Kevin Williams (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams said Jay Cutler admitted to putting “a little sugar” on a hit that cost Williams $15,000. Plus, half of the secondary is likely to be missing against the Packers’ passing attack, injuries will send young players into action, E.J. Henderson will likely have a reduced role again and more after a busy Friday at Winter Park.
Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams spent the first two games of 2011 sidelined because of a suspension sent down by the league office for violating the league’s banned substances policy, a result of the StarCaps case. The next two weeks were spent playing without pay as part of his punishment from the NFL.
And now Williams received a $15,000 fine after being flagged for unnecessary roughness after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Williams said Cutler admitted to some embellishment after the hit.
“Before he hit the ground he was (pointing at his helmet). And then when we were walking down the field he was like, ‘Yeah, I put a little sugar on it, too,’” Williams said Friday before he found out about the fine. “The ref don’t care. They call it the way they see it, but they’ve got to give us some leeway there.”
The play happened late in the third quarter when Cutler connected with Devin Hester for a first-down completion and Williams’ helmet crashed into Cutler’s helmet just after the pass was thrown. The NFL fined him, saying Williams “struck (the) opposing QB in (the) head/neck area.”
Cutler can be seen pointing to his helmet and lobbying for the call as he was falling to the ground and after he hit the ground. Williams was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Vikings were penalized half the distance to the goal line.
“It wasn’t a malicious hit. They’re ridiculous; they’re real loose with those flags,” Williams said Friday. “They’re probably told to do that, but come on, it’s football. Nobody is out there trying to hurt anybody. I actually pulled up. I think he acted a little bit, too.”
The Vikings registered only one sack against Cutler on Sunday night, as the Bears finally offered their quarterback protection by often keeping in six, seven and sometimes eight players to block. Jared Allen, who leads the NFL with 9½ sacks, was the only Viking to register a sack, as he made it eight straight games with a sack, tying a franchise record with Jim Marshall and Carl Eller.
This week, the Vikings face a different pass-rushing challenge: trying to get to Aaron Rodgers before the top-rated quarterback in the league gets rid of the ball with his quick release.
“He’s running on all cylinders right now. We just want to slow him down, make him drive the whole field,” Williams said of Rodgers. “It’s proven in this league its’ hard to score points when you have to go over 80 yards. We don’t want to give them the short field. Just limit the opportunity they have to score. If we can do that, we have a great chance in this game.”
It will be even harder contain one the league’s top-rated offenses with the Vikings’ banged-up secondary. Minnesota could be without half of its starting secondary Sunday at Mall of America Field against the Packers.
Strong safety Jamarca Sanford suffered a concussion Sunday night in Chicago and is listed as doubtful and cornerback Antoine Winfield is still dealing with a stiff neck that has taken him out of the last two games. He also is listed as doubtful.
"They do a lot of four- and five-wideout sets, more so than most teams that you play," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "You like to have all hands on deck, but the guys that are going to play, they’re going to be ready to go. They're going to have to step up and play big for us."
Tyrell Johnson will start if Sanford can’t play and Chris Cook will continue to get the start in place of Winfield if the veteran doesn’t make enough progress by Sunday afternoon.
Like Sanford, starting center John Sullivan is also dealing with a concussion he suffered on Sunday.
“Those guys have made progress, both Jamarca and John, but not to the point where we could say they’d be ready to play yet. (The medical staff is) going to do some more things with them (Saturday). There’s a possibility … but it’s just a possibility.”
Sanford and Sullivan have each completed portions of the post-concussion tests administered under NFL rules, but they haven’t passed all phases of it yet.
Frazier said Winfield has made “a lot of progress, to the point where he’s very close to getting on the field. I think it’s still kind of day-to-day.”
The Packers have scored the most points per game (32.8) in the league, are second in average yards per play (6.7) and third in net passing yards per game (325.2). And Rodgers is easily the top-rated QB in the league at 122.4.
If Sullivan doesn’t play, six-year pro Joe Berger, acquired after the first regular-season game, will start in his place.
“As long he doesn’t feel like the pressure of the world is on my shoulders, I’ve got to do anything other than my job, then he’ll be fine,” Frazier said. “… He’s a smart guy. He’s a tough guy. He knows our offense, so he’s excited about this opportunity.”
The Packers’ defensive approach will create a big challenge for a Vikings offensive line that was already ranked dead last in pass protection by STATS LLC.
“This is a (Packers) defense that gives you a lot of looks and they do a good job of attacking the line of scrimmage,” Frazier said. “It’s a challenge for any offensive line when you go against the looks that you get and some of the pressure that they bring. It won’t be any different for us. Our guys, they really worked hard this week, and they’ll have to be on their P’s and Q’s and be ready for a tremendous challenge. I think they all want to come back and play well this weekend.”
If Sullivan is inactive, as expected, that will open the door for sixth-round pick Brandon Fusco to be active for the first time this season, as he would be the primary backup at the three interior line positions.
“I’m just looking forward, if I go in, to show everyone what I can do,” Fusco said.
“(I’m) pretty comfortable. I think I’ve gotten to know these guys pretty well. I’ve gotten comfortable with all the guys, making calls and studying film, studying my playbook and all that stuff. I’m feeling pretty confident right now.”
Coming from Division II Slippery Rock to being active for a NFL game is a big jump in the course of one year.
“Yeah, but I think I’ve settled in. I’m more comfortable with everything now, more than I was when I walked in here the first day,” Fusco said. “I’m prepared for anything that comes in front of me.”
If Sanford doesn’t play, former starter Tyrell Johnson will get the start at safety, but it will open the door for rookie Mistral Raymond to be active on game day for the first time this year. Like Fusco, Raymond was a sixth-round pick in April.
“I’m excited. Anytime I get an opportunity to get on the field, I’m always excited. I wouldn’t say necessarily nervous, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Raymond said.
Raymond figures his biggest impact will come on special teams. He isn’t sure if he will be rotated in on defense like Johnson was when Sanford was starting.
E.J. Henderson SCALING BACK AGAIN
E.J. Henderson, who was limited in Wednesday and Thursday's practices, is likely to have his role in the nickel defense reduced once again.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said there is a "strong possibility" Henderson's younger brother, Erin, will go back to getting snaps in the nickel defense because E.J. has lost some of the explosiveness he had before he began suffering swelling in the knee at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve got to definitely get a little more production in that position," Frazier said.
Starting right tackle Phil Loadholt is “good to go,” Frazier said. Loadholt suffered swelling in his knee after hurting it in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against Chicago. He played until halftime, but it tightened up on him then and he was replaced to start the second half.
In addition to Sullivan, Sanford and Winfield being doubtful, the Vikings listed a few other players on their injury report as probable, meaning they are a virtual certainty to play. They are: WR Percy Harvin (ribs), Loadholt (knee), Kenny Onatolu (hamstring), E.J. Henderson (knee) and Steve Hutchinson (knee).
For the Packers T Chad Clifton (knee/hamstring), LB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder), DE Mike Neal (knee) and LB Frank Zombo (knee) are out. CB Sam Shields (concussion) is doubtful. DE Ryan Pickett (concussion) is questionable. S Morgan Burnett, OL Ray Dominguez, LB Clay Matthews, T Marshall Newhouse, TE Andrew Quarless, G Josh Sitton and CB Charles Woodson are all probable.
Frazier on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder making his first NFL start: “He’ll be prepared. I’m sure there will be some jitters the night before the game, which you would expect with any rookie. He has a way about him where you know he’ll fight through any adversity he may face.”
CB Cedric Griffin wasn’t fined for a horse-collar tackle against Bears running back Matt Forte.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.