Vikings plan to pump it up vs. Falcons in title game


MINNEAPOLIS -- In the heyday of the Purple People Eaters a quarter of a century ago, the Minnesota Vikings were noted for their frigid home-field advantage at old Metropolitan Stadium.

Coach Bud Grant even used to ban heaters near the bench to stress that the Vikings' trademark was their ability to cope with the cold weather. It helped them go to four Super Bowls, although they lost all four in mild climates.

The Vikings lost that cold-weather advantage when they moved indoors in 1982 to the climate-controlled Metrodome, but they're still likely to have another type of home-field advantage when they play host to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game today.

They now have the noise advantage.

Domed stadiums tend to be noisy, but the Vikings make it even louder by pumping in music to speakers located on the field.

The Vikings say they turn off the speakers before each play starts, but the Falcons are just the latest team to complain about it because it makes it difficult for the visiting team to call plays.

"We called the league to see what you can and can't do," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "Do we have to deal with noise being pumped in right behind us?"

In any case, the Vikings aren't planning to make any changes to turn down the volume.

With the Vikings heavily favored to earn their fifth trip to the Super Bowl and their first in 22 years, these are the 10 pivotal factors in the game:

1. Stopping Jamal Anderson

Tampa Bay outlined the blueprint for beating the Vikings when it handed them their only defeat of the season by rushing for 246 yards.

A good rushing game keeps the Vikings' offense off the field and eats up time. The Falcons hope to control the game with Anderson, who rushed an NFL record 410 times this year. The Falcons may be able to take advantage of the the Vikings' best defensive player, John Randle, who has a knee injury that is worse than the Vikings will admit. He may not be a big factor against the run.

The Vikings are noted for their lightning-quick scoring drives, but the Falcons hope to wear down the Vikings with long, methodical drives.

2. Containing Randy Moss

Moss was a key factor in turning a 9-7 Vikings team into a 15-1 team. He has a knack for leaping up to catch Randall Cunningham's rainbows even when he appears to be covered.

Veteran Ray Buchanan is likely to draw the main assignment against Moss. He's a solid corner with seven interceptions, but he's only 5 feet 9 and could have problems with Moss' jumping ability.

Moss' ability to go deep and haul in passes even when covered makes him one of the most dangerous weapons in the game. Buchanan needs to avoid getting burned deep.

3. Billick vs. Brooks

Brian Billick, the Vikings' offensive coordinator, likes to use all the team's weapons, and he's got a lot of them. Last week, he flanked Cunningham out three times in the first quarter and had the center make a direct snap to David Palmer.

Rich Brooks, who flopped as a head coach in St. Louis, but revived his career as the Atlanta defensive coordinator, doesn't have any stars on his defense, but has molded the unit into the eighth-best in the league.

It's also an aggressive unit that has set a club record by scoring six touchdowns. Brooks, who filled in for coach Dan Reeves when Reeves had health problems, is likely to be ready for all of Billick's gimmicks.

4. Take-aways

Both teams are good at producing turnovers and turning them into points.

The Falcons converted 44 take-aways into 146 points, and the Vikings got 154 points out of 34 turnovers. If the Falcons can keep it close, the turnover battle could be the difference.

Since the Falcons are the underdogs on the road, turnovers are probably more critical for them.

5. Falcons passing game

The Falcons are noted for running Anderson and the Vikings are noted for their big-play passing game, so it's surprising the Falcons averaged 15.8 yards per completion and the Vikings 13.7.

That's because teams that bring safeties up to stop the Falcons' running game leave themselves vulnerable to Chris Chandler's arm.

One key for the Falcons, though, is keeping Chandler healthy. It's over if he goes down because his backups are aging Steve DeBerg and unproven Tony Graziani. The Vikings, by contrast, could survive the loss of Cunningham because they have Brad Johnson.

6. Palmer vs. Stryzinski

David Palmer is a dangerous punt returner for the Vikings, but Dan Stryzinski has a knack for booming high punts that give the coverage teams time to get downfield and force fair catches. Stryzinski may be able to neutralize Palmer. Palmer averaged 10.3 yards per punt.

7. Vikings running game

The Vikings' passing attack gets so much attention that it's easy to forget they have a good 1-2 running punch in Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard. But the Falcons are a solid team against the run, which makes this a first-rate matchup.

The Falcons allowed only 75.2 yards per game against the rush this year and 3.3 yards per rush. Both figures were second only to San Diego. They let only one running back, Curtis Martin of the Jets, who got 101 yards, surpass the 100-yard mark. They need to contain Smith and Hoard without using a safety so they're not as vulnerable to the pass.

8. Home sweet home

Green Bay won last year's NFC title game in San Francisco, but the previous four NFC title games were won by the home team.

Minnesota has a special home-field edge because it's the first conference title game in a dome stadium and the Vikings put loudspeakers on the field to amplify the noise. It's almost as if you attended a rock concert and a football game broke out.

Atlanta also plays in a dome, but it's a bigger one and not as noisy. The Falcons have to be able to work a silent count to counteract the noise.

9. The veteran receiver

Cris Carter is a savvy veteran who's become Moss' mentor. Because of Moss' exploits, it's easy to forget how good Carter still is and he's likely to be able to burn Ronnie Bradford, who's probable with a shoulder injury, and Michael Booker, a second-year player who's been a disappointment.

Carter, who caught 78 passes for 1,011 yards (Moss caught 69 for 1,313) should have a big day against Bradford and Booker.

10. Anderson vs. Andersen

If it comes down to a field-goal battle, both teams are in good shape. Gary Anderson of the Vikings hasn't missed a field-goal attempt all season -- although the Vikings had the luxury of not letting him try a 46-yarder with two seconds left in the first half against the Ravens on a wet field -- and Morten Andersen of the Falcons has made 23 of 28 attempts this year.

Pressure kicks won't bother this duo. Minnesota's Anderson is the all-time league leader with 418 field goals and Andersen is second at 401.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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