Vikings defense wants to turn things around
EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- Not all concerns in Minnesota these days have to do with Brett Favre and Brad Childress.
The quarterback-coach confrontation has gotten the headlines, but Minnesota's struggling defense has quietly become an issue. Despite ranking eighth in the league defensively, the Vikings have played poorly in losses to Carolina and Arizona the past three weeks.
The defense should get a much-needed jolt on Monday when the Vikings (11-3) face the free-falling Bears, a team with little offensive firepower. Chicago is 29th in NFL rushing offense, 19th in passing and 31st in both interceptions (26) and total giveaways (33).
The Bears (5-9) averaged just 235 yards of offense in the past five games, including a season-worst 169 yards in a 36-10 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 29. Chicago had 2 total yards in 12 plays during the second half of that game.
"It's going to be a tough environment, tough weather and it's going to be a great challenge for us," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "A division game right now is what we need because we know they're going to punch us in the mouth and we know we'll have to come out there ready to fight. It's Week 16. We've got to go out and play better."
If Minnesota wins and Philadelphia loses, the Vikings -- who have already clinched the NFC North -- would get the second seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
"The way the season taxes on you, it's going to be a great feeling if you get that," said linebacker Ben Leber. "You get a chance to get your body right and your mind right and, I think statistically, teams fare better off with a first-round bye."
In the three games before Arizona, the Vikings allowed an average of 226 yards and just 9.7 points. In the last three games, those numbers have jumped to 335 yards and 22 points.
"We're going to get this thing fixed. We can't lose sight of who we are. We're division champs," Leber said. "We've worked so hard to get here and we can't let one or two losses overshadow that."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said the seven-man fronts have to be better at getting to the quarterback, relieving some pressure on a secondary that allowed 299 yards passing last week to Matt Moore.
More concerning for the Vikings was the sloppy tackling that allowed Jonathan Stewart to rush for 109 yards for Carolina, the first time in 36 games a ball carrier cleared the century mark against Minnesota. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams estimated the team missed 15 tackles.
"The back that we are playing this week (Matt Forte) is a capable guy as well," Frazier said. "We will have to tackle well. The same with their receivers. (Devin) Hester is a guy who is capable also. We will have to tackle him."
That led to a back-to-the-basics session this week.
"Other than that you just have to take it upon yourself to be better," said safety Tyrell Johnson, who often appeared indecisive after missing one game due to a concussion. "We will be better this week."
In his first game back after missing six weeks with a right foot injury, cornerback Antoine Winfield was nearly unstoppable against Cincinnati with 10 tackles and a forced fumble. The Carolina game was a much different story, including three missed tackles and falling down on a 42-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-26 play.
"He will bounce back. We've got to do some things to help him as well," Frazier said. "I've got to do some things to help him in certain situations. I'm not worried about Antoine."
Minnesota lost stellar middle linebacker E.J. Henderson to a broken leg in the Arizona game, elevating rookie Jasper Brinkley to a starting role.
"It's coming along. Obviously, the more reps you get the better you play," Brinkley said. "I've been getting good comments from my teammates. It all comes along with confidence."