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Updated: December 29th, 2010 1:03am
Vikings' aggressive plan on defense yields pivotal play in victory

Vikings' aggressive plan on defense yields pivotal play in victory

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Minnesota Vikings entered Tuesday's game with a plan to attack Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick before he could attack them.

The results couldn't have been much better.

Vick banged a knee on the game's first play, the Vikings sacked him six times and cornerback Antoine Winfield flipped momentum just before halftime with a 45-yard strip-and-run score in the 24-14 upset.

"Our guys did a great job of executing all the things we talk about in practice," Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier said. "The play by Antoine Winfield was a huge, huge play, and Antoine has made plays like that for us before, but none maybe bigger than this one (Tuesday) night."

Linebackers coach Fred Pagac -- who took over defensive playcalling duties after Frazier's promotion -- ramped up pressure significantly after Vick led a seven-play, 50-yard touchdown drive midway through the first quarter.

Most prevalent were slot blitzes with Winfield that repeatedly disrupted Vick's rhythm and prompted a series of bad decisions, including one pass safety Husain Abdullah intercepted and two others dropped by cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker.

"That was the game plan," Winfield said. "Coach told me, 'We're going to send you off the edge. Just contain him. Come up high, because we know he likes to spin out, he's a left-handed quarterback.' (Pagac) did a great job of calling 'em. I tried to execute 'em."

The Eagles had driven from their own 5-yard line to the Vikings' 39 when they faced second-and-2 with 55 seconds remaining before halftime. Another touchdown would have pushed their lead to 14-0 against a Vikings team that had watched its offense scuffle.

Instead, Winfield came free from the slot again, extended his right arm and slapped the ball out of Vick's left hand -- an eerily similar to play to one Winfield made on Sept. 21, 2008, when he stripped Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme and raced 19 yards for a tying touchdown with 1:04 to go in the half.

"I thought I missed (Vick), because he spun out," Winfield said. "I looked up, seen the ball on the ground -- it took me back to Carolina. Picked it up."

And no one came close as Winfield jogged to the end zone, silencing the crowd of 69,144 with his fourth defensive touchdown as a Viking, tying a team record.

The Vikings drove for a field goal on their opening drive of the second half and the Eagles never led again, scoring only once more on a 10-yard Vick scramble in the fourth quarter.

Pagac actually scaled back the pressure after halftime, forcing Vick to stare more often at seven-man coverage after adjusting at halftime to deal with the blitz. Defensive linemen , Jared Allen and Letroy Guion both had sacks in the fourth quarter.

"That was the key," Winfield said. "I'm sure they went in at halftime and said, '(Number) 26 is coming off the edge seven times in the first half' and expected it the second half. Coaches did a great job of scaling it back a little bit, even though I did come a few times in the second half. But our front four gets a lot of credit. They held their own."

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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