3TFO: Vikings @ Bears, Week 12
Sunday’s game between the Bears and the Vikings will be their first matchup all season, and marks the beginning of a stretch that will see both teams play four out of their last six games inside the division. The Bears will be returning home after their second loss in a row, at San Francisco. The Bears’ offense has looked just as lost this season without Jay Cutler as it did last year, even with former starter Jason Campbell at the helm. The good news is Cutler will likely play this week, but the bad news is Monday’s game exposed more than just an inadequate backup plan at quarterback. The offensive line was once again awful and the defense missed tackles. The Bears will look to right the ship on a short week against a team that’s had two weeks to prepare.
The Vikings limped into their bye week having lost three of their past five, and with their most dynamic offensive weapon, Percy Harvin, sidelined indefinitely with an injury. Even so, it has been the Vikings’ defense that has had a letdown of late. They have given up at least 30 points in their past three losses. If they are going to regain their defensive form from early in the season, this is the game to do it.
The outcome of this one will go a long way toward deciding the NFC North champion. Here’s what I will be focusing on.
Right up the Gut
Last week the Bears missed nine tackles and this week they face the league’s best tackle breaker in Adrian Peterson. Once again the Bears will have to face a team that wants to pound the ball up the middle, and this should be the defining matchup of the game. John Sullivan is in the elite class of centers right now in the NFL, and he’ll be leading the Vikings’ running game right into where the Bears have been weakest this season, up the middle. That also happens to be where the Vikings love to run. The Vikings run with great balance to each gap, but have run just to the left or right of the center more than any other. On those rushes the Vikings average 5.9 yards per carry.
Trying to limit those 5.9 yards per carry will be the Bears’ defensive tackles and linebackers. The only Chicago player in the middle with a positive run defense grade is Nate Collins, who has seen less than a fifth of the Bears’ snaps this season. Brian Urlacher has especially struggled this year in stopping the run. The Bears’ middle linebacker already has nine missed tackles on the season and has averaged a tackling opportunity for every 5.1 running plays (below average for an inside linebacker). The Bears’ best hope for winning this matchup will be to keep their safeties in tight and dare the Vikings’ receivers to beat their corners. If the receivers can’t, this matchup could go to the Bears.
More Blockers Please
With Cutler expected to play, the number one objective for the Bears’ offense should be protecting their quarterback. The past two weeks showed that the Bear offense is not the same without Cutler. So if they have Super Bowl aspirations, he has to be healthy and behind center. Although Cutler was injured while scrambling, it is evident that the Bears’ line has struggled protecting the pocket. Earlier this week I looked at our Passing Under Pressure signature stat and found that Cutler faces pressure on 38.3% of his drop-backs, and throws interceptions on 7.59% of his pressured throws, both third-highest in the league. These make it almost impossible to sustain a passing offense against a quality pass rushing team.
The Vikings are ranked 11th overall in PFF pass rushing and certainly outmatch the Bears’ offensive line on paper. Even though Jared Allen has had a bit of a down year, he is still getting after quarterbacks, and J’Marcus Webb is fresh off of a beat down from Aldon Smith. It is clear that the Bears need to provide their quarterback with extra blocking help. Against the Cowboys and Texans, the two games where the line allowed the fewest pressures, the Bears had 28 extra blockers on 28 pass plays and 33 extra blockers on 40 pass plays respectively. Against the Packers, Panthers, and 49ers, the games where the line allowed the most pressures, the Bears left in a combined 40 extra blockers on 105 pass plays. Seeing as how Kellen Davis hasn’t been a weapon at all in the passing game, look for the Bears to keep him in blocking a lot more than the two total plays he pass blocked on Monday night.
Who gets Open?
With Havin injured Christian Ponder had one of his best games of the season Week 10 against the Lions. The problem is Harvin is still injured, and they’re not playing the Lions. So the question is raised, which wide out is going to win a one-on-one matchup against the fantastic Bears cornerback duo? The starting receivers for the Vikings will be Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins, who have gained 1.06 and .94 Yards Per Route Run respectively (Harvin’s is 2.59). Considering that Harvin was targeted 31% of the time when he was in, there is going to be quite a void for Simpson and Jenkins to fill.
Life is going to be tough on Ponder Sunday going up against the Bears’ secondary. Although they played arguably their worst game of the season on Monday, the Bears’ corners were beaten by some excellent throws. Even after that game Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman still have passer ratings against of 38.7 and 66.9 respectively. It is unlikely we’ll see the Vikings’ receivers winning this matchup.
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