ReFo: Vikings @ Bears, Week 12
Exiting a bye week against the team heading up the NFC North, this was a prime opportunity for the Minnesota Vikings to make a statement that they were a legitimate playoff contender. Instead, for one of the first times this season we saw the Viking team that many projected we would see all season. That is, an offense that struggled to move the ball downfield, and a defense that was just short of good enough to carry the offense, as some of the old guard start to lose their dominant edge.
The Vikings spurned chances from early in the game, converting an early Matt Forte fumble into just a 6-yard drive and three points, while the Bears converted a similar opportunity into a 34-yard touchdown drive just a matter of minutes later. The Bears still lead the division, and this game simply served to highlight the gulf between a team returning its starting quarterback, and comfortable in its identity, and a team short of its most dynamic and influential offensive player.
The Vikings have a month and a bit to ensure that they finish the season strong, but short of reversing this result in a couple of weeks time, this game looks to have dealt a severe blow to their playoff hopes. Here is a look at some of the key performances that helped put the Bears back on track, and derailed the Vikings.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Lost Without Harvin
This is the Vikings’ passing game we were all expecting to see this season, and what a surprise that it reared its ugly head in the absence of Percy Harvin. In previous years this has been somewhat of the norm, with Harvin placed in a bizarrely reduced role in the offense, but this season Harvin has been central to everything this offense has done and arguably the team’s MVP, over even the miraculous Adrian Peterson. Without Harvin this week there was no spark or danger on the short passes, and as a result nothing was opened up downfield as the Vikings’ desperate lack of a deep receiver was brought into sharp contrast. The greatest success the Vikings had all game long through the air was running the same pass play consecutively to Kyle Rudolph early in the third quarter to set up and score their only touchdown. But for the Bears’ inability to adjust correctly to this play the Vikings would likely have been held out of the end zone all game. The Vikings can’t get Harvin’s dynamism back soon enough.
Brinkley Shines in the Middle
One of the rare bright spots in a dour day for the Vikings, on both sides of the ball, was the work rate and tackling of first-year starter Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker. Brinkley tied Jared Allen for the team lead with five defensive stops and got started early by standing Evan Rodriguez up in the point of attack to help facilitate Forte’s fumble, which got the Vikings on the board first. Brinkley was like a rash on Forte and Michael Bush in both run and pass games for much of the contest, getting into the face of the backs early and often. Those five stops are a season high for Brinkley, who has been slightly more consistent as a run defender in the past month as he recovers from missing five tackles against the Cardinals in Week 8.
Two Plays Blight a Fine Display
For Adrian Peterson, this game was a glimpse back to the start of his career where at times key mistakes would overshadow otherwise fine performances. This week, Peterson once again ran hard, was tough to bring down, and was the only positive in an otherwise toothless Minnesota offense. However, his two mistakes — a fumble and a muffed exchange with Christian Ponder — were both momentum killers for the Vikings. The first set up the Bears’ first score, and the second stole any chance of a comeback midway through the fourth quarter. With three more missed tackles forced on the ground, Peterson is now 10 past his total of 33 from last season, but his three fumbles this season are more than his Past two seasons combined and his most since he put the ball on the ground seven times in 2009.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Exploiting the Right Side
In spite of the Vikings’ willingness to rotate at right guard, few teams have been able to exploit the potential weakness this throws up in terms of communication breakdowns and chemistry issues between RT Phil Loadholt and the platoon at right guard. That was until this week, when the Bears had a great deal of success on this side with five different defensive linemen recording pressure against the trio of linemen that the Vikings threw at them. The Vikings were weak in particular picking up stunts and inside moves from DLE Israel Idonije, with Loadholt offering a weak inside shoulder and not always giving the guard much of a chance to recover and pick up Idonije. This led to a lot of quick pressure right in the face of Ponder, something he did not cope well with as he went 6 of 19 for 42 yards, with a QB rating of 19.0 when pressured. It is no coincidence that the Bears’ highest-rated pass rushers all spent a deal of time on the left side of the defensive line.
Much of an upgrade?
One of the more puzzling moves this week came in Chicago with the Bears benching Gabe Carimi in favor of career disappointment Jonathan Scott. Due to an injury to Lance Louis on an interception return, Carimi’s time on the bench didn’t last long but Scott hardly covered himself in glory at right tackle. While Carimi has struggled as a pass protector at tackle, his run blocking has been as good as any right tackle in the league, and all Scott offered was an ability to excel neither in pass protection nor as a run blocker. Scott struggled to cope with Brian Robison off of the edge, yielding four pressures (one hit, three hurries) to the Vikings’ second-year starter and, unlike Carimi, he was unable to assert himself as a run blocker. Meanwhile, Carimi allowed no pressure as a sixth lineman, or at guard, and was as ever impressive as a run blocker whether he was dealing with a defensive tackle, defensive end or a linebacker. The Bears’ management of their offensive line is certainly something to keep an eye on moving through the stretch as they look to position themselves as contenders.
Bush Grinds Out the Yardage
A 2.9 yards per carry average may not leap off of the page as an exceptional performance, but don’t let that fool you into thinking Michael Bush didn’t have a very good game for the Bears in place of injured starter Forte. In forcing three missed tackles and recording three quarters of his yardage after contact, Bush did some excellent work in spite of some of the blocking that he got at times. Both backs can be very thankful for the work of Matt Spaeth who cleared out a lot of trash at the edge and led runs from the backfield with an exceptional game as a blocker. The Bears continue to persist with Kellen Davis as their No. 1 tight end, but if he continues to struggle to contribute in the passing game then surely the time will come when the superior blocker, Spaeth, will need to enter the starting lineup and take the lion’s share of snaps to help drive the Bears’ running game forwards.
— In the Vikings’ new rotation at right guard, Geoff Schwartz saw a season high 36 snaps and for the first time recorded more snaps than Brandon Fusco. Is this the start of a move towards Schwartz taking over this slot?
— The injury for Charles Tillman resulted in D.J. Moore recording his first defensive snaps (28 of them) since the Bears’ Week 9 victory in Tennessee.
— The measure of how much Christian Ponder suffered down the field? He went 0-for-10 (including his interception), on passes aimed 10 or more yards downfield.
PFF Game Ball
He took advantage of a distinct lack of chemistry and communication on the right side of the Minnesota offensive line to set up his most productive game as a pass rusher since Week 9 in 2010. The Vikings simply couldn’t get a handle on Israel Idonije this week.
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