Notebook: Tightening The Tight Ends

The Vikings defense has given up a lot of receiving yards, mostly to wide receivers, but Sunday against the Bears the main passing threat is probably with Chicago's tight ends. Ben Leber and Dwight Smith weigh in with their perspectives on that, along with other notes and quotes in preparation for Sunday's Vikings-Bears tilt.

While Darren Sharper started a war of words with Chicago's two relatively successful tight ends this season – Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen – two other Vikings defenders had a slightly different take.

Strongside linebacker Ben Leber welcomes the chance to face an offense that isn't using a lot of three- and four-receiver sets. When an opposing offense has two tight ends on the field, more than likely that means Leber is on the field.

"I hope so. I hope they stick with that game plan and don't go with the four-wide and five-wide stuff. Much like Kansas City, I expect they are going to try to establish the run and that for me personally is going to be beneficial to get me on the field," Leber said.

Conversely, three and four wide receivers on the field means that Leber comes out and a defensive backs like Marcus McCauley or Charles Gordon comes in for him.

For safety Dwight Smith, a tight end gaining a lot of yardage on the Vikings is a personal affront.

"When Tony Gonzalez had 96 yards (against the Vikings in Week 3), I couldn't believe that because I don't understand when you have two safeties like me and Sharper how a tight end can catch the ball," Smith said. "Hopefully we've addressed that and it won't happen again."

If it does happen again, there is a good chance the Bears would be the team to exploit it. Last week against Green Bay, Clark caught three passes for a season-high 62 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He now has 12 catches for 164 yards and a nice 13.7-yard average.

Olsen also had a touchdown against the Packers last Sunday night, marking the first time since September 2006 that the Bears had two tight ends catch touchdown passes. Olsen appears to be quickly improving his production after working through a preseason knee injury.

"Obviously, we have to key into it, but I don't think it's going to be one of those things where it's going to be our sole purpose to go out there and shut down the tight ends," Leber said. "Obviously, they are a threat and we have to watch out for them, but as always, nothing changes for us – we've got to stop the run first."

That would mean shutting down big back Cedric Benson, who is averaging only 3.0 yards per carry this season but has a 4.6-yard average against the Vikings in three games.

Still, when it comes to the Vikings' Achilles Heel on defense, it has been the passing game, and for an offense like the Bears that has struggled, finding the tight end in the middle of the field can be the remedy it needs.

"If you look at tight end routes, normally they are between the hashes and over the middle of the field, so obviously that's the best throw for the quarterback," Leber said. "The hard throw is the outs and the deep corners, so you don't see a lot of tight ends running those routes. Maybe Gonzalez and Gates, but I think for a new quarterback trying to get his feet wet and get some experience and get in a rhythm, it's a safe throw with the tight end in the middle."

Smith said there is just too much pride between himself and Sharper to allow the Bears' tight ends to have a big day against them.

"Come on now, I played three years as a should-have-been Super Bowl MVP at corner, so if a tight end catches the ball, how should I feel?" he asked.


Viking Update also asked Smith about his days with Bears quarterback Brian Griese when they were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and how Griese compares now versus then.

"I haven't really seen him. I haven't seen him since he took over. I watched film of us against them last year because that's what they watch," Smith said. "Quarterbacks don't make no difference. It's just about schemes and where I'm supposed to go and what plays they run. It ain't got nothing to do with the quarterback."

Smith basically scouts himself, hoping that will help to reverse the tendencies that he showed against the Bears last year in an attempt to confuse them into throwing interceptions his way. It's a sort of reverse psychology.

‘We do a lot of trying to cheat plays we know. Like I said, that's what they're watching. They're watching film of us, so that's what I try to go back and watch to see what I was doing that they might have seen," he said.

In other words, it's all a big mind game?

"That's all it is. They want to know what you're thinking when they're thinking this. If I watch and see what I did last year, they're going to know what I did last year, so you try to go off that."


  • Leber said he believes the Bears made the switch from Rex Grossman to Griese because of the turnovers, but not necessarily just because of the interceptions Grossman was throwing. When Grossman was pulled, he had thrown six interceptions and one touchdown.

    "I think when it comes to turning the ball over with Grossman there, it was just center exchanges. I think hopefully for them, if you get a new guy in there you eliminate some of those turnovers. That would be a big help for them," Leber said. "I think Griese is probably going to come in and I don't think he's going to be too risky, make the safe thrown and obviously not try to turn the ball over."

  • Bears coach Lovie Smith said he believes their running game is about where it was last year at this time.

    "About this time last year our numbers are about the same. We had a slow start running the football, but we have a commitment to the run and I think that is what is important, especially early," Smith said. "If you say you are a running football team, you continue to run the football and we have done that, even though we haven't had that big rushing game so far, eventually we will."

    Leber believes the Bears are even more comfortable in their running game this year compared to last year, despite averaging only 3.1 yards per carry as a team.

    "I think they are still trying to establish the run," Leber said. "I think they are more comfortable now that they know who the running back is. Last year, I think they kind of flip-flopped a lot. They are comfortable now that they have the primary guy and they're going to try to run it."

    So far, Benson has 101 carries and the Bears' Adrian Peterson has 20. No other Bear has more than four carries.

  • The Bears have a six-game home winning streak against the Vikings, dating back to Oct. 15, 2000.

  • The Vikings are one of 11 teams with an all-time series edge (48-42-2) over Chicago.

  • Bears head coach Lovie Smith was the defensive backs coach at Ohio State during Antoine Winfield's freshman season there.

  • Former Vikings wide receiver Travis Taylor continues to look for work in the NFL, getting a tryout with the Buffalo Bills late last week.

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