Tomlin's Time: Run Defense No. 1

The Vikings' run defense has moved to the top of the league rankings, and the overall defense is ranked No. 7. The defense's strong performance in its first season of implementation bodes well for the coordinator.

The Vikings will be in the prime time spotlight next Monday as they play host to the New England Patriots.

Minnesota's 4-2 start likely will result in plenty of attention for first-year head coach Brad Childress, but perhaps the greatest focus should be on defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

Tomlin, who joined Childress' staff after spending the past five seasons as the defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has transformed the Vikings' defense from chronic underachievers to a group that is ranked seventh overall in the NFL and first versus the run.

The Vikings have not been ranked No. 1 against the run since 1994 when Minnesota finished first in the league in that category. That defense was coordinated by Tony Dungy, who two years later became head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In Dungy's final season with the Bucs he hired a young Tomlin to coach the secondary. Tomlin, who is only 34 years of age, now could find himself in line to follow Dungy's path from being the Vikings' defensive coordinator to a head coach.

Safety Dwight Smith, who played for Tomlin in Tampa Bay and was signed by the Vikings just before training camp, realizes his coordinator might not be around for long.

"We wouldn't want to see him go because we love the way he coaches but everybody is wanting everybody to move up," Smith said. "He wants us to make more money, we want him to make more money so we just wish the best for him."

While Tomlin was expected to install the Tampa-2 defense in Minnesota, that only has been a small part of what he has brought with him. One of the twists Tomlin uses is sending blitzes on a frequent basis. The Tampa-2 is rooted in the philosophy that the front four should get most of the pressure without blitzing help.

"It's no different than maybe West Coast offensive guys," Tomlin said of his tweaks to a system largely traced to Dungy. "Everybody has their own perspective or their own spin on the West Coast offense. As you watch them go and leave and do things you start to understand their spin on it. In this system, this defense is no different.

"You'll see Lovie (Smith's) spin on it, Herm (Edwards') spin on it, (Rod) Marinelli's spin on it, my spin on it. Fundamentally it's the same. In terms of its core beliefs it's the same, but we all put our little spin on it."

Tomlin's defense will get a good test against the Patriots when it comes to the run. New England is averaging 131.5 yards per game this season and features the one-two punch of rookie Laurence Maroney (86 carries for 361 yards) and Corey Dillon (82 carries, 328 yards).

The Vikings, who are led by tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, are giving up an average of 70.8 yards per game on the ground.

One area Tomlin would like to see improvement is in the Vikings' passing defense, which is giving up 207 yards a game and is ranked 18th in the NFL. The Patriots are 22nd in the NFL in passing offense, averaging 193.3 yards, so Minnesota certainly could succeed in this area against Tom Brady and Co.

Smith said the key for the Vikings to take the next step is to stop surrendering big plays.

"To give up a 72-yard touchdown (against Seattle) and then to give up some big runs that we gave up, that's what we have to eliminate," he said. "If you're going to pride yourself on defense you're going to make a team have to drive to score. To continue to give up big play, big play is going to comeback to haunt you. So hopefully we're getting it out of your system early."


The Vikings are likely to be without receiver Marcus Robinson for Monday night's game against New England.

Robinson suffered a lower-back injury in the fourth quarter against Seattle last Sunday and is expected to miss at least one game. He underwent a magnetic resonance imaging test on Monday and is due to get a second opinion later in the week.

The Vikings also lost Troy Williamson early in the Seattle game because of a concussion. A day after that victory, coach Brad Childress revealed Travis Taylor also had suffered a concussion but continued to play.

The Vikings do have the advantage of having an extra day between games, so that should benefit Taylor and Williamson.

However, with Robinson's absence should mean more playing time for Billy McMullen and/or newcomer Bethel Johnson on Monday. McMullen has been with the team since training camp and has the advantage of being more familiar with the West Coast offense Minnesota is running.

Johnson was signed during the Vikings' recent bye week and is still learning the system.

  • CB Antoine Winfield appears recovered from a partially torn quadriceps muscle just above his left knee that he suffered in Week 4 at Buffalo. Winfield did not miss any playing time because of the injury.

  • WR Bethel Johnson is expected to remain the Vikings' primary kick returner against New England. Johnson, who averaged 31 yards on four returns at Seattle last Sunday, appears far more comfortable in the role than Troy Williamson did.

  • RB Mewelde Moore watched Johnson share in the punt returns in practice last week but that might have motivated Moore. Moore averaged a season-high 16.5 yards on four returns at Seattle, including a long of 40 yards.

  • Moore, who also threw a halfback option pass for a touchdown against Seattle, was a non-factor in the run game. Used as the Vikings' third-down back this season, he did not have a single carry against the Seahawks.

    * Kevin Williams and Chester Taylor were both finalists for NFC Players of the Week, but neither wound up winning the award.

    * The Patriots have 10 players listed as questionable on their injury report, including starting defensive tackles Richard Seymour (elbow) and Ty Warren (shoulder), OT Nick Kaczur (shoulder), G Steve Neal (shoulder), TE Daniel Graham (ankle) and safety Eugene Neal (hamstring).
    * The Vikings had four players listed on their injury report -- all wide receivers -- with only M-Rob not expected to play.

  • TE Richard Owens has started the past two games, both in two tight-end formations with Jermaine Wiggins. That left Jim Kleinsasser on the bench. Kleinsasser is listed as the Vikings top tight end on their depth chart.

  • CBs Cedric Griffin and Ronyell Whitaker continue to rotate in the nickel package.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 23-22: The Vikings record on "Monday Night Football." They moved above .500 by beating Washington 19-16 in the season opener on Sept. 11. Minnesota has never faced New England on MNF.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was my decision. They only did what I asked them to do so there are no hard feelings for that." — Bethel Johnson on the fact he requested the Patriots trade him and therefore feels no animosity toward the organization.

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