Time to Test the Defense

The Vikings' new scheme has helped their defense improve statistically and move into the top 10 this year, but Chicago is the measuring stick of the Tampa-2 defense so far this year.

Mike Tomlin was one of the first people Brad Childress targeted after being hired as the Vikings' head coach last January. Young, well respected and full of energy, Tomlin possessed many of the attributes Childress wanted in his defensive coordinator.

Perhaps the most important was Tomlin's knowledge of the Tampa-2 defensive scheme. A defensive backs coach with Tampa Bay for five seasons, Tomlin knew all the ins and outs of the system. It is the same scheme run by the Vikings' divisional rival and NFC North champion Chicago.

The feeling was that not only would the Vikings' defense be improved playing the Tampa-2, but it also would give the offense a chance to go against the same scheme run by the Bears. Detroit also has added the Tampa-2 under new coach and former Bucs assistant Rod Marinelli, meaning Green Bay is the only NFC North team not using a version of the Cover-2 made popular by Tony Dungy.

On Sunday, the Vikings get their first opportunity to compare themselves to the Bears. Minnesota (2-0) will play host to Chicago (2-0) in a contest that will leave the winner in sole possession of first place in the division. The game has extra meaning for the Vikings because if Chicago does come away victorious, it already will be 3-0 within the division.

In winning their first two games over Green Bay and Detroit by a combined score of 60-7, the Bears have put up offensive statistics that indicate they will provide the Vikings' seventh-ranked defense with a significant challenge.

This should make it all the more interesting to see if Tomlin's defense is legitimate. There is little question that if the Vikings are to win the game it will be low scoring. Minnesota's offense has scored two touchdowns in the first two games and both came in the opener at Washington.

"The Bears are (fifth on defense) and we're seventh, so you can assess it numerically," Childress said when asked to compare the two defenses. "I just think that Lovie (Smith, the Bears' coach) has done an outstanding job. You have to hang your hat on something and that's where they hung it."

Through two games, the Bears are eighth against the rush and 13th against the pass. The Vikings are 17th against the run and ninth against the pass. The loss of starting right end Erasmus James because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament won't help matters.

One reason Tomlin's defense has been a success in the first two games is because of his willingness to adjust. After blitzing about 40 percent of the time in the opener, Tomlin knew Carolina would be expect to see about the same amount of blitzes in Week 2.

Instead, the Vikings sent additional players at Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme about 60 percent of the time and on almost every third down.

Bears quarterback Red Grossman has been outstanding so far, compiling an NFL-best 128.7 quarterback rating, so rattling him won't be easy.

"I know it's always been fashionable to say that they haven't had the offense to go along with the defense," Childress said of the Bears. "They've got the leading passer in the National Football League right now, a full 2 yards above everybody else in his yards per completion.

"A lot of times you have to grow in to those offenses. I think you're seeing, obviously, Rex Grossman mature, along with that offensive line and wide receivers. They are a formidable team, defensively and offensively. Let's face it, they're the NFC North champs, everything goes through Chicago."


  • QB Brad Johnson completed a career-high 40 passes on 56 attempts for 399 yards against Chicago on Nov. 18, 2001. Johnson was with Tampa Bay at the time.

  • S Darren Sharper, a former Packer, has seven career interceptions against Chicago. He had a career-high 14 tackles on Nov. 11, 2001 against the Bears.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins caught a career-high 10 passes for 68 yards on Oct. 16, 2005 against Chicago.

  • K Ryan Longwell earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and scoring 14 points on Dec. 7, 2003 against the Bears. Longwell was with the Green Bay Packers at the time.

  • Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page played for both the Vikings and the Bears. The NFL's Most Valuable player in 1971, Page played for the Vikings from 1967 until the middle of the 1978 season when he was released. The Bears signed him and he played in Chicago until the end of the 1981 season.

  • The Vikings and Bears also share a connection when it comes to one of the top executives in league history. Jim Finks worked for the Vikings from 1964-73 before leaving to take over the Bears in 1974. Finks remained in Chicago through 1982. During his four seasons as the Vikings' vice president and general manager, Finks' teams went 42-14. He was named the 1973 NFL Executive of the Year.

  • The Bears cruised to a 35-18 victory over the Vikings in the only postseason meeting between these teams on Jan. 1, 1995. The Vikings moved inside the Bears 50-yard line 10 times in the first-round loss and came away with only 18 points. That Chicago team had no Pro Bowl players and had been swept by the Vikings during the regular season.

  • The Vikings pulled off a stunner in their first-ever regular season game, beating George Halas' Bears 37-13 on Sept. 17, 1961 at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Fran Tarkenton, the Vikings' rookie quarterback, came on in relief of George Shaw to lead Minnesota to victory. Tarkenton finished 17 of 23 for 250 yards with four touchdowns.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The Vikings' 18 penalties this season tie them for fourth most in the NFL with Dallas and Washington.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like it's worse because you have an opportunity to miss big hits as a receiver, but when it comes to kickoff returns you have to hit it and try to get up in there and try to make something happen." — Troy Williamson on the fact he feels returning kicks is more dangerous than catching passes.

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