Clinging to their playoff lives and looking way up at the Chicago Bears, the only elite team in the NFC, the Vikings are prepared to engage in a chess match with linebacker Ben Leber willingly serving as their pawn.
After realizing Leber took part in less than 20 plays two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, the Vikings instituted a new look, "the Leber package," against the Arizona Cardinals. Because Arizona ignored the run – the Cardinals ran five times and attempted 51 passes – the Vikings defense often played a 3-4 scheme with the versatile Leber bouncing between rushing the passer and dropping into pass coverage. Leber, an obvious playmaker, forced two fumbles in his new role.
The Vikings naturally were coy when discussing the "Leber package" on Wednesday and whether or not they plan to run the same defense against Chicago. But it is probable if Chicago abandons the running game, like Green Bay, Miami and Arizona have done in consecutive weeks, the Vikings might once again counter with Leber on the line with three defensive lineman.
"We can't say if we'll run the ‘Leber package' because then Chicago will know," linebacker E.J. Henderson said jokingly. "It's not really a 3-4, it's a package for Ben. We're just trying to get him into the game plan and get him some (pass) rushes."
Leber relishes the increased role.
"More than anything else it's an opportunity for us to disguise some looks and have the ability to rush off the edge and also have a guy with his hands down with a tight end and can drop in coverage with some knowledge of pass coverage situations so it gives us more flexibility," Leber said. "Since we just put it in at the beginning of last week I really didn't know how much we'd use it against Arizona. I thought we'd just sprinkle it in, but it was nice for us to use it a lot more than I thought."
"We'll see against Chicago, I don't know how it's all going to play out."
After Sunday's win over Arizona, defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said the scheme was designed after learning Leber was on the field for just 18 plays against Miami. Earlier this week, head coach Brad Childress repeated Tomlin's point that Leber needs to be on the field if the Vikings defense hopes to be successful.
"Just wanting Ben in there as a good football player," Childress said when asked about the purpose of the 3-4 scheme. "He's smart, he has physical ability, and obviously he has a nose for the football. So just wanting to elevate his turns and figuring out a way to be able to do that…. Again, if you want good football players on the field, you need to find a way to get them on the field."
The creation of the "Leber package" adds one more headache for backup linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. In addition to learning the middle and weak linebacker spots, Thomas has become a quick understudy of the "Leber package" as well.
"I am a guy who has to bring his books home and be prepared so I can be ready when my number gets called," Thomas said. "I do quite a bit of homework and I have to put a lot of time in it because when your number is called you have to go out and put together a good performance so the coaches have confidence in you and keep putting you in that situation and they won't think twice about putting you in."
Only time will tell if the "Leber package" will surface in Chicago.
"It's on the table, as is every package and it depends upon the game plan," Thomas said. "We may or may not run it, we'll see."
Vikings Defense Counters with ‘Leber Package'
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