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  Minnesota Vikings - Team Report
December 30, 2011
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The Vikings would like a victory to separate themselves from the Les Steckel-led 1984 team that finished 3-13. Defensive end Jared Allen would like 4.5 sacks to overtake Michael Strahan as the NFL single-season record-holder.

Perhaps the two can work together against the Bears in Sunday's season finale at Mall of America Field.

Despite their 3-12 record, the Vikings still rank No. 4 in sacks per pass play while Allen leads the league with a career-high 18.5 sacks. The Bears, who have lost five straight to fall out of the playoffs at 7-8, have one of the worst pass-protection units in the league, ranking 25th in sacks allowed per pass play.

Allen will primarily face left tackle J'Marcus Webb, although Webb is sure to have help from running backs chipping him and tight ends doubling him. Allen saw extra attention in the first meeting on Oct. 16 at Soldier Field, but still had one sack in a 39-10 loss.

Allen, who was the only Viking named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, said he's still within striking distance of Strahan.

"Absolutely," he said. "I'm four away. Absolutely, that's within reach. That's such a tough thing to get to because so much goes into a sack. ... The guy has to hold the ball. You got to get the blocking you need. But it's always possible. I've gotten four in a game before."

Actually, Allen got 4.5 at home against the Packers in a Monday Night Football game two years ago.

"I said my prayers this week," Allen said. "I said, `Lord, I'm going to do my part. If it's Your will, please let it happen.' I'm going to go out and try to play as hard as I can.

"I'm trying to keep the lead for the league and see what happens. I'm trying to win a game, so hopefully we can win a game and leave this place on a positive note."

Allen holds the league lead by half sack over Philadelphia's Jason Babin and Dallas' DeMarcus Ware. Allen also is pursuing the team record for sacks in a season. Chris Doleman set the mark of 21 in 1989.

Allen, who came into the league as a long snapper in 2004, said he wasn't watching Strahan's pursuit of the record in 2001. He has, however, watched the replay of Strahan's record-breaking sack. You know, the one in which then Packers quarterback Brett Favre flopped for him.

"Brett, man, c'mon," Allen said with a smile. "A sack is a sack is a sack. I don't care how you get it. I'm just hoping I get some of that too.

"Hey, McCown, feel free to trip and fall and I'll touch you. It doesn't have to be painful."

SERIES HISTORY: 101st regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 52-46-2. The Vikings are 3-1 at home the past four seasons, including last year's 40-14 loss at nearby TCF Bank Stadium. The game had to be moved to that open-air venue because the roof of the Metrodome had collapsed during a snowstorm. The teams also met once in a 1994 NFC Wild Card game, with the Bears winning 35-18 at the Metrodome.



PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES



--Mike Tice will be in the Metrodome six years to the day that he was fired as Vikings coach following a season-ending victory over the Bears on that very same field. Now the Bears' offensive line coach, Tice finished that 2005 season with a 9-7 record following a 34-10 win over a playoff-bound Bears team that rested most of its starters. But the wins weren't enough to offset scandals that included Tice being caught for scalping Super Bowl tickets and the players' wild sex party aboard a chartered boat during the team's bye week.

The firing was awkward, to say the least. Owner Zygi Wilf had said Tice's status would be discussed the following day. But within 30 minutes of the final gun, Wilf and his brother, Mark, informed Tice that his contract would not be renewed. A two-paragraph statement was distributed throughout the locker room to reporters and the few players who were still left. Tice had already addressed the players before the Wilfs fired him.

"Whoa, that's crazy," said kick returner Koren Robinson. "In the locker room? Right after a game you just won? Give the man respect enough to wait until Monday to enjoy the win at least." Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper crumpled up the release and threw it on the floor, declining comment.

Said Tice, who had coached three of his four seasons under the frugal watch of previous owner Red McCombs: "It's a shame I'm not going to be able to work with the Wilfs. I think they're going to be top-notch owners. ... I'm very proud with a lot of the things we've accomplished with the things we've been given to work with. Of course, I'm hurt. I'm a man, not a machine." Tice finished his Vikings head coaching career with a 33-34 record, including 1-1 in the postseason.

