The Vikings' 3-4 defense made a favorable impression in Chicago, but the question remains whether or not it will be used when the Vikings have more defensive linemen available.
The Vikings made a rather dramatic defensive move in last week's loss against Chicago, playing a 3-4 defense for 98 percent of the snaps. This was done largely out of necessity because starting left end Kenechi Udeze
is out for the season after knee surgery and backup Spencer Johnson
is bothered by two sore knees.
The shift included some lineup changes. Up front, under tackle Kevin Williams
became the left end, with Pat Williams
at nose tackle and Darrion Scott
at right end. The linebacker corps included Sam Cowart
, E.J. Henderson
, Keith Newman
and Raonall Smith
Newman and Smith were new additions to the starting lineup, with Newman replacing Napoleon Harris
on the strong side. Harris remained a part of the nickel package but that was the extent of his action.
Despite the fact the Vikings gave up 28 points, the coaching staff came away pleased with the defense's performance and appears to be giving serious thought to sticking with the 3-4. As far as the points against, 14 were scored when the Bears took over deep in Vikings territory.
Especially effective, and granted Chicago's offense strikes fear in the heart of few with Kyle Orton
at quarterback, was Pat Williams. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles and also forced a fumble.
A game after giving up 285 rushing yards to Atlanta, Newman and Smith were able to use their speed to help the Vikings maintain outside contain. Smith, who had barely seen the field on defense before Sunday, had six tackles. Newman had three tackles and a fumble recovery.
The interesting thing now will be to see what opponents are able to do after having time to study the Vikings 3-4. Minnesota went to great lengths to hide it from Chicago and even warmed up in a 4-3 look.
It's possible the Vikings could use a combination of 4-3 and 3-4 Sunday if defensive end Spencer Johnson is able to return after missing a game because of a knee injury.
Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell used the 3-4 as his primary defense when he held the same job in Buffalo for three seasons, so he will certainly be comfortable sticking with it if that's the route the Vikings choose to go.
WR Nate Burleson, who has missed the past three games because of a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, should return Sunday. Burleson said he could have been back against Chicago but the coaches didn't want to take any chances.
DE Spencer Johnson, who sat out last Sunday's game because of a medial collateral sprain in his right knee, could also return Sunday. Johnson also is nursing an injury to his left knee.
C Melvin Fowler, who replaced Cory Withrow as a starter last Sunday, played well enough to keep the job for another week.
RG Adam Goldberg also will keep the starting job for another game after replacing rookie Marcus Johnson as the starter last Sunday.
Vikings free safety Darren Sharper will be facing the Packers for the first time in his career. Sharper spent his first eight seasons with Green Bay before being let go during the off-season in a salary-cap move. During his time with the Packers, Sharper had five interceptions against Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. That was his most against any NFL quarterback during his career.
The Packers swept the regular-season series with a pair of 34-31 victories in 2004 - the second one on Christmas Eve wrapped up the NFC North title — but the Vikings got the last laugh with a 31-17 win at Lambeau Field in the wild card round. Many will remember that game as the one in which former Vikings receiver Randy Moss mooned the Lambeau Field crowd after catching the first of two touchdown passes.
The fact the Vikings-Packers series is so close is rather amazing considering the success Green Bay had early on in the rivalry. The Packers won the first six meetings and nine of the first 10 after the expansion Vikings joined the NFL in 1961.
The only tie in the series came in a 1978 game at Green Bay. The teams played to a 10-10 overtime deadlock.
Former Vikings running back Ted Brown had the second-best rushing day in team history against Green Bay on Oct. 23, 1983 when he went for 179 yards on 29 carries. That trails only Chuck Foreman's 200-yard day against Philadelphia on Oct. 24, 1976.