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Key matchup: Allen vs. Williams
There are few things a first-year starter likes to see less than one of the league's most ferocious pass rushers on the other side of the ball. But when that player is a right tackle by trade and only making the fourth start of his career at left tackle, there are more than a few reasons Chicago's Chris Williams needs to be concerned about an angry Jared Allen – making this the key matchup in Monday night's game.
The Vikings' defensive ends were last week's key matchup and they were effectively neutralized by the Carolina offensive tackles, which went a long way to the Panthers getting an embarrassing 26-7 win on the books against the Vikings. When Allen has been neutralized in the past, he tends to come back with a huge day – which is the last thing the Bears want to see right now.
Entering the 2009 season, the Bears were the pick of many to win the NFC North Division title. They had added quarterback Jay Cutler and future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace to a team that already had young talent on both sides of the ball. However, the Pace the Bears signed wasn't the Pace that dominated for years. His last start was against the Vikings Nov. 29 at the Metrodome and he gave up two sacks and an interception to Allen. He had been playing with a groin injury, but was sat down after getting schooled by Allen, allowing Jay Cutler to get beaten up and the Bears to get dominated 36-10.
The initial plan was to insert backup left tackle and eight-year veteran Kevin Shaffer into the spot. That plan was scrapped almost immediately and Shaffer was instead lined up at right tackle and Williams was moved to the left side. Williams saw limited duty as a backup as a rookie in 2008, but, with the signing of Pace, was entrenched at right tackle and started the first 11 games there. When Pace went down, Williams moved to the left side and, in his battle will Allen, he will be facing his stiffest competition to date.
Allen said he's been doing film study on Williams to pick up on the things he does and doesn't do well. He said the little things that can be gleaned from film study can make a big difference in critical situations in games.
"Orlando Pace is one of the greatest to ever play the game," Allen said. "He knows what's coming, but that's my style of play. I'm coming hard every snap. I don't vary things up to much. Against an older guy, you go after the edge and try to get a burst off the line before he can get his hands on you. On a younger guy (like Williams), it's more about getting him out of position and off-balance. You might beat Orlando Pace with speed, but you aren't going to beat him because he's not using his technique."
Look for the Bears to give Williams a lot of help from their tight ends and running backs. Allen said he's come to expect it and blames another division rival for getting him so much extra attention.
"I've been dealing with getting chipped a lot the last month," Allen said. "Thanks a lot, Green Bay. Now everybody notices me."
Allen has always seemed to step up his play against division opponents when the pressure is on against a bitter rival. In his three career games as a Viking vs. the Bears, Allen has recorded 6½ sacks and has knocked Bears QBs to the ground even more times. That will be the key to the Vikings being successful against Cutler. He has thrown a whopping 25 interceptions – by far the most in the NFL. When he gets hit early, he gets rid of the ball too early and interceptions are the result. Allen has the history, the anger coming off the Panthers debacle and an inexperienced opponent trying to lock him up and lock him down. If Williams can keep Allen from being a factor, the Bears' chances of winning go up markedly, making this the key Monday night matchup.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.
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