--The final play of Brett Favre's 20-year career came against the Bears in a Monday Night Football game in Week 16 a year ago. Favre had been ruled out because of a shoulder injury two days before, but was a surprise starter as the teams played outdoors at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium because of the Metrodome's roof collapse. Favre completed 5 of 7 passes with a 23-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin and an interception before leaving with a concussion caused when his head was slammed to the frozen turf by rookie defensive end Corey Wootton. Bears coach Lovie Smith wasn't happy that Favre played after being ruled out. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler expected it, saying, "We had a few friendly wagers in the quarterback room that he'd be out there. I wasn't surprised at all."

--Vikings fans still refer to Chicago as the "tough-guy town," thanks to the approach Tice took heading into the teams' 2003 meeting in Chicago. Tice, now the Bears' offensive line coach, was searching for ways to stop what eventually became a 3-7 season-ending slide that cost the Vikings a playoff spot after a 6-0 start. Tice decided the team needed to act tougher, so he came out and basically said the team was going to run the ball all day long. During a press conference, he said "Chicago is a tough-guy town" and went on to say that it would take brute force to win in a tough-guy town. Well, the Vikings ran the ball. Onterrio Smith had 148 yards rushing. But the approach also shortened the game and gave the Vikings' offense fewer possessions in a 13-10 loss. Audio clips of Tice calling Chicago a "tough-guy town" are still played in Minnesota. To his credit, Tice, who was fired in 2005, played along with it when some poked fun at him. He did a radio spot in which he named several cities in Minnesota. After each one, Tice's "tough-guy town" clip was played.

--RB Toby Gerhart has power, a few more moves than you'd expect and decent speed. But he's no Adrian Peterson or Joe Webb when he breaks free downfield. Gerhart had the team's season-long run of 67 yards last week at Washington. But he was so gassed at the end of the run that he was caught inside the 20.

"When I came through the line, there was nothing but air in my face," Gerhart said. "But by the end of the run, it seemed like the field was tilted up a little bit."

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-5 - Vikings record within the NFC North heading into Sunday's game against the Bears. The Vikings have never gone an entire season without a win within their division.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The fact we haven't won a division game makes you want to throw up." -- DE Jared Allen, when asked what it would feel like to go 0-6 in the NFC North.



STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Vikings will be without left guard Steve Hutchinson, who was placed on injured reserve because of a concussion. But at this point in Hutchinson's career, the dropoff to backup Joe Berger might not be all that great. Berger, a natural center who can play each of the interior line positions, started in place of Hutchinson last week. The Vikings ran for 241 yards on 38 carries (6.3).

Berger, the former Dolphin who was signed in Week 2 to provide a big, experienced interior backup, has started six games at three positions this year. He started at center for one game - when the Vikings had 435 yards of offense, their second-highest total of the season - four games at right guard and last week at left guard.

On defense, the Vikings get cornerback Asher Allen back as a starter. He cleared his league-mandated concussion exam and returned to practice on Wednesday. At this point, Allen is the best cover guy in a depleted secondary. And that's saying something, considering he came into the season as a dime back and third-stringer at left corner.

The Vikings might be able to start veteran Cedric Griffin alongside Allen and use Benny Sapp as the nickel back. Griffin was benched three weeks ago against Detroit and then lost his starting job the following week against the Saints. He's struggled to return from two torn ACLs the past two years, but was benched because he wasn't following the calls from the sideline. At Detroit, he didn't play a press technique, allowing the speedy Titus Young to race untouched down the field to grab a 57-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown. He was benched the next series and didn't play until two weeks later.

Against the Redskins last Saturday, Griffin started because Allen was out with the concussion. Griffin was praised by coach Leslie Frazier for his effort and for playing the calls that were made from the sideline. It certainly sounds as if Griffin has warranted another start at right corner.

PLAYER NOTES

--LB Chad Greenway added to his career-high tackle total with 12 against the Redskins. He has 45 more tackles than any other Viking, so he will lead the team in tackles for a fourth consecutive season.

--P Chris Kluwe played in his 110th consecutive game, adding to his franchise record for a punter. The next longest streak was 94 games by Greg Coleman. Kluwe had another punt downed inside the 20 at Washington. He now has a career franchise record 174 punts inside the 20.

--K Ryan Longwell has played in 239 career games, 95 with the Vikings and 144 with the Packers. His missed extra point at Washington on Saturday was only his 10th miss in 639 attempts.

