EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings defense has two things going for it this week coming off a humbling loss at Detroit in the season opener.
First, they expect defensive captain Kevin Williams to be back at defensive tackle after missing the 34-24 loss to the Lions with a knee injury. Second, they don't have to face Reggie Bush, the Lions running back who torched them for 191 total yards and a touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Thursday that he expects the veteran (no relation) to be in the lineup Sunday at Chicago. The return of a six-time Pro Bowler to help shore up what was a soft middle of the Vikings defense will certainly help. But his mere presence in the huddle should bring some much-needed assurance to a unit that did little right in Week 1.
"Just to see a familiar face out there is going to be nice," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Not having him out there on the field is different."
Kevin Williams suffered a bone bruise and hyperextension of his right knee in the third preseason game against San Francisco. The Vikings used several players in his place against the Lions, including rookie Sharrif Floyd, who was predictably uneven in his first career game after missing three weeks with a knee injury. Kevin Williams returned to practice this week and fully expected to be ready to play against the Bears.
"Win or lose, my personal experience is, I hate missing a game," he said Wednesday. "You want to be out there contributing, helping the team win. For us to lose the way we did, letting Reggie run the ball effectively and then the screens, I just felt you always could help out and do your part."
Bush channeled his Heisman Trophy-winning days at USC, rushing 21 times for 90 yards and catching four passes for 101 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown on a screen pass. The Lions rolled up 469 yards of offense, including 117 on the ground against a team that used to pride itself on stuffing the run.
What Alan Williams saw when he reviewed the game tape earlier this week was a rash of missed assignments, poor angles taken on runners in the open field and sloppy tackling.
"We have to tackle better, keep our gaps better," Alan Williams said. "Anytime you let a team run and throw the ball effectively, usually it's a long day. That's what happened against Detroit. We have to try to make this team one dimensional. We can't let them throw the ball anytime they want and run the ball down their throat."
Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Bears will present many of the same challenges the Lions did. Chicago also has a strong-armed quarterback (Jay Cutler), a big, physical receiver (Brandon Marshall) and a versatile running back who is as comfortable split out wide as a receiver as he is in the backfield in Matt Forte.
The Vikings did a solid job on Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson last week, limiting him to four catches for 37 yards. But in doing so, they left the rest of the field wide open for Bush. They know they can't afford to do the same thing this week against Forte, who rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown and had 41 yards receiving in a season-opening win over Cincinnati.
As bad as things were in Detroit, the Vikings have appeared loose and confident in practice this week. They know there are a lot of problems to fix, but confident that adjustments can be made to bounce back similar to last year when they won four straight in December to make the playoffs.
"This is only my second year, but last year I remember people panicked four or five times during the year," safety Harrison Smith said. "It doesn't change what happens inside this building. Whatever outside people want to say, let them say it. We're just going to go about our business and learn from it and try to get a win."
Having their big fella back in the middle only reinforces that.
"Just having the experience of a guy out there that's seen it before," Alan Williams said. "Not only that, but Kevin is still a good football player. His leadership, and when the guys look at another guy like that in the huddle, it gives them confidence that we're going to get the job done."