- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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I consider myself a fan of defense, so I should like Jared Allen.
As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who grew up watching running play after running play for years and years, I got my visceral thrills from watching a savage defense pick apart opposing offenses with the zone blitz putting quarterbacks on their faces, backs and butts.
So I guess if Allen had been drafted by Pittsburgh, or was traded to the Bears instead of the Minnesota Vikings, I would be a fan of the cowboy hat-wearing, sack dance-performing, dumb comment-spouting, pass-rushing star. I would look past his personal failings, his obnoxious calf-roping, post-sack celebration and his redneck (even though he's from California) skullet.
But I hate Allen as much as I hate any other athlete because he annoys me to no end. The only NFL player I dislike more than Allen is Ray Lewis, and Allen is gaining on him.
I have a feeling I'm not alone. Chicago fans appreciate defense. When two of your top five players of all time are middle linebackers, you tend to appreciate the finer points of the game.
Allen is a born heel. He's Shawn Michaels mixed with Lawrence Taylor, a defensive monster with a wrestler's persona. He makes himself easy to hate and it's not totally an act. When the Bears (4-6) try to salvage a lost season Sunday afternoon at Minnesota (9-1), containing Allen will be the No. 1 task assigned to an overmatched, underperforming offensive line.
Jay Cutler, who knows Allen from their days in the AFC West, got a message from Allen after being traded to the Bears. It was delivered backstage at a country music award show, of all places.
"Twice a year I'm going to peel the back of his head off the turf," Allen said, while wearing a dorky cowboy hat. "I love the guy, but business is business."
When asked about that quote, Cutler, as has been his wont in Chicago, took the high road.
"Good player, high motor, brings a lot to that defense off the edge," Cutler said. "He's a really good player."
I never thought much about Allen until he got to Minnesota because I had little interest in a defensive end from a second-tier AFC West team. But then he got traded to the Vikings, signed a deal to make him the highest-paid defensive player in football and all the reclamation stories started pouring in, and there's nothing I find more aggravating than the quickie "Sure he's been a bad guy in the past, but he's changed!" feature. He quickly excelled in Minnesota, but also drew attention for low hits on quarterbacks. Then he hypocritically complained when an offensive lineman, Gosder Cherilus, nailed him with a low block of his own.
It wasn't a surprise as Allen says a lot of stupid things. In an Associated Press story the day after the presidential election last fall, Allen noted that NFL "paychecks will be cut in half" (not true) and warned President-elect Barack Obama, in a faux menacing manner, "You better do what you promised because the whole country is watching."
It was a not-so-stunning display of ignorance for a guy who has a fistful of DUIs, among other embarrassments, to his credit.
Then again, Allen also decried his lack of First Amendment rights last fall after getting a $5,000 fine for unnecessary roughness against the Bears. Pro Football Talk nailed him for the all-too-common misunderstanding of the actual amendment, which of course doesn't cover fines from a professional football league. The founding fathers weren't that prescient -- or worried about millionaire jocks.
But the Vikings didn't trade for Allen for his political science skills. They added him, at no small cost to themselves, because he is fast and mean and skilled at bringing pain to opposing quarterbacks.
This season, Allen already has 10.5 sacks -- which he celebrates with a calf-roping move that pays homage to his childhood growing up on his father's horse ranch -- and three forced fumbles. Considering that the Bears employ Orlando Pace and Chris Williams at outside tackle, there's a good chance you will see this display a few times Sunday. And there's a good chance Cutler will have to peel himself off the unforgiving Metrodome turf more than a few times.
Allen was a wild card after Kansas City traded him. He had picked up three DUIs and had a reputation to boot. But he has had a positive effect on a team once scorned for their off-field, on-boat activities, as the Vikings have morphed into legitimate Super Bowl contenders. He's the kind of difference-maker the Bears need on defense, and to be honest, the kind of personality.
"He's a live wire and I think you need some personality sometimes," Vikings coach Brad Childress said during a conference call this week. "You don't want a bunch of cow-eyed guys looking back at you. I don't have that trouble with him, whether it's in a morning meeting or playing on Sunday. He's got great football IQ and character as well. He's been a model guy here."
The Bears wouldn't pay for a free agent like Allen, though they have shelled out major cash to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Allen's the kind of talent the defense lacks, even if Urlacher were healthy. The Bears have a paucity of playmakers, with Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Briggs joining Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye as difference-makers (and the latter two are hit-and-miss right now).
Allen's influence has been a major factor in Minnesota's defensive performance. Last year the Vikings finished with the second most sacks in the NFL at 45. This year they are currently eighth in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate (7.3 percent) and first in the NFL with 36 sacks total. Allen benefits from his teammates and his role in Leslie Frazier's scheme, but it's no accident that he picks up sacks. He has 68 in 87 career games, 24.5 in 26 games with the Vikings.
Of course, he's been known to go low on quarterbacks, and complained after receiving a deserved fine for hitting Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the knee last year.
"Maybe they want to protect the quarterback because they want to say it's an offensive-driven league," he told reporters last year. "Well, I don't believe in that. I play defense. I believe this is a defensive-driven league."
I dislike Allen with all my heart, but he's got a point. Defense wins championships and the Vikings have a good one led by the rodeo clown himself. You hope Pace and Williams can corral him Sunday, but I have a feeling he's going to put on a show, and if he reaches Cutler, we might end up seeing Caleb Hanie under center in the second half and the official demise of the Bears' season.
7hDianna Russini and Adam Schefter
2dESPN Fantasy staff
5dFantasy Football Insiders
6dDavid M. Hale