Sunday slant: Hitting the corners

The Vikings will try to limited Calvin Johnson's effectiveness, but their cornerbacks aren't going to back down from a challenge in stopping the run either. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin showed their hard-nosed style last week by temporarily sidelining both of the Browns' running backs with hard knocks and received high praise for the big hits last week.

How will Antoine Winfield's height disadvantage hold up against Calvin Johnson? How far has Cedric Griffin come in his coverage skills? Those are both legitimate questions as the Vikings prepare for one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL these days.

But lost at times in all the talk about the Vikings' cornerbacks and their coverage ability is their impassioned hitting ability – a necessity in the defense's Cover-2 zone concepts.

"For us, that's a premium. You've got to be able to support the run in our defense in order for us to be effective as a defense," defensive coordinator and former NFL cornerback Leslie Frazier said. "If we don't get that or we don't see that in a corner when we are evaluating corners, whether it be for the draft or free agency, that knocks him down a notch in our eyes. Although he may have great cover ability – he may have tremendous numbers from an interception standpoint – if he can't tackle that's an issue for us."

That isn't an issue for the Vikings of late. They have made a point to draft and sign physical cornerbacks and that's what they've ended up with in Griffin and Winfield. Their impact was especially felt on two big-time hits in the regular-season opener.

The Browns came into the game with only two running backs active – accomplished rock-pounder Jamal Lewis and a younger James Davis. Both were temporarily knocked out of the game by each of the Vikings' big-sticking cornerbacks.

In the second quarter, Lewis broke a run to the left and headed downfield near the sideline. Griffin met the big back with a vicious blow that put Lewis on his back with an apparent stinger and sent him to the sideline for one play after an injury timeout. Lewis wasn't even practicing this Wednesday because of a neck injury.

Vikings coach Brad Childress complimented Lewis as a hard runner but called Griffin's hit on him a "nose to nose and toes to toes blow."

Early in the fourth quarter, the diminutive Winfield put a lick on Davis after a 1-yard pass reception that temporarily knocked Davis out of the game. Both of Cleveland's running backs were on the injury report heading into this weekend's games.

"He's 5-8, 185 and he hits like a 300-pound player. I just try to do the same thing," said Griffin. "I was known as a big hitter coming out of college. I'm fortunate enough to be on the same team with another great hitter and we're just a tandem right now who loves to hit and we're going to try to keep that up."

Frazier took it one step further.

"We feel like we have the two best tackling corners in the National Football League in both Antoine and Cedric Griffin, bar-none," he said. "I've had coaches call me to tell me that they put on Antoine's tape to show their corners how to be a complete corner, just to give you an idea of the respect that Antoine has throughout the league. And to me, Cedric is an outstanding tackling corner as well. He has improved on his coverage, and to me, we have the best two tackling corners in the league."

The cornerbacks have been part of the reason the Vikings have possessed the No. 1 rushing defense in the league the last three years "running," which is an NFL-record streak.

Cornerbacks who haven't been as physical have come and gone in recent years. Fred Smoot had the talk, but he didn't have the muscle or the desire to be a good physical fit for the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense. Marcus McCauley was drafted in the third round in 2007, but without playing many special teams and not showing the desire to mix it up with hard-charging running backs, he was released.

Childress has referred to his cornerbacks being able to "stick a knife in a reverse," and it seems that those unable to do that don't last long in the defense that is becoming known for its own version of Hard Knocks.


Winfield's all-around game at cornerback finally earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl following the 2008 season. Griffin has been working on his coverage and ball skills as well, and that showed up in the Vikings' only interception in the opener.

Brady Quinn dropped to pass in the Browns' first series of the second half and didn't read the coverage the same way as his receiver, Braylon Edwards. Edwards broke inside and the only player tracking the ball into his hands was Griffin, who made a nice over-the-shoulder interception.

"That interception he made in that ball game, and even the one he made against Philadelphia (in the playoffs last year), I would say a couple years ago Cedric Griffin probably would not make those types of plays," Frazier said. "He has worked so hard on improving his ball skills and then working as hard as he has on improving his cover ability. It's showing up in his play. He does a much better job in his man coverage than he once did and his confidence level is extremely high."


Brett Favre knows the perception that people have of him and his inability to make up his mind when it comes to retirement. He also knows how to capitalize on that by panning himself.

Favre talked about that last week when Detroit reporters asked him about a Sears commercial he filmed in which he was trying to decide which TV to buy. The store worker describes customers that can't make up their mind and Favre replies that he hates those kinds of people.

"You got to have a sense of humor. You got to have some resiliency and you got to have fun with the game itself," Favre said.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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