[size=18px]Vikings: Defensive weak spot gets challenge[/size]

The Vikings have been victimized by tight ends this season, and face the Giants' Jeremy Shockey on Sunday.

Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune
Last update: November 8, 2005 at 11:06 PM

Vikings linebacker Dontarrious Thomas has been matched up against enough tight ends to know they usually possess one of two attributes.

"You either get a tight end that's physical but not that great a receiver, or you get one that's a receiver and not that physical," he said.

The Vikings face one of the exceptions to Thomas' rule on Sunday.

At 6-5 and 252 pounds, Jeremy Shockey provides the New York Giants with not only a physical presence but he also is one of the NFL's top receiving tight ends.

"We know he's a force to be reckoned with," Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "One of the best in the business. He'll present some problems for us, that's for sure."

Opposing tight ends have presented the Vikings with problems on several occasions this season. They have 36 receptions, scored in seven of eight games, and the nine touchdowns the Vikings have surrendered to that position is the most in the league.

Cottrell said the defense has corrected some of the coverage flaws. "I know we had a problem earlier but they were scoring down in the red [zone] area on us," he said. "We kind of corrected. ... There have been a couple short passes, like on bootlegs and stuff, where we lost coverage on [tight ends]."

Cottrell didn't say it, but one of the reasons Keith Newman replaced Napoleon Harris as the starting strong-side linebacker five games into the season was because of the success tight ends were having inside the 20-yard line.

Still, tight ends continue to play a substantial role in the opponent's game plan. In the Vikings' 27-14 victory over Detroit on Sunday, the Lions' Marcus Pollard caught four balls for 42 yards, including a 23-yard scoring pass.

Pollard is a quality player but not on par with Shockey, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has five touchdowns and is 10th among NFL tight ends with 32 catches.

"He has very good control of his body," Cottrell said of Shockey. "He'll keep the defender, with his body, away from the ball as much as he can. It makes it hard to get around him because he's a big guy, also. Plus he's got great hands. It's a dangerous combination."

Shockey, the 14th pick in the 2002 draft, will be facing the Vikings for the fourth time in as many seasons. He has nine catches, none for touchdowns, in the three games, but has 81 and 60 receiving yards, respectively, in the past two meetings.

The Vikings' plan for containing Shockey likely will start with Thomas and cornerback Brian Williams. Neither is a starter, but both are used in passing situations and will see plenty of playing time.

"The tight ends don't seem to have as much success when we put Brian Williams on them," coach Mike Tice said. "Brian Williams can cover, I believe, most tight ends in this league. Brian is having an exceptional year for us. ... Also 54 [Thomas] can run with many tight ends. We put 54 on [Alge] Crumpler when we played Atlanta and Crumper didn't hurt us, it was the running game that hurt us. So we have a couple of answers for that."

Crumpler caught only three passes in the Falcons' 30-10 victory over the Vikings on Oct. 2 but one went for a 5-yard touchdown.

Although Thomas and Williams might play key roles against Shockey, cornerback Antoine Winfield makes it clear it will take more than one player to slow him.

"Really, I think you need a guy over top of him, jamming him to slow him down off the ball," Winfield said. "Probably have a safety over top and then you hope the pass rush gets there. But he's a good player. He's going to go out there, and he's going to make plays. You just have to hold him to a minimum."