Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


State of the secondary: A quick chat with defensive backs coach Joe Woods

Posted by: under Vikings, Packers, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin Updated: November 14, 2011 - 11:19 AM

The Vikings face a major challenge Monday night at Lambeau Field in their attempt to upset the undefeated Green Bay Packers. And perhaps no unit faces more pressure than the secondary, which has the daunting task of slowing the Packers' prolific passing attack. Aaron Rodgers went 24-for-30 for 335 yards and three touchdowns in his first meeting with the Vikings. Now, Rodgers is back on home turf and looking to continue his impressive season against a Vikings defensive backfield that has obvious holes.

Leading up to Monday night's rivalry clash, we caught up with defensive backs coach Joe Woods to ask him about his thoughts on Green Bay's passing attack. Woods was also kind enough to provide an in-house review of the Vikings' cornerbacks. Here's what he had to say ...

On how the Packers' rhythm can be demoralizing to a secondary ...
"The main thing is showing the tape and understanding what we’re going to see. And then it’s about executing their technique. You have to understand that they're going to make a lot of plays. You just hope you don’t give them the big ones. Rodgers is so dangerous because he’s an accurate passer and you can tell offensively, man they’re on rhythm. But even when plays break down, he makes plays with his feet. He moves in the pocket, he starts running, they have great scramble rules. He throws it down the field. And boom, they make plays."

On the frustration of delivering perfect coverage, yet still failing against Rodgers and the Packers ...
"Sometimes, they just hit you with great throws and great catches. You have to understand as a defensive back, you have to come back and make the play the next time."

On Rodgers' impressive mobility ...
"The play is going to be extended. So you better be ready to extend your coverage. We understand that and we address it whenever we play these guys. He will move. You have to stick to your coverage. You know guys are going to scramble deep, they’re going to scramble across the field. You have to stay with them."

On being short-handed against the Packers in Week 7 ...
"The guys who were playing had to understand the game plan. During the course of the week, obviously the guys we felt were going to play took the majority of reps. But in that situation, Marcus Sherels had to step up. Asher [Allen] had to step up. They’re both smart players who understood the game plan. And they both actually did a pretty good job of executing what we asked them to do."

On the value of having Antoine Winfield back in the lineup ...
"When you have a player of Antoine’s caliber, playing with him makes you feel good. Because you know he’s going to make the plays he’s supposed to make on game day. I think the guys around him feel heightened confidence because he’s in the huddle. He’s going to speak up when something happens, help make corrections. And that’s going to be valuable. We have a lot of belief in him, a lot of confidence as a football player."

On Winfield's veteran knowledge ...
"He understands from an offensive standpoint what the other teams are doing. He can help our younger guys if they’re having problems with different looks and showing them how they’re trying to attack them. Even when he wasn’t playing, he was on the sideline vocalizing what he saw. That’s what our guys know they’re going to get from Antoine. It’s ‘What did you see?’ And he’ll tell them, help them with adjustments."

On Asher Allen's growth ...
"Asher has stepped up big-time. He’s always had the ability. There were a few things he had to clean up in his game. And he’s accepted that challenge. And we’re starting to see it show up on the football field. That’s the biggest thing. If you can take it from practice to the field on Sunday, that’s when you’ll make the biggest improvements and make the plays you’re supposed to make. With Asher, there were a couple things technically, things he was doing with his technique. He knew it. He’s a strong guy. He likes to put his hands on people. At this level, you can’t use your hands past 5 yards down the field. And when he was in college, you can put your hands on a receiver all the way down the field as long as the ball’s not in the air. So that was one of the things he carried over from college that we really had to clean up with him. The other thing was tackling. He understood it. He’s strong, he’s physical, he has the explosiveness to tackle. He was just a little bit off in understanding the different types pf tackling techniques you need. With using his hands so much, it’s just drill work, creating muscle memory so that what you do in practice, whether it’s team work or 7-on-7, you try to check him, correct him and keep letting him know what he’s doing."

On second-year cornerback Marcus Sherels ...
"Marcus is a great guy to be around. He’s probably said 10 words since training camp. He may be quiet but he’s a guy who always shows up. He always understands what’s going on. He’s very smart. And he understands football. Before the first Green Bay game, we told him basically on Saturday morning that he’d be starting and playing a lot. We had to go over a full game plan with him, spent extra time after our walkthrough. He went into the game and had one technique error the whole game. He played great. Physically, we’ve always teased him. He was about 165 pounds when he walked in here. Then this offseason, man, he took care of business. He came in, he looked bulked up. And he’s always a guy who’s going to work. You don’t have to worry about him around the building because he’s always doing the things necessary to put himself on position to have success."

On Cedric Griffin's disappointing 2011 season to date ...
"The thing with Ced is he’s had an up-and-down season. He understands that. There are big plays he’s left out there in each game. He understands that. He’s seen it on tape. And we’ve asked him to correct it. But the thing I like about Ced is after his knee injuries, he’s never made excuses. He’s never mentioned the surgeries or complained about not being 100 percent or still trying to recover. He doesn’t like excuses. He just comes back to go to work and he tries to understand the mistakes he’s made. On this level, if you’re a fraction of a step slow, you can be beat. But I never know how much his knees are impacting him. I’m not him. I honestly don’t know where he’s at in his recovery. Because when you ask him about it, he says he’s fine. At the same time, you know he’s not back to 100 percent. He’s working at it and taking time to do extra rehab. And I think he’s close. He’s close."

On the attitude heading into Lambeau Field ...
"You always have a good feeling knowing you have an opportunity to win. We just have to play the best we can Monday night. We’re familiar with Green Bay. They’re familiar with us. It’s all about execution and doing your job. Our guys are confident in the game plan we have. We have to make plays we’re supposed to make. One thing I remind our guys, when you have a team with as many weapons as Green Bay does, they can still only throw the ball to one guy on each play. So with all those weapons, we have to make sure from our standpoint that we get a feel for the different looks like they’re going to give us. I’m familiar with those guys. I was with Greg Jennings for three years when I was coaching at Western Michigan. I know the guy. I know what he’s capable of. You just have to step up and make your plays. Jennings is such a fluid route runner with great ball skills. Really attacks the ball when it’s in the air. You have to be on you’re a-game. He’s such a well-rounded receiver who does it well."

On the skill set of troubled cornerback Chris Cook, currently exiled from the team ...
"Chris obviously is a big corner who has little man skills. You look at Antoine and he has a lot of quickness and burst and acceleration. Chris Cook has similar traits, but he’s 6-foot-2. That’s what excites me about him. And he’s developed. He was a young guy coming in and we threw him into the fire. He had an injury late last season. But when he came back this year, he was ready to go. You could tell he cared. You could see he was dedicated and you could see that in his play early this season."

On Cook's personality ...
"The biggest thing I can say with Chris is in my experiences dealing with him, in our building, during game situations, he’s been a very dedicated young man. He’s matured. When he came in, he was a typical rookie who had to learn things on the run. But you could see as he learned and gained experience, he was growing. I’ve never had issues with Chris as far as football-related stuff goes. Now, we have to wait and see. He’s a kid who has made obvious mistakes. But with all young guys, you have to show them that you still believe in them, correct the things they’ve done wrong football-wise. When we did that with Chris, he got better."

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