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Three midweek topics: Vikings at Bears

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • November 21, 2012 - 7:06 PM
Admit it. At some point today, you'll sit with relatives and discuss the possibility of the Vikings in the playoffs. And admit it, back in June, the thought of a 2012 Vikings-in-the-playoffs discussion over Thanksgiving dinner seemed as likely as Herman Cain winning the presidency. But here we are in Week 12 and the Vikings are one of eight teams in the NFC with a winning record, preparing for a high-stakes division game Sunday in Chicago. But wait, there's more. Here's a trio of other things you should know.

 

1. Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings received quality tutelage early in his career from a young coach named Alan Williams.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said as much Wednesday, crediting Williams for polishing Jennings' skills when the duo worked together in Indianapolis from 2006-09.

Now Jennings is in the middle of a breakout year, leading the league with eight interceptions.

The Colts drafted him in the second round in 2006 and Williams, then the defensive backs coach in Indy, was immediately excited to begin the development.

Yes, Jennings was on the small side (5-foot-7 1/2, 183 pounds) coming out of Georgia. But ...

"He was fast, he had great hands, he had the ability to create turnovers," Williams said. "Also, for a guy of his stature, he was a physical player."

Jennings is fearless and displays a good combination of quickness and awareness in coverage. Williams, now the Vikings defensive coordinator, said patience was key as Jennings grew as an NFL corner.

"What you see now is not what we saw when he stepped in the door," Williams said. "You knew he had talent and he showed that in flashes. ... He had all the traits. Now he's producing on a high, consistent level."

Even a year ago, Jennings was benched late in the season, in part, because he wasn't maximizing opportunities to make big plays. Now he's snatching everything in sight.

Said Smith: "He's worked extremely hard on the simple fundamental of catching the ball."

 

2. Adrian Peterson will be making his sixth visit to Soldier Field, where he's had mixed results.

In five games in Chicago, Peterson has averaged 19 carries and 106 yards with eight total touchdowns. His first outing at Soldier Field as a rookie in 2007 produced a 224-yard, three-touchdown explosion in a 34-31 win.

Last year? The Vikings were buried 5 minutes into the second half when Devin Hester returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Peterson touched the ball only once more during a 12-carry, 39-yard night.

But Peterson might just be better now than ever before. Coach Leslie Frazier admits he's increasingly impressed with Peterson's burst, cutting ability and improving hands.

There's also his patience.

"[In the past] he'd always look to hit the home run," Frazier said. "And sometimes that would create negative plays. Now he's truer to his reads."

The Vikings also realize that seeing a flurry of eight-man fronts designed to contain Peterson isn't necessarily a bad thing. If Peterson can knife through that first level, there's not much help on the back end. Which helps explain why he's had runs of 60 yards or more in each of the past three games.

"It can be feast or famine," Frazier said. "It's good for us when our guys hold a block because we know there's a chance for a home run every single play."

 

3. The last time the Vikings faced a shaken offensive line, their defense flourished.

If you need evidence of Chicago's ineptitude up front, call up any series from Monday's 32-7 drubbing in San Francisco. Jason Campbell was battered all night, absorbing six sacks and 11 hits.

For the season, the Bears have given up 34 sacks. Only Arizona (44) has done worse. And five weeks ago, the Vikings defense tore through the Cardinals' line for seven sacks while also creating two takeaways.

A similar game plan may be in place Sunday. The Vikings will devote significant attention to receiver Brandon Marshall -- as they did with Larry Fitzgerald in Week 7. They'll also ask the defensive line to create pressure without needing blitz help.

Williams is more fearful of Chicago's running game with Matt Forte than he was of Arizona's. So the Vikings won't be able to keep both safeties deep all afternoon. But they still should have a chance to bring plenty of heat.

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