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Updated: September 23rd, 2011 3:26pm
Notebook: Last Calvin Johnson matchup showed CB strategy Vikings want

Notebook: Last Calvin Johnson matchup showed CB strategy Vikings want

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings face a tall task to stop Calvin Johnson in Sunday's game against Detroit. Their last meeting with Johnson showed exactly how they'd like to play star receivers when their secondary is healthy.

Rather than shadowing Johnson last Sept. 26, the Vikings played sides with their cornerbacks, matching the Lions' 6-foot-5 phenom mostly against Antoine Winfield in the base defense and Chris Cook in the nickel with a lot of two-deep help behind them.

Johnson caught six of seven balls thrown his way for 56 yards, but the press coverage preferred by Cook and right cornerback Cedric Griffin kept him from doing much damage downfield, outside of a leaping 21-yard grab against Cook in the second quarter of a game the Vikings won 24-10.

"When we looked at our division, that was one of the things that we looked at, trying to match up at times," coach Leslie Frazier said of drafting Cook in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. "Having two big corners with Cedric and Chris, we thought that would help us. This is one of those games where we want it to pay off."

That game against the Lions is the only one the Vikings could lean on when deciding not to upgrade their secondary this offseason, though. Cook emerged from it with a second torn meniscus and Griffin blew out a knee in the Vikings' next game.

"And they played well in that ballgame," Frazier said. "We'd love to be able to duplicate that performance by the both of them."

Johnson missed the season-ending rematch with the Vikings because of a sprained ankle. He has battled ankle trouble this season, too -- he was listed as probable on Friday's injury report -- but already has four touchdowns among his nine receptions for 117 yards in two Lions wins.

Meanwhile, Cook was listed as questionable on the injury report with the groin injury that knocked him out of last week's loss to Tampa Bay. But Frazier said there were "no ill effects" in practice this week, and Cook is expected to be in his usual spot with the nickel defense to face his old Atlantic Coast Conference rival.

"I feel like if you slow (Johnson) down at the line, you have a pretty good chance to win on that play," Cook said. "But if you let him get going and run, he's fast enough to run away from guys, and the jump ball -- that's his strong point, because his vertical's (incredible). I heard rumors about it being like a 50 (inches), but who knows what it really is?"

Health watch

The other seven players on the Vikings' injury report -- receiver Percy Harvin (illness), linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee), cornerback Asher Allen (toe), end Jared Allen (shoulder), receiver Michael Jenkins (groin), cornerback Marcus Sherels (chest) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot) -- all were listed as probable for Sunday.

Harvin returned to practice after going home sick on Thursday and downplayed his issue as just a stomachache. Henderson was a little sore on Friday, Frazier said, so coaches limited his reps.

It's unclear how many snaps Williams will play on Sunday, given the time he missed even before the suspension while be dealt with plantar fasciitis.

"That's something we'll have to help him with from a rep standpoint and monitoring his reps," Frazier said. "But as far as moving around, he's moving around pretty good. The conditioning will probably be the thing that we'll have to be on the lookout for."

The Lions ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot) and tackle Jason Fox (foot).

Not a must?

Frazier downplayed the idea of Sunday's game as a "must-win" situation, despite opening the NFC North Division schedule after consecutive second-half collapses in losses to San Diego and Tampa Bay to open the season.

"I never talked to our team about it being a must-win game," Frazier said. "It's the third game of the season, an important game, NFC North rivalry, us playing in our division -- that makes it a big game. We want to get a win for a lot of reasons, and we need to get a win. But 'must-win?' That's not a term I would use at this point in the season."

Frazier acknowledged players and coaches are "frustrated with the fact that we're 0-2, but not to the point where we're discouraged and not believing that we can't rebound from those first two losses. I think having such a veteran group of guys with good leadership on our team helps us in that regard. ...I don't think anybody has pushed the panic button at this point, but there is a sense of urgency about getting it going and we'd like to get it going this weekend."

The atmosphere in the locker room was relatively subdued for a Friday, and Harvin said Frazier's message hasn't changed this week.

"Not at all," Harvin said. "Actually, everybody's calm right here. I think everybody knows, looking back, we beat ourselves for two games. So, it was no need to panic -- we've just got to finish for 60 minutes and not just the first half."

Quick hits

• RE Jared Allen wasn't fined for lowering his shoulder into Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman last weekend, an NFL spokesman said. Officials flagged Allen for roughing the passer.

• President Barack Obama plans to invite the 1985 Chicago Bears to the White House, making up for the trip they didn't get to take after their Super Bowl win that January following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. "Whenever they give a date, that will probably determine if I can make it," said Frazier, a starting safety on that team who suffered a career-ending knee injury in the Super Bowl. "That'll be tough in the fall. Man, that's a long time overdue, but I'm glad it will finally happen."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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