Black-and-Blue, Tampa-2 Showdown

Several Vikings defenders are looking forward to pitting their defense against the Chicago Bears defense – or at least being on the field at the same time – to test how far the Vikings have come in a short period of installation of the Tampa-2 defense.

The Minnesota Vikings are trying to live up to the hype of the Tampa-2 defense, and at this early point in the season they are playing it better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But this week will be the ultimate showdown of defenses for the Vikings and Chicago Bears, who each feature the Cover-2 and, more specifically, the Tampa-2 defensive schemes.

"They are pretty much going to be the teacher or professor right now," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said of Chicago's defense, which has been running the scheme since Lovie Smith took over as head coach in 2004. "We're just the students, trying to understand how to perform and execute that defense at the level that they are."

The Vikings, under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, are currently ranked seventh in total defense in the NFL, while the Bears are fifth. Tampa Bay is 22nd, while Indianapolis, which also runs the Tampa-2 under head coach Tony Dungy, is ranked 25th.

Last year, the Bears finished with the second-ranked defense in the league. The Vikings, under Ted Cottrell's system in 2005, were ranked 21st.

Despite facing strong defenses most of the preseason and in their first two regular-season games, Sunday's game against Chicago will be the Vikings' first chance to gauge their new defense against a similar scheme that has experienced a high level of success for years.

"Of course we want to go out there and outplay their defense. We know what they did last year and what they've done the first two games this season," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "It's definitely going to be a test for us. Even their offense has picked up scoring points.

"We'll go into the game like we do every week: Stop the run, try to make them one-dimensional and try to get some turnovers."

Turnovers are just about the only thing the Vikings haven't excelled at in their first two games of the season. They have forced only one fumble and have no interceptions on defense.

"We need to play at the level we're playing as far as not allowing big plays, but we need to create more turnovers," Sharper said.

Vikings coach Brad Childress said he isn't as concerned about getting turnovers as he is about simply getting his defense off the field quickly and managing the time of possession.

But the Minnesota defense clearly blitzed more against Carolina than a typical Tampa-2 is expected to, especially in the second half, something cornerback Ronyell Whitaker felt was in direct response to the pressure Carolina was applying on the Vikings offense.

"Football is a fight. You can see the pressure they were getting on our offense, so we're not going to go in and sit back and (let them) set the tone," said Whitaker, who spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons with Tampa Bay. "You pressure our offense? We're going to pressure your offense – we're going to bring more guys than you can block. That's the main thing with the blitz – a lot of teams just blitz to blitz. We blitz to win."

With the loss of pass-rushing defensive end Erasmus James for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, the Vikings may have to continue to blitz to get pressure, but Sharper said they rarely bring more than five defenders on any one play.

"I think that Coach Tomlin felt something, and he's a guy that's pretty ballsy and has confidence. Us as players feed off that confidence. When a coach calls your number, you want to get home and make something happen. You saw how we played aggressive when we kept getting those blitz calls," Sharper said.

Vikings defenders have taken to trying to differentiate themselves from Tampa Bay's defense or even Chicago's defense.

"(The Bears) run the Tampa-2, we run the Tomlin-2," Whitaker said. "The difference is the people you have plugged into the defense. … This personnel we have here is different and that's what makes us different. We have little tweaks here and there that make this a little different than how other people run their Tampa-2."

Which begs the question: Beyond being called a Cover-2, Tampa-2 or Tomlin-2, what exactly is the personality of this defense?

"We're just a grungy group. We're not going to go out and show you a bunch of flashy lights. We're going to win by attrition. Sometimes we'll go (cover) two, two, two, two just to wear you down, and then the next thing you know we're bringing the house, bringing the house, bringing the house. Cover-2. Then we're bringing the house five times in a row," Whitaker said.

"We just try to play dirty in a good meaning, play dirty and fight and claw and try to get as many heads to the ball as we can. When we turn on the film, we want to try to get 10 guys to the ball every time. That's why you see a lot of guys running in and jumping on piles because the coaches point it out in the meetings. That's the personality of the defense."


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