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Lions’ worst nightmare: Vikings’ Allen is in town

By Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press –

Maybe it was the mullet. Or the scruffy beard. Or that he played for another team.

The only thing Nate Burleson was really sure of was that he didn’t like Jared Allen, the Minnesota Vikings’ perennial All-Pro defensive end. “So I didn’t know Jared,” Burleson said Thursday, “but I just thought, ‘He’s a Minnesota Viking, and I don’t like the guy.’”

When the Lions played the Vikings at Ford Field in the 2010 regular-season finale, that changed for Burleson.

“I go up to him and I say, ‘Hey, when I score I’m going to do your (calf-roping) celebration,’” Burleson said. “So he’s like, ‘All right. They say imitation’s the best form of flattery.’

“I’m obviously talking as if I’m going to score. So I do score. . . . Then we get out there on the next drive. I’m like, ‘Eh, what’s up? What’d you think about that?’

“He’s like, ‘Um, it was OK, but you’ve got to get a little bit lower. Your base is too wide. I’ll show you how to do it.’

“Two plays later he takes an interception to the house. That same game, he went out there and did the (celebration) and he was like, ‘Now, that’s how it’s done.’ “

Allen intercepted Shaun Hill’s pass and returned it 36 yards. He scored the TD, roped his imaginary calf in the end zone and gained Burleson’s admiration.

It’s the same way with a lot of the Lions. They can’t help but have a grudging respect for the man who has feasted on them for years.

After six sacks over two games last season, Allen has 12 ½ career sacks against the Lions — second only to the 13 each he has against Chicago and Green Bay. His 14 career points against the Lions are his most against any team by far. Besides his interception return, he caught a touchdown pass in 2007 and had a safety in 2008.

“He’s a guy that can make a play at any time,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “There are a lot of plays where it looks like he’s out of the play — he’s stymied in the rush, he’s been chipped or something like that.

“He’s very good at making the off-scheduled play. A lot of guys can make the plays that come to them and he can go create a play somewhere. . . . We’re going to have to be up to the challenge this week with Jared Allen.”

Allen led the NFL last season with 22 sacks . He’s off to a slow start with only one sack through three games. But, as Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, that’s hardly a surprise.

Allen was blanked in the first two games, but then got his first sack Sunday against San Francisco. And while the 49ers were keeping Allen occupied, Chad Greenway sacked Alex Smith twice.

“Part of it is what we do on the other side being able to make sure the quarterback can’t escape away from it,” Frazier said. “If people keep the backs in, keep the tight ends in, which we expect in trying to keep his sacks down, I mean that’s part of it when you’re a great pass rusher. And he’s experiencing that again this year.”

Frazier, a cornerback on the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl team who played with Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, has a unique perspective on Allen. Sure, Allen has the passion, athleticism and the will to be the best, Frazier said. But Allen’s truly unique gift is his mind.

“One of the things that separates him from some of the other great defensive ends I’ve been around and observed is his knowledge of the game,” Frazier said. “He’s a great player without question, a great athlete, but his understanding, his football IQ is off the charts.

“He has a great feel for offenses and what they’re trying to do and to be able to anticipate what’s coming before it actually occurs. That gives him a leg up and you combine that with his talent and his desire, you got a pretty special player.”

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