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Defense Ready For More Than Stars


Often when you think of the Minnesota Vikings offense and the dangers that come along with it, your thoughts immediately turn to Daunte Culpepper throwing to Randy Moss, or even Culpepper to Nate Burleson or Culpepper to Marcus Robinson.

And who could blame you for worrying about a quarterback with that kind of weaponry at the wide receiver position at his disposal, a trio that teamed up to catch 30 touchdown passes on the season.

However, the Packers defenders are refusing to get caught up in the star-gazing at the biggest of the big names the Vikings will trot out Sunday afternoon. Over the past few days, members of the home team have been quick to point out the other keys to trying to slow down the Minnesota offensive onslaught.

It comes as no surprise to linebacker Hannibal Navies that the Vikings' leading receiver this season was actually tight end Jermaine Wiggins, a previously little-known player who caught just 50 passes in his first four seasons in the NFL, bouncing around to four different teams.

In his fifth year, though, Wiggins was on the receiving end of 71 passes from Culpepper in his first season in a Minnesota uniform, and won't be coming in under the radar this week.

"Wiggins has been productive for them this year," Navies said. "He's made a lot of plays. He's definitely somebody you have to be accountable for - somebody you have to look for besides Moss. That does bring a little bit more to their package."

Safety Darren Sharper expanded on his teammate's thoughts on the tight end who caught 10 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the two previous meetings between the two squads in 2004.

"He has been the guy that has been the safety valve for them," Sharper said. "He catches a lot of check-downs, but he can get open down the field also. He's a guy that gets overlooked a lot because they have three potent receivers and four running backs that are pretty good.

"He has good hands so he's caught all the balls that come his way. We're watching out for him. He caught some passes on us last game and also earlier in the season, so we know that our linebackers and other guys that we'll have on him will try to slow him down."

Those four running backs that Sharper mentioned certainly haven't gone unnoticed by the Green Bay defense in their preparation for the Wild Card game either.

The four-headed monster of Onterrio Smith (544 yards), rookie Mewelde Moore (379), Michael Bennett (276), and Moe Williams (161) combined to run for 1,200-plus yards and when you throw in Culpepper's rushing ability (406 yards), the Vikings' running game will definitely be one of the major concerns for the home team.

Linebacker Na'il Diggs explained that each of the backs brings something different to the backfield that he and his fellow defenders must be aware of.

"Every back's got their special gift, their special plays that they're good at," Diggs said. "Some are good at pass-blocking, some are good at screens, some are good at draws - they all can run the plays but some are better than others. They all complement each other and they're a good, solid stable of backs. You've got respect that and know who's in the game at all times."

The linebacker went on to state that the first few defensive series of the game will be critical for the home team to set the tone and they could rattle the Vikings offense with some early stops without allowing the big play.

"I think they get frustrated early if they're not putting up yards or putting up points or moving the ball fast," Diggs said. If we keep them driving and making them make plays and make catches and work for the yards that they get, I think we have a great shot as a defense to pretty much dominate the game."

Navies believes that the defense is ready to make their presence felt and they are ready to be the driving force in the Packers' playoff push.

"The defense has to show up this game," he said. "The defense has to carry us through the playoffs and the defense has to play well for us to win this game. That's something we all know and something that we're all striving to do.

"We definitely have it in us. We've watched a lot of film over the last couple weeks to try to clean up some things and we definitely have it in us. It's time to step up or shut up and I think our defense knows that and it's something that we're prepared to do."

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