen insisted.
Winfield will be asked to do a lot as well, as usual. He said returning to the field will be “like riding a bike.” The team’s surest tackler, who has long been pound-for-pound one of the toughest players in the league, said he’s not concerned about being skittish when the ball comes his way.
“I love contact. I love to hit and put my head in there, and then with the neck injury it made it that much harder,” Winfield said. “So I took the time I needed, I feel great, body feels great, so I’m ready to go.”
RG Anthony Herrera didn’t practice Monday, still bothered by an injury to his left knee. His status this week is uncertain.
LB E.J. Henderson, who has been hampered by soreness and on-and-off post-surgical swelling in his left knee, stemming from the operation he had after breaking his leg in gruesome fashion nearly two years ago, said he appreciated the week off at midseason.
“I feel a lot better. I feel refreshed like mostly everybody, so it should be fun to get out there Monday night,” Henderson said.