Jermaine Wiggins can't explain it, but he is aware of his success last year in Chicago.
"I was just able to get open against certain coverages, getting the ball and getting it quick and trying to make something happen with it. Whatever you can get, you've got to try to take advantage of it because they do such a great job," Wiggins said.
The tight end had a career-high 10 receptions for 68 yards at Solider Field last October and, considering that is three more receptions and 11 more yards than he has in two games this year, he'd probably welcome another big day against the Bears in the Metrodome Sunday.
"It's trying to find the areas in zone and work guys in man-to-man. The biggest thing is, whatever situation they give you, knowing that they do such a great job, being able to use the proper technique to take advantage of what it is they might give you," he said, adding that he hasn't noticed any greater individual success against a Cover-2 defensive scheme like the ones the Bears and Vikings typically run. "It's just been trying to find the soft spots, trying to get open against man coverage. … They do such a good job over there defensively that when you do get a chance to find the holes or have a guy leveraging you when you have a chance to get the ball more, you have to take advantage of it."
Only Randy Moss (12 catches in November 1999) and Jake Reed (11 catches each in two games in 1996 and 1997) have had more receptions in a game against the Bears than Wiggins had last year in that October meeting.
So does he anticipates Chicago's speedy defenders will be paying more attention to him?
"I just go out there and run what is called. I'm always ready to go out there and make plays," Wiggins said. "If I'm going to have a big one, I'm going to have a big one. If any of them come my way, I'm going to do my best to catch every one."
So will Troy Williamson, who leads the Vikings in receptions (10) and receiving yards (179) this year. But while Williamson is still learning the tricks of his NFL craft and using speed as his main weapon, Wiggins, with his less-than-beautiful stride and atypical NFL build, focuses on technique.
"You have to use head and shoulder fakes against man coverage, knowing that some guys are fast over there and can run. If you can happen to slow them down for one second if it's man or in zone finding those holes," said Wiggins, who also figures that the Vikings' switch to a Tampa-2 defensive scheme helps their offense become more familiar with Chicago's defensive tendencies.
"You know what to expect because you see it every day in practice because you see how guys like to play, where they have to play and the scheme of the defense. You learn those techniques having to go against it every single day. It's definitely good for us, knowing that we see it everyday. Knowing what they do, it's not going to be exactly what we see every day, but there are a lot of similarities.
"Lovie (Smith) coaches them a certain way, and I don't know how he coaches those guys. But they're talented over there, where the linebackers can run and their D-linemen, they try to get after the quarterbacks. He coaches them well."
Wiggins just hopes he is able to exploit whatever weaknesses or breakdowns the No. 4-ranked defense in the league presents, but it doesn't help that the Bears have only allowed a third-down conversion two times in 20 attempts by the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
RESPECT THE BULL
Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Brad Johnson and lavished him with praise.
"How can you not like what he's done? He's been a good quarterback in the league for a long time. I've gotten ready for Brad before. I can easily recall coming to Minnesota when Brad was their quarterback when I was in Tampa," Smith said. "That seems like many moons ago, and I guess it was many moons ago. Brad is a solid quarterback that has played at a high level for plenty of years. I don't know Brad well, but just looking at him from the outside, he looks like a great leader that knows how to win."
STILL GOT THE RUNS
While Bears quarterback Rex Grossman has soaked up much of the praise for Chicago outscoring its opponents 60-7 in two games this season, the statistics say the Bears are still a run-oriented team.
"I think whenever you're running the football, it can be effective. You would like to have big numbers, but the run sets up everything else. We've rushed the ball over 30 times both games," Smith said. "Of course, we like to do that; we're a running football team still. We've had success passing the football, but we're still a running football team, and it all starts with that."
The Bears have rushed 70 times, but they are only averaging 2.8 yards per rush.
Said Grossman about the running game: "I think we're close. You can see a lot of plays that we've run in the last couple of weeks where the safety has barely made the tackle on a 15-yard gain that could have been a huge chunk, and that's really what our running game was all about last year, just staying with it and being consistent with it, gaining two or three yards, four or five and then all of a sudden 20 and 30 on a Thomas Jones cutback. I think those type of runs are going to come. We just stay patient and don't try to change it because we know we have great plays, great offensive linemen and a running back that can see the field and make some great plays. It's nothing to worry about. I know it's coming and, like you said, we have been throwing the ball successfully so that takes some of the yardage away."
Grossman has attempted only 53 passes while Johnson has slinged the ball 61 times in his two contests.
In many ways, the Vikings' new offense has a similar philosophy to the Bears' commitment to the running game – trying to continue to run the ball whether or not it is effective early in a game.
Grossman isn't expecting things to get any easier Sunday.
"This is probably the most-talented defense we've faced so far for sure because in every position there are great players. The defensive tackles are beasts; they're big guys who stop the run and plug the holes up," Grossman said. "They have some pretty good pass rushers and some athletic linebackers. Both corners are excellent, and (Darren) Sharper is an excellent safety, so we're going to have our hands full."
SETTING UP THE PASS
Not surprisingly, the commitment to the run has helped set up the vertical passing game for Chicago.
Wide receiver Bernard Berrian leads the Bears with a 23-yard average per catch and is tied for the team lead with two touchdowns.
"I know not too many people have seen him, but I've seen him for three years now in practice make play after play," Grossman said. "He showed some spots last year at Green Bay and in the playoff game when I was playing with him, just making plays. He had a great playoff game, and it's carried over into the offseason and into the start of this year. He's our big-play guy."
While Berrian is an explosive threat, he hasn't even been the main target of Grossman, who has connected with veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and tight end Desmond Clark 10 times each so far this season.
Notebook: Can Wiggins Repeat Big Bears Day?
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