The final regular season week of the 2011 season saw the Chicago Bears travel to face the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional game that meant…nothing. This was precisely the kind of game the NFL had hoped to avoid by moving divisional games to the end of the season, and in truth, it worked in this game.
Two teams with nothing more than draft position to play for found themselves fighting tooth and nail for the win, and characteristically it was the mistakes, rather than the impressive play, that wound up being decisive. The Vikings were in danger of landing a torpedo into the side of their draft position until the final drive ended with a badly overthrown pass from Joe Webb, in for the injured Christian Ponder once more.
For Chicago the game seemed to center around thrusting Jared Allen towards Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, and then doing everything humanly possible to prevent him getting one more to break it. In the end he fell just a half sack short of the record.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
The O-line is Somehow No Better Than It has Ever Been
We keep hearing about how the Chicago Bears’ offensive line is coming around, gelling, improving and becoming less of an issue under the tutelage of coach Mike Tice, but this was a badly as an offensive line has been dismantled all season. The majority of the pressure came from three of the five players along the line, but the other two made up for that by getting murdered in the run game instead. J’Marcus Webb was clearly incapable of blocking Jared Allen one-on-one and surrendered four sacks before the Bears seemed to notice this and adjust by giving him tight end and running back help. He finished the day having adding two more pressures to those four sacks to earn a grade of -5.1. Only Edwin Williams (-1.0) at left guard avoided a disastrous grade, suggesting again he could be a legitimate option for the Bears at that spot, while Roberto Garza (-4.0), Chris Spencer (-3.0) and Lance Louis (-7.6) were all various shades of disastrous. The Bears weren’t just conceding pressure, but it was fast pressure. Check out any of Allen’s full sacks to see the kind of speed he was beating Webb around the edge with and you’ll see the handicap the offense was dealing with.
Defense Remains the Feature
Much like the offensive line has been a problem for years now, the Bears D continues to be a top unit, and they were thoroughly dominant against the Vikings’ offense in this game. Israel Idonije (+2.1) has had an underwhelming season but he was a force in this game, notching a sack, a knockdown and three more pressures on the day. He was joined in the green by Julius Peppers (+1.1) and Henry Melton (+3.9) from the defensive line as the Bears defensive front led the way in suffocating the Vikings attack. Only the athletic ability of Webb stopped the stat sheet looking a lot better for the Bears defenders, fighting his way out of sacks and tackles on more than one occasion to either make plays downfield or simply get rid of the ball when any other quarterback would have been down in a heap.
Green for the Secondary
All four members of the starting secondary for the Bears finished this game firmly in the green with their grading. Charles Tillman (+4.1), Tim Jennings (+3.2), Major Wright (+1.9) and Craig Steltz (+2.4) all played well in coverage and both corners helped out against the run too. They combined to allow eight receptions from 19 targets for just 73 yards, with 23 of those coming from one play to Percy Harvin. Both cornerbacks found themselves with interceptions, even if both of them were somewhat fortuitous and far more a result of the Vikings being unable to complete a simple pass pattern to the flat all day long, but nonetheless they were in good position to make a play and to capitalize on the lucky bounces that fell their way in the game. This might be the best performance from the unit this season, and that’s unlikely to be a coincidence given the opposition, but it is encouraging for a secondary that has at times been exposed.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
The Vikings were hoping to have this game to further evaluate Christian Ponder as a starter after injury had derailed his season, but he lasted just 22 snaps before being crushed under the weight of Idonije on a hit that Ponder really could have avoided had he gotten rid of the ball sooner. The hit landed him on the bench with another hip pointer and thrust Joe Webb back into the lineup. Webb gives the Vikings something of a John Elway problem at the moment – he is far from a polished and capable quarterback, but he has a spark and athleticism about him that does give the Vikings the best chance of winning games as things stand. Whether that can change moving forward is something the Vikings need to evaluate, or whether neither quarterback can be a viable option. Ponder (-2.0) wasn’t in the game for very long, but managed to underthrow the same shallow crossing pattern to Percy Harvin twice, overthrow a hitch route, and badly panic in the pocket for a sack from Idonije with 5:40 to go in the first quarter on 3rd-and-8. Webb (-3.9) is far more athlete than quarterback at the moment and for every spectacular play he makes he is still badly missing open receivers, like he did for his final pass of the game sealing victory for Chicago with a pass that sailed and was picked off.
Overhaul Needed on Offense
The Vikings offensive line has been in need of a re-tool for a while now, and this game demonstrated that in emphatic terms. Right guard Anthony Herrera (-5.6) only avoided giving up a sack because of the skills of Webb behind him, but he surrendered two knockdowns and three further pressures and was also sub-par in the run game. Left tackle Charlie Johnson is out of his depth at left tackle, and while he might be capable at guard, he cannot hold up on the edge. He topped Herrera’s tally for pressure, surrendering a sack, three hits and two pressures for the day and struggling equally in the run game. Only Joe Berger came out of the game with any real credit, earning a 0.4 grade and surrendering just the one pressure, but even he was badly beaten on a couple of occasions in the run game, once by Lance Briggs and once from defensive tackle Matt Toeania.
Rushing Down a Record
Jared Allen (+6.3) entered the day with 18.5 sacks. That mark led the NFL, but was 2.5 shy of the Vikings’ team record held by Chris Doleman, and 4 shy of Michael Strahan’s NFL record set in 2001. Allen got to work quickly, and got his third sack on the first play of the second half to take him to 21, matching Doleman’s mark. He broke that record with 5:27 to go in the 3rd quarter, but from that point on the Bears locked down on Allen, double and even triple teaming him at one point to prevent him getting his last sack. The Bears were able to maintain a lead in the fourth quarter and run the ball, limiting the pass rushing opportunities for Allen to break the record, and he finished just half a sack away from tying Strahan. Allen and Brian Robison (+9.0) on the other side combined for 15 total pressures on the day from 59 pass rushes. That’s better than pressure once every four rushing snaps.
– 84 of Joe Webb’s 200 passing yards came on throws attempted under pressure.
– Josh McCown saw 15 drop-backs with no pressure, and 19 with pressure. With no pressure he was 12-of-15, under pressure he was 3-of-10, with seven sacks and just 21 passing yards.
– Roy Williams dropped half the number of passes (two) he caught (four)
PFF Game Ball
It may have been in a losing effort, and it may have come up short of the record, but Jared Allen destroyed the Bears’ O-line in this game, to the point they went to ridiculous lengths to try and prevent him getting the final sack.