Secondary Ready to Defend

While the Vikings acknowledge that wide receiver Calvin Johnson enters the league with an impressive college career and a creative offensive coordinator, the cornerbacks and safeties for the Vikings move into Sunday's matchup with a plan to defend. See what they had to say in the week leading up to Sunday's divisional matchup.

One of the great joys Vikings fans have taken over the years is knowing that three things are seemingly inevitable – death, paying taxes and the Vikings will beat the Lions.

And why not? Over the past five seasons, the Vikings and Detroit have played 10 times. The Vikings have won all of them. In some cases, the Vikes have found ways to win. In just as many instances, the Lions have found ways to lose. The Vikings were witness to at least one Millen Man March – a fan revolt aimed at removing General Manager Matt Millen.

But there's a new wind blowing in Detroit and it isn't accompanied by the typical stink that many winds in the Detroit area tend to have. The Lions are of the belief that after being the worst franchise in the league since the retirement of Barry Sanders, they have now turned a corner. The team hired Rod Marinelli as their new head coach and he in turn hired offensive guru Mike Martz to bring his wide open style of offense to Detroit.

The first season in the complicated Martz offense, which is said to have a playbook that has more than 300 pages, took time for the players to adapt to. But, in the second year of the offense, the players have a much better grasp of the offense and a couple of key new components – running back Tatum Bell and rookie wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

While Bell is something of a known commodity, Johnson is a wild card for an offense that many believe is going to light up the NFL this season. He is probably the most acclaimed wide receiver to come into the league since Randy Moss almost a decade ago and he has the Vikings secondary taking notice.

"You have to give credit where credit is due," said Vikings rookie cornerback Marcus McCauley. "He had a great career in college and was a player everyone took notice of. But, we're in sort of the same position – we're rookies trying to make a name for ourselves in the NFL. You do that by making plays."

Johnson was a human highlight film at Georgia Tech and, combined with an offensive genius/mad man like Martz, many believe that the Lions offense could approach the sort of success Martz had with the Rams at the turn of the century. With all of the different looks and formations the Lions run, the Vikings secondary players know that the key is to stick with what they do right and not try to over-think the confusing looks they're going to see.

"A lot of times, it's just a matter of playing your technique," said safety Darren Sharper, who was no stranger to dealing with Moss during his early years of terrorizes defenses. "No matter what a team does – whether it's shifting guys or moving guys around – if you stay and play your in proper technique, you'll end up in the right place. You don't want to get caught up trying to assume if they're doing this (formation), that they're going to do that. Coach Martz has so many different things he can do. If you play your technique and don't get too caught up in the movement, you'll be fine."

The Vikings believe, however, that despite the multiple receivers, the myriad of different formations and the overloading of players to one side on a given play, that this is information that can be gleaned and stored away from watching what the Lions have done in the past.

"You don't see the same formation that often, but those have tendencies," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "They will often run the same route out of certain formations, so you game plan for some of those things. You can do all the study you can to prepare yourself, but you still have to play fundamental football."

For Griffin, that's going to mean treating Johnson the same he does Detroit's "other" receiver – Pro Bowler Roy Williams.

"I'm going to come in with the attitude that he's just like Roy," Griffin said. "I know how Roy plays and what he doesn't like. I'll treat (Johnson) the same way I treat Roy. He's a big receiver. With those big guys, you can get your hands on them easier and slow them up off the line. While they both have very good speed, they're long striders that need some time to get to full speed. If you can get on the line and get in his, you can fluster him a little bit. You may not shut him down on every play, but you can let him know that he's going to be in for a long day."

The Vikings are looking to fight Detroit's fire with a flame of their own. The Lions are pinning the double-digit-win predictions on the strength of their offense. The Vikings are pinning much of their postseason aspirations on a defense that makes big plays and intimidates opposing offenses into doing what they want them to do. Something will have to give Sunday and, if the Vikings secondary has its way, it won't be the Lions rookie making the big plays to end the current 10-game losing streak against Minnesota.

"You can intimidate someone if he allows himself to be intimidated," Sharper said. "I don't think just because he's a young receiver that you can expect the he'll be intimidated by us. Any receiver that comes in your area, you want to let him know you're there. You don't want him to have the feeling that he can just go out and catch the ball and not have to deal with the ramifications of being in your area."

There is little doubt that Johnson is going to be a star in the this league and that with Martz driving the runaway train that he's going to have his opportunities to make numerous highlight-film plays during his career. The Vikings just hope that his resume doesn't start getting padded on Sunday.


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