--FS Mistral Raymond had the team's first interception in 10 weeks when he picked off Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman on Saturday. Raymond, a rookie, also had seven tackles, tying a career high set the week before against the Saints.

--DT Kevin Williams was especially active against the Redskins. The former All-Pro began the year with a two-game league suspension. He also battled plantar fasciitis in his left foot throughout training camp and early in the season. At Washington, he tied a season high for tackles (seven). He also had a sack and two quarterback pressures.

INJURY IMPACT

--LG Steve Hutchinson (concussion) was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. He'll be replaced by Joe Berger, a valuable and dependable interior backup. Berger will be making his seventh start of the season. He started once at center, four times at right guard and will be filling in for Hutchinson for the second consecutive week.

--QB Christian Ponder (concussion) passed the league-mandated exam and returned to practice on Wednesday. He was running with the first team during the portion of practice that was open to the media. It's a stretch to say Ponder gives the team a better chance to win than backup Joe Webb, but the team has much more invested in the first-round pick than Webb, a sixth-round pick.

--CB Asher Allen (concussion) passed the league-mandated exam and returned to practice on Wednesday. At this point, the former dime back is the best cover guy in the team's depleted secondary.

--RG Anthony Herrera missed Wednesday's practice because of a lower back injury. He probably will play. If he doesn't, rookie Brandon Fusco, a raw sixth-round pick from Division II Slippery Rock, would start. Fusco filled in some for Herrera in the win at Washington.

--SS Jamarca Sanford was limited in Wednesday's practice because of a shoulder injury. He's expected to play. If he doesn't, the team would turn to Jarrad Page, a veteran who was out of work a month ago.

GAME PLAN: The Vikings should be able to pressure the Bears without the threat of quarterback Josh McCown burning them with deep balls. McCown, the Bears' third quarterback of the season, threw a dink-and-dunk game at the Packers in Sunday night's loss. The key will be stopping Khalil Bell, who has proven to be a legitimate threat at running back since stepping in for the injured Matt Forte and Marion Barber. Bell is averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 62 attempts. He's also a threat to catch the ball. If the Vikings can contain him, McCown could be in danger behind an offensive line that's leaky in pass protection and not very strong in the running game.

Offensively, the Vikings know exactly what the Bears do on defense. It's the same thing the Vikings do. A vanilla Tampa 2-based scheme. Like the Vikings, the Bears don't have enough pieces to play the scheme as well as it's designed to be played. Even though they're without the injured Adrian Peterson (knee), the Vikings will still try to run the ball with powerful backup Toby Gerhart. The Bears' defensive line, outside of right end Julius Peppers, isn't as sturdy as it used to be. The safeties also are weak, but the Vikings don't have the deep threat to push the ball down the field consistently. So they'll have to try and run the ball, stop the run and pressure McCown into making some mistakes.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings LDE Brian Robison, who has a career-high seven sacks, vs. Bears RT Lance Louis, who has given up seven sacks this season. Obviously, all eyes and a lot of the Bears' attention will be on RDE Jared Allen, who has a career-high 18.5 sacks. But Robison also can rush the passer, and Louis is the Bears' worst pass-blocking lineman. In the first meeting back on Oct. 16, Louis got help from backs and tight ends as Robison was held without a sack. Being at the Metrodome will help the Vikings' pass rush. In last week's win at Washington, Robison had a sack, strip and fumble recovery on one play.

Vikings SS Jamarca Sanford and FS Mistral Raymond, who have three of the team's seven interceptions this season, vs. Bears QB Josh McCown, Chicago's third starting quarterback of the season and a familiar no-name QB to Vikings fans. The Vikings' 2003 season ended with McCown knocking them out of the playoffs as time expired in the season finale at Arizona. McCown, who was with the Cardinals at the time, threw up a pass on fourth-and-25 from the Vikings' 28-yard line. Nathan Poole came down with it just out of bounds, but officials ruled that he was forced out of bounds by defensive backs Denard Walker and Brian Russell. The play was reviewed to make sure Poole maintained possession, which he did. The Vikings had been in first place the entire season, but were knocked out of the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The Cardinals finished 4-12. The Vikings joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to start a season 6-0 and miss the playoffs. In his first start since 2007 with the Raiders, McCown completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Sunday night's 35-21 loss to the Packers.

   
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