Notebook: Coach wants to see defense apply pressure on Jay Cutler
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Chicago Bears have rebounded in a big way since quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times in a 32-7 loss at San Francisco in Week 11.
The Vikings had only one sack on Jay Cutler, who missed the 49ers' game because of a concussion, in the Bears' 28-10 win in Week 12 and last Sunday the Seahawks did not get to Cutler once, although Seattle did win the game, 23-17, in overtime.
Coach Leslie Frazier isn't worried about sacks on Sunday when the Vikings play host to Chicago, but he does want to see his defense apply consistent pressure on Cutler.
"Our d-line, along with our defense, will have to play well," Frazier said Wednesday. (The Bears) are doing some things better on offense. ... They've changed their philosophy offensively to cut down on the sacks. They realized what their problems were and they made a smart move. We have to offset that with some of the things we're going to try to do.
"It's not just our d-line. We've got to do some things to get (Cutler) to hold the football a little bit and we're going to try to counter that strategy. We may not get the sacks because of what they're doing now with the short passing game. But we've got to hit that quarterback. We've got to find a way to hit him and make him aware that our defense is on the field. We might not get the sack numbers but we've got to find a way to hit him."
The Vikings' only sack against the Bears at Soldier Field came when Cutler tripped. The sack was credited to Fred Evans. Defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the Vikings with nine sacks, was shutout in that game.
"We threw a lot of different blocking schemes at him," Cutler said of Allen. "We threw a fullback at him. We chipped with a tight end. We got rid of the ball quickly. Ran the ball efficiently. We've just got to do those things and do more of it."
Said Allen when asked about the Bears' blocking schemes: "We saw a lot of max protection from a lot of different looks, and the intermediate passing game is tough. We went back and put a clock on it and I think there was only two or three times the whole game when (Cutler) held the ball more than about 2½ seconds. That intermediate passing game was clutch and then they did some things like bootlegging and max protecting from different looks chipping in and out with the tight ends and running backs.
"That makes it tough. But the biggest thing is they had a lead the whole time so there's no need for them to spread out, no need for them to create one-on-ones. Very rarely were they in third-and-longs, so when you have a lead and you're not threatened that way there's no need for you to take shots down the field or I should say unprotected shots down the field. We have to do a better job of getting off the field on third down and forcing them to have to play at distances that can take some of that away."
Allen's not worried
Allen was fined $21,000 after the Vikings' loss to the Bears for a third-quarter hit on Lance Louis that knocked the Chicago guard out for the rest of the season.
Allen hit Louis with a block following an interception by Antoine Winfield. Louis did not see Allen coming and his leg got stuck in the turf as he was hit. Louis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Allen was criticized by several Bears for the hit, and coach Lovie Smith made it clear he was not happy.
So two weeks later is Allen expecting the Bears to be looking to even the score?
"No, I mean they had a chance to retaliate during the game," he said Wednesday during a conference call with Chicago reporters. "Like I said, there's nothing to retaliate. It wasn't vicious, it wasn't malicious, it wasn't done out of ill will. We had an interception, a guy was running toward our guy to make a tackle and I threw a block.
"Again my condolences to him. My intent was not to hurt him, you never want to hurt anybody. Unfortunately that's part of our game and it happened. But you don't go into a game wondering what if."
While the hit might not have been intentionally malicious, some perceived it to be that way.
"Look at the block, I didn't hit him in the head, I hit him with my shoulder," Allen said. "I have no way of foreseeing that his knee is going to go out, but I understand why people would get upset. I apologized for the fact that I ended his season. You never want any of that to happen. I've been in situations in Detroit where a guy (Gosder Cherilus) comes and knifes my knee. That was intent to knife my knee. Luckily, I was able to play through it and the league didn't finds any malicious intent in that. Again, I play the game pure.
"My integrity in this game to me I don't worry about. The guys around the league who know me know that I play hard, I play to the whistle and I'm not a malicious guy. I've never tried to intentionally hurt a guy on the field."
Frazier said the Vikings have a lot of respect for Smith and his staff and don't expect any type of retaliation against Allen.
Cutler indicated the Allen hit was in the past.
"It was unfortunate that Lance tore his ACL," Cutler said. "I don't think Jared is that type of player. I don't think he was out intentionally to hurt anybody. I played against him when we were in Denver and he was with the Chiefs and obviously now in Minnesota. You don't want those things to happen. We wish he would have hit him a little lower but it didn't happen. We can't worry about it. We've got enough on our plate as is to worry about those types of things."
Harvin, Allen sit
Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) and Allen (back and shoulder) did not practice on Wednesday for the Vikings.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph (shoulder), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee), center John Sullivan (ribs and knee) and cornerback Antoine Winfield (knee) were all limited.
Frazier said there is no concern that Allen's back issue will cause him to miss Sunday's game. "His injury is not to the extent that it would keep him out of the ballgame," Frazier said. "We've just got to be smart in how we utilize him in practice this week. But he should be fine on Sunday."
The Bears, meanwhile, declared middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) as out for Sunday's game.
Five Chicago players did not take part in practice, including wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), running back Michael Bush (ribs), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), wide receiver Brandon Marshall (coach's decision) and defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot).
Limited were offensive linemen Gabe Carimi (hamstring) and Chris Spencer (knee) and wide receivers Devin Hester (concussion) and Alshon Jeffery (knee).
Nothing to prove
The Vikings have lost four of five since a 5-2 start and are in jeopardy of falling below .500 on Sunday for the first time this season. Coming off a 3-13 season, this has left many to conclude that Frazier's team is basically done.
Frazier was asked if the Vikings had something to prove on Sunday in order to change that opinion.
"I don't know if the word (is) proving," he said. "I didn't use that when I talked with them. I just talked to them about the fact we're playing at home in front of our fans and the importance of winning games at home. Now, of course, the fact that this is an NFC North opponent, that brings extra significance in that regard. But that was the message. Playing at home, NFC North opponent, got to find a way to get a win."
Quarterback Christian Ponder pointed out the Vikings are 5-1 at home this season. The Vikings haven't played in the Metrodome since a 34-24 victory on Nov. 11 over Detroit and will have a two-game road trip after Sunday.
"We're excited to be back home and play in front of our home crowd, which is obviously an advantage for us," Ponder said. "(We're) doing some things to improve this week. Obviously we know the importance of this game and how it plays in the rest of our season."
Looking for improvement
Frazier has spent plenty of time in recent weeks talking about winning the turnover battle but his words don't seem to be carrying over into games. Last Sunday, Ponder threw two critical interceptions in the second half of his team's 23-14 loss at Green Bay.
Two weeks ago against the Bears, Ponder had one pick and the Vikings lost two fumbles.
"We learned a lot from that first ballgame," against the Bears, Frazier said. "We understand that the turnovers are critical. Being able to control that and not turn the football over. We've seen that time and time again. For us this season, when we've fallen short, it's usually because of the fact we finished minus in the turnovers."
Frazier also wants to see improvement on third down from his team on both sides of the ball.
"We know we've got to be better on third down, so we're going to work on that," he said. "Both on offense and defense, doing the things we've got to do there to improve. But there are a number of things we need to do better than we did the first time we played them and we're going to work on them throughout this week."
The Bears were 11-for-19 (58 percent) on third down in the first meeting between these two teams. The Vikings were 6-for-16 (38 percent).
Ponder confirmed that he and ESPN reporter Samantha Steele recently got engaged. "Obviously, the rumors are true," he said. "But we're focused on the Bears this week, and obviously, we're excited about that."