Notebook: Corner Cedric Griffin's rough night is cause for concern
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The absence of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield the past two games because of a neck injury made it logical that his replacement, Chris Cook, would get picked on at the left corner.
But it was right corner Cedric Griffin who found himself a frequent target of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the Minnesota Vikings' 39-10 loss on Sunday night at Soldier Field.
What had to concern the Vikings was that the Bears had plenty of success going at a guy who tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in each knee in each of the past two seasons.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said that Griffin did a "good job" in the Vikings' victory over Arizona on Oct. 9, but expressed concern about what happened Sunday.
"We really thought he had turned a corner physically," Frazier said Monday. "But he's had some up and down moments over the course of this season, so we have to continue to look at where he is and what he's doing and see how we can help him and whether we can help him. We'll just continue to evaluate his progress."
A week ago Frazier was most pleased that the Vikings were able to limit Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to four receptions for 66 yards.
But Griffin's problems in Chicago started early Sunday when he appeared to be beaten on the Bears' first touchdown as speedy Devin Hester raced past him and caught a 48-yard pass from Cutler. However, the responsibility for that score was more on safety Husain Abdullah than Griffin.
Griffin's rough moments actually started just before the Hester touchdown when he gave up a 17-yard completion to Roy Williams on second down. Griffen was then the closest man to Johnny Knox on an out that went for 14 yards.
The worst came in the second quarter when Griffin didn't get within 5 yards of Hester in man coverage, enabling the wide receiver to catch a crossing route that went for 23 yards on third-and-13.
"We need (Griffin) to play better in order for us to improve as a defense and as a team," Frazier said. "He's one of those guys that we have to get to come, and come fast if he's going to help our team win."
While Griffin's attempt to return from two ACL surgeries is commendable, he has been very guarded this season when asked about his situation.
Frazier gave no indication that Griffin could be benched, but once Winfield returns there is a possibility that Cook could take over as the starter on the right side.
Griffin's job won't get any easier on Sunday when the Vikings face a Green Bay Packers offense that is third in the NFL with an average of 325.2 yards passing per game.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads in the NFL with 17 touchdown passes and is third in the league with 2,031 yards passing.
Cook's locker is near Griffin's at Winter Park, but when asked if his teammate has talked about whether he's 100 percent, Cook said that conversation has not taken place.
"He hasn't said anything to me about it," Cook said. "I just try to keep him confident and try to reassure him that he can play this game. I know guys are kind of picking on him this year. I know how it feels to be picked on.
"I was picked on a little last year when I came back from injury. You've just got to stay confident. You can't let it get you down. It's going to happen. It's the life of a corner. Guys are going to come at you if they think you're even a little bit down. That's just the reality of being a corner."
Ready to return?
It remains to be seen if Winfield will be able to return against the Packers.
"Antoine contributes a lot," Cook said. "He's one of the best players in the league. Even him being in (the league) 13, 14 years, he's still out there making plays, flying around. You see him showing up on tackles, pass breakups, interceptions, everything. He's an amazing player and when he's out there I feel like everybody's confidence goes up that much more."
If Winfield can't play against Green Bay that could spell real trouble, because the Vikings might need to employ their dime defense (six defensive backs) more than usual. Without Winfield, the likely corners in the dime would be Griffin, Cook, Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels.
The Vikings also could be shorthanded at safety if Jamarca Sanford can't pass the tests that players must take after suffering a concussion. Sanford was injured against the Bears, putting Tyrell Johnson in line to potentially start Sunday.
Offensive line issues
Sullivan departed in the second half because of a concussion and was replaced by Joe Berger.
Loadholt left because of inflammation in his knee. Frazier said an MRI came back negative, but acknowledged there is "some tendinitis" in Loadholt's knee.
Loadholt was replaced by Pat Brown.
Difference of opinion
Frazier wasn't happy with the performance of either his offensive or defensive lines on Sunday and said the Bears "didn't do a whole lot of things differently than what they did against Detroit," last Monday night at Ford Field.
That was an interesting comment, given it seemed as if Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz did provide Cutler with more protection against a Vikings defense that had 16 sacks entering the game and is tied for third in the NFL with 17.
Defensive end Brian Robison said the Bears probably used more maximum protection schemes Sunday than they had all season.
Defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the league with 9.5 sacks, wasn't surprised, given how much criticism the Bears offensive line received last week after Cutler seemed to be on the run during much of his team's loss at Detroit.
"You can't hype up how bad an offensive line is on national television and expect to go out and get the same treatment," Allen said. "Anybody who did is an idiot. We knew they were going to have max protection. We knew they were going to have two-man routes. You had to expect, as a competitor, if I was so openly criticized for an entire week, I would come out and try to murder the person beside me.
"I'm going to do whatever I got to do to make my name right. And (Bears offensive line coach Mike) Tice is a competitor. They were bagging on him all week and you can't just expect that's going to continue that way. So, kudos to them. They did some things protection-wise."
Said Robison: "For me personally, as a starter, that's the first game we've been straight maxed pro'd almost the whole game. The only time they went really five man, six man blocks was right there at the end of the first half in the two-minute drill. We were getting in his face. I think they made a decision after that they couldn't block us with five, so they just left seven in."
A team 'effort'
While Frazier might have singled out the play of the defensive line, Allen looked at the fact Cutler had 267 yards passing as an overall problem.
"I'm a firm believer that, yes, we (have) high expectations of our defensive line and our offensive line, but there are going to be times where we're not going to get there and someone's going to have to make a play on the back end," he said. "And there's going to be times that we're going to bail out the back end by getting there. So it goes hand in hand. It's a team game. Sometimes when people are struggling you've got to pick it up."
And it sounds as if Allen would like to see all areas on defense pick things up.
"At the end of the day, we are all paid professionals to do your job," he said. "That's the biggest thing. People have to have to do their job and when the opportunity presents itself to make a play, that play has to be made. It can't be like, 'oh!'
"If you're on the field, we expect you to make the play. Guys got to look in the mirror. At 1-5, you have to look in the mirror. We lost some tough ones, but when you get drummed by a team that's been struggling and you come off shutting down a heck of a receiver in Larry Fitzgerald (of Arizona) and then we kind of let a squad of guys - Johnny Knox is a Pro Bowler on that team as far as receiver-wise - out-run us, catch balls. Cutler had all day to throw. We've got to better. Bottom line, we've got to better."
Sherels caused some eye-brows to be raised in the first quarter when he called for a fair catch of an Adam Podlesh punt at the Vikings' 5-yard line instead of letting the ball go into the end zone.
The decision proved to be especially regrettable when Donovan McNabb was sacked for a safety on second down, giving the Bears a 9-0 lead.
"We'd like to get our feet out by about 8 yards and not have to back up unless he feels they may have a chance to down the ball inside the 5," Frazier said. "We've really coached to let the ball go over our heads and take a chance that it might go out of the end zone and become a touchback. Marcus will get better as time goes on."
After being benched the previous game because he reportedly missed two team meetings, wide receiver Bernard Berrian returned Sunday and caught a season-high five passes for 54 yards.
"He was an active guy and we were finally able to get him some balls and he made some nice catches for us," Frazier said. "We're going to need more of that as we go forward, but it was good to see him involved.
"He was really into it during the week in practice, it was good for our football team. We need more catches from him, we need more throws targeted to him."
Berrian did drop a perfect throw from McNabb in the opening quarter.
• With the NFL trading deadline coming on Tuesday, Frazier did not dismiss the possibility the Vikings could make a deal. "We're going to discuss some things throughout this day," Frazier said. "We'll see what happens when it comes to that."