ReFo: Bears @ Vikings, Week 13
Leaving yourself the need to win a game twice doesn’t always end well but Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings pulled off just that feat yesterday evading by a matter of minutes becoming the first team since the 1971 Raiders to tie consecutive games. The Vikings’ efforts in this game gave proof if proof were ever needed that players are not interested in tanking to improve their draft positioning when their hopes for the season are already gone. On the strength of Peterson’s astonishing running, ably led by a dominant display from Jerome Felton clearing the way, the Vikings’ ground game crushed the Bears’ defense and added further pain to a season that promised so much.
Still only a game out of first place in the NFC North, the Bears are far from sunk, but with a second straight defeat to a team below them in the playoff pecking order they aren’t maximizing their playoff chances with Aaron Rodgers out of the equation and the Lions (until Thursday at least) far from flying away with the lead of the division. What would the Bears give to be able to pair this year’s offense with their defense from the Lovie Smith era?
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
For the second time this season Alshon Jeffery has broken the Bears’ single-game receiving yardage record that had previously stood for more than 50 years. He extended his own record this time out with a dominant display on deep, intermediate and short routes from both sides of the field against a Minnesota secondary that simply couldn’t live with him. Prior to his ejection, Jeffery notched more than half of his yards (132) and both of his scores against Chris Cook; his two touchdowns coming on deep routes against the Vikings’ right corner. Considering the game that Jeffery put together in regulation it is all the more astounding that the Bears never looked for a knockout blow to their star performer in overtime, only targeted twice in the extra period, both on the opening drive on a hitch and a wide screen.
Finding the Safeties on the Ground
The Bears’ safeties have been a sore topic of conversation in Chicago this season, all too often involved in the run defense, all too infrequently involved in a positive manner. Major Wright and his league-leading nine missed tackles against the run were ruled out due to a hamstring injury yesterday but things got no better with Craig Steltz taking his place in the starting lineup. Though he notched a pair of stops in the first five minutes of the game against Peterson, he was all too often the first defender on to the Vikings’ one-man wrecking crew at running back and a safety against Peterson in any capacity is rarely a good matchup for the defense.
By game’s end the Bears’ safeties had missed another five tackles against the run (three for Steltz, two for Conte) playing their part in Peterson’s fifth career 200-yard game with misses in the open field and plenty of yards after contact when they did finish the play. While the Bears’ safeties need to be better when they are the first defenders to meet an opposing ball carrier, the rest of the Bears’ defense (both players and coaches) surely need to find ways to limit the number of times their safeties are the first line of run defense.
Positive Response from Bushrod
After suffering at the hands of Robert Quinn last week, Jermon Bushrod responded with a very strong game against Jared Allen and the Vikings yesterday. Allen was limited to a sack (spinning inside of Bushrod when Josh McCown had already climbed past his left tackle), a hit and a hurry by Bushrod on 38 pass rushes and had a very limited impact against the run as well.
Bushrod’s debut season in Chicago has been a tad up and down but, aside from last week’s rather large blip, has tended towards the positive side of the ledger. Spending much of the season with his grade oscillating from positive to negative grades as both a run blocker and pass protector, Bears fans will surely hope that Bushrod can put last week’s one-off behind him and finish the season with consistently strong displays like this one against Allen as the Bears look to stay in the hunt for the NFC North right to the end of the season.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Peterson and Felton Power the Ground Game
This was a strong team effort from the Vikings on the ground with no glaring negative grade in run blocking and the duo of Matt Kalil (+1.6) and John Sullivan (+1.2) grading well, but the stars of the show were in the backfield. The obvious and undoubted star was Adrian Peterson (+5.4 rushing) who took advantage of the head of getting a scarcely believable 3.2 yards per carry before first contact to add an extra 2.8 yards per carry after contact which included eight missed tackles. Peterson was hitting the Bears for solid gains all across the line, but his predominant success came through the A-gaps (44 yards on seven carries) and especially off end where he notched 132 yards on 16 carries and five of his missed tackles.
Such a high grade on so many carries is an extremely rare thing to see and marks out just how consistently destructive Peterson was on the ground. Just as impressive as Peterson’s ball carrying was the lead blocking of Jerome Felton who played a pivotal role (along with the offensive line) in giving Peterson those 112 yards before first contact. Given plenty of straight line runs to the point of attack, Felton consistently demolished safeties and linebackers alike splitting the majority of his work between Steltz and James Anderson, blocking just as well whether he was sealing inside or outside, leading left or leading right. You’ll struggle to find such a dominant performance from a running back/fullback combination as this.
Linebackers Have Their Day in Coverage
Covering the pass hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Vikings’ linebackers this season but both Audie Cole and Chad Greenway had extremely strong days in coverage yesterday, both playing the ball and the receiver, or both on the same play for Cole. After an impactful but inconsistent debut against the Packers last week, Cole was more controlled against the run this week and only added to his strong coverage grade from last week with an even better game (+4.1 coverage). That grade was helped in no small part thanks to one freak play deflecting a pass which was intended for Matt Forte before tackling Kyle Long for a loss and forcing a fumble when the Bears’ right guard caught the deflection. Even before that play Cole impressed with a break up to see the Bears off the field on their opening drive of regulation and pursuing to a screen by Jeffery to make the tackle for a 4-yard gain on Chicago’s opening drive of the extra period.
Alongside Cole, Greenway earned his highest coverage grade (+2.4) since Week 10 last season, notching an impressive interception (nullified) of McCown, rolling across the formation underneath Martellus Bennett to intercept a late throw from the Bears’ quarterback, and only blotting his copybook with a missed tackle on Bennett at the end of the first quarter that other defenders were quick to clean up. As a duo, Cole and Greenway surrendered three completions on six targets for 20 yards, a pass defense and Greenway’s nullified interception.
Cassel Crowns the Comeback
After a lifeless first half in the passing game where Christian Ponder was sacked as many times as he completed a pass (three of each, for the record) Matt Cassel took over for the injured starter in the second half and gave the Vikings’ offense some terrifying (for the opposition) balance. There were a couple of misses early on but for the most part Cassel was on point with batted passes counting for more than one third of his incompletions (5 of 13). Hitting the Bears’ defense all over the field in the second half, Cassel made the most of the Bears’ aggression hitting 10-of-15 for 121 yards and his touchdown to Greg Jennings when Chicago sent a blitz his way. However you slice the field down yesterday, Cassel was efficient and productive. Perfect on the deep ball (3-of-3, 65 yards) he was on target with his intermediate passes and efficient on short passes. After this display in relief, does Ponder regain his starting spot when he overcomes his concussion or does the Minnesota Merry-go-round spin back to Cassel at QB now?
– The Bears continue to profit from pitchouts with Brandon Marshall (+2.4) and Dante Rosario (+1.5) this week excelling as run blockers clearing space on the edge for Matt Forte and his pulling blockers.
– Adding to the setup for Peterson on the ground was John Carlson who earned his highest single game run blocking grade (+2.6) since a +3.1 in his third career game against the Rams back in 2008.
– The Bears’ defense racked up 11 missed tackles this week, the sixth time they have hit double digits in 12 games this season. That is as many times as they hit that mark in 82 games over the previous five seasons.
PFF Game Ball
While Alshon Jeffery wasn’t given the opportunity to win the game in overtime Adrian Peterson certainly was and he did just that, twice, they took that opportunity second time around. All while surpassing 10,000 career rushing yards.
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