ReFo: Bears @ Vikings, Week 14
After losing four of their past five games, they bounced back with a decisive win over a Chicago Bears team that beat them handily just two weeks ago. At 7-6, Minnesota still has a glimmer of hope in the NFC playoff picture, though it’s likely they will need to win out while receiving some help along the way.
The Bears are one of the teams right in the middle of the wild-card mix as they would hold the final spot in the NFC if the season ended today. With a playoff-caliber defense, it should come down to the play of quarterback Jay Cutler who was his usual inconsistent self on Sunday. He mixed pinpoint throws with horrible shots into coverage, and his interception to safety Harrison Smith was returned for a touchdown and proved the difference in the game.
Here are the other key performances from this NFC North showdown.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
With starting middle linebacker Brian Urlacher injured, the Bears moved Nick Roach from outside to the inside to take his place. It’s not as if Urlacher has been a great player this season, as he’s clearly been banged up, but he’s still made plays in coverage despite playing with a lost step or two. With all eyes on Roach in the middle, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play from scrimmage as Roach was easily moved away from the point of attack on the big gain. The good news is that was Roach’s worst play of the game, but the bad news is that he was consistently sealed out of the action in the running game and finished with a -2.4 grade and only two stops on his 41 snaps against the run.
For the third straight game, wide receiver Brandon Marshall had over 10 catches, and for the second straight week he eclipsed the 160-yard mark. He and Cutler look like they’re playing backyard football at times, but there’s a clear trust from Cutler who looked Marshall’s way on 17 of his 41 targeted passes. On the day, Marshall picked up seven first downs and a touchdown on his 10 receptions, good for a +3.6 overall grade. The only blip was a dropped pass on 4th-and-6 late in the fourth quarter as the stalled drive dashed any hopes of a Bears comeback. Other than that, Marshall continues to use his body to shield defenders and make big plays for Chicago, whether it’s a jump ball into double coverage or a short pass with a cornerback draped all over him.
Peppers’ Best Game of 2012
Despite all the praise the Chicago defense has received this season, it’s surprising that defensive end Julius Peppers has been relatively quiet. He put together his best game of the year on Sunday as he picked up three pressures on 18 pass rushes while adding four stops in the running game to grade at +3.0 on the day. He had his way with rookie left tackle Matt Kalil both as a pass rusher and against the run, beating the rookie to the inside at the 5:55 mark of the second quarter, applying pressure and drawing a holding penalty. Later in the quarter, Peppers jumped the snap and beat Kalil off the edge, though left guard Charlie Johnson was able to help out in time to save Christian Ponder from a sack. In the running game, Peppers beat Kalil for three of his stops as he saved his best game of the season for Minnesota’s franchise left tackle.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
As Adrian Peterson charges toward an amazing 2,000 yards on the ground, fullback Rhett Ellison’s versatility and run blocking should not go unnoticed. He moved Roach out of the hole on the first play of the game and followed it up with two more big blocks in the first quarter. He leveled Israel Idonije on a wham block at the 5:16 mark and then took strong safety Major Wright almost 10 yards into the defensive backfield to help spring Peterson for 15 yards at the 0:32 mark of the quarter. For the day he graded at +3.9 as a run blocker and he now moves to second among fullbacks with a +10.1 blocking grade for the season.
Despite a bit of a midseason slump, safety Harrison Smith (+0.8) is still in our Race for Rookie of the Year and he was all over the field on Sunday. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but his interception return for a touchdown was fantastic work in the open field and it sealed the game for Minnesota. If there’s a complaint, it’s that he was just a little late on two big plays when helping out on the deep ball. Cutler lofted a deep pass to Marshall at the 13:04 mark of the second quarter and Smith was a step slow in making a play on the it. It was a very similar play on Cutler’s touchdown to Alshon Jeffery at the 1:57 mark of the quarter. Smith was unable to reach Jeffery in time to prevent the 23-yard score, though Cutler put the ball in a perfect spot. It was a mixed day for Smith, but he’ll be remembered for his game-changing interception return.
Reserve Defensive Tackles Provide Pressure
The Vikings used a four-man rotation at defensive tackle and it was backups Christian Ballard and Fred Evans who produced in this one. Ballard picked up a hit and five hurries on his 21 pass rushes, good for a +2.5 pass rush grade. He absolutely leveled center Roberto Garza on a bull rush at the 4:57 mark of the second quarter. Evans picked up a pressure and a batted pass on his 15 rushes and he too had his way with Garza as he ripped him to the ground and flushed Cutler from the pocket with 4:55 to go in the third. He finished with a +1.3 pass rush grade for the day.
– Matt Forte stayed in to pass block on 28 of his 74 snaps.
– Christian Ponder did not complete a pass targeted beyond 10 yards. He was 0-for-4 with an interception on such throws.
– Adrian Peterson ran for 154 yards on 31 carries, with 124 yards coming after contact. He now has 1,600 rushing yards on the season and 2,000 is very much in sight.
PFF Game Ball
While Brandon Marshall may have been the most dominant player on the field, his fourth-down drop deflated any chances of a Bears comeback. We have no problem giving credit to the ‘little guy’, so it’s Rhett Ellison who gets the game ball for his outstanding work as a run blocker.