Behind Enemy Lines: Bears/Vikings, Part IV

In Part IV of an exclusive four-part series, BearReport.com's John Crist and Viking Update's Tim Yotter complete their quartet of one-on-one features with five final questions from John to Tim. Why do the Vikings' cornerbacks make so many tackles, what has gone right defending the run, and what has gone wrong defending the pass? These Q&As and more inside.

John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: Antoine Winfield is a wonderful player and perhaps the most physical cornerback in the NFL, but what does it say about a defense when a corner leads the team in total tackles? Even his counterpart, Fred Smoot, is second on the team in solo tackles.

Tim Yotter, Publisher, VikingUpdate.com: Winfield is the best tackling and run-support cornerback I've ever seen, but you are right on the money with your line of questioning. It says that teams have been finding too many zones in the defense. The vast majority of his tackles are not because quarterbacks are going after him, but it is because he is so good in helping support other areas of the defense. As mentioned earlier, teams with a good stable of receivers and a decent quarterback can have success throwing against this 31st-ranked pass defense. I'd say it has to do more with the lack of pressure from the defensive line than a major problem with the secondary ... although Smoot has now been demoted to a nickel role in favor of rookie Cedric Griffin, another physical corner.

JC: Linebacker and Chicago native Napoleon Harris was a big piece of the blockbuster trade that sent Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders two seasons ago. What is holding him back from getting better, and will he ever live up to his potential as a 2002 first-round draft pick?

TY: I'm not sure he'll ever come close to sniffing Brian Urlacher's ... success. However, he is a serviceable middle linebacker in this defense. Over the last month, he has been struggling with a dislocated wrist that is really hindering his ability to clutch and tackle - it's still in a cast. He sat out two games and has started to get back in the groove, but he looked fairly solid before the injury. I think if he had an opportunity to continue in this same role for a year or two, he'd be a very solid player again. Probably not Pro Bowl-level but not a liability either.

JC: The Vikings have the top-rated rush defense in the NFL right now at just 56.6 yards allowed per game, and a big reason is the play of their mammoth defensive tackles, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. But what other factors have contributed to that success?

TY: Part of that low number is that teams have given up trying to run against them the last two games, but no doubt Pat Williams is a huge part of that success. He's big, but he is very quick to react and an excellent tackler. Other than that, defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's desire to have all of his front-seven players drop weight has helped a lot. They are a much quicker defense than they used to be. While Kevin and Pat Williams plug the middle, the quicker linebackers and even corners like Griffin and Winfield are excellent in stringing the outside runs to the sideline. There haven't been many outside runs where the back has been able to find a corner to turn.

JC: The Minnesota secondary has obviously had some problems because they surrender 242.5 yards per game through the air, 31st in the league. Are those numbers skewed because the rush defense has been so good, or is there some fire to go along with the smoke?

TC: There is definitely some fire. As mentioned, the pass rush has been pretty non-existent. The defensive linemen say that is because teams are max-protecting or getting rid of the ball quickly after a three-step drop. There is some truth to that, but methinks they aren't taking advantage of the opportunities to get to the passer when they have them. Tomlin has been pretty aggressive in sending linebackers on the blitz, but there are times when they should have a sack and get a little too eager for it, allowing the quarterback to step away from the rush. When they've gotten pressure, they've gotten turnovers at a decent clip. The loss of Erasmus James has hurt the pass rush, but even with him they could use another pass-rusher on the line.

JC: Many experts believe the Vikings were long overdue for a culture change because of the laissez-faire manner in which former head coach Mike Tice ran the team. How much has changed with new man Brad Childress, and is his message being heard?

TY: I think Tice preached some accountability, but he didn't always take action, and he didn't have a ton of credibility with the players after he was busted in the Super Bowl ticket-scalping fiasco. What has changed is that Childress simply doesn't stand for it. Koren Robinson was busted for DUI and speeding in training camp and was released, despite the fact that it really drained the receiver depth to it's poor state now. Pat Williams showed up to training camp over his prescribed weight, and Childress kept him doing conditioning drills on the sidelines for over a week. Starting safety Dwight Smith was deactivated for the season opener at Washington for disciplinary reasons, as was Ray Edwards later in the year, and Fred Smoot was held out of the starting lineup in one game for disciplinary reasons. Childress doesn't embarrass them publicly by going into details of what they did, but he also doesn't let them just get away with breaking rules. It will probably take time for the incidents to slow down to the critics' liking, but there is no question that Childress has the hammer and isn't afraid to use it.

The 5-6 Vikings travel to Chicago for an NFC North battle with the 9-2 Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.


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