ReFo: MIN @ CHI, Week 2
Minnesota's edge pass rush kept rolling while Jay Cutler had an up and down day in this back-and-forth affair. Rick Drummond breaks the NFC North battle down.
ReFo: MIN @ CHI, Week 2
As fans of either team can attest, this was no game for the weak-hearted; a last-minute touchdown pass by a quarterback who had been on a roller coaster all day being the difference. With plenty of highs and lows to point to (including a stretch of the broadcast lost to ‘technical difficulties’, which, by the way, we will review and adjust for as the week goes on and more tape becomes available), here are three performances from each side that caught the eye.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Making Trouble on the Edges
This early in the season, Viking defensive ends Jared Allen (+1.7) and Brian Robison (+4.1) have grabbed spots among the league’s top 4-3 ends as the pair have posted a sack, five hits and 17 hurries through two games and Pass Rushing Productivity scores of 9.8 and 13.2, respectively. Chicago’s offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills failed in their bid to slow the hot start, surrendering pressures to both inside and outside moves and doing so from early in the first to late in the fourth.
Getting this much pressure from the edges bodes well for the outlook of the entire D-line with the return of defensive tackle Kevin Williams from injury and the Letroy Guion/Sharif Floyd time share taking shape. Any push up the middle that comes along as we move forward is only going to add a layer to the trouble opposing QBs are facing and could, as the season hits full stride, be the key to this defense’s success. With little help needed from added rushers, the front four could free more defenders to work against the division’s dangerous passing attacks.
Two games into the season, we’ve now had a good glimpse of what the Vikings’ trio of first-round picks have to offer. DT Sharif Floyd had his snaps cut nearly in half from the first week to the second (44 to 24) after a fairly nondescript opener highlighted by a batted pass and a missed tackle. His run defense grade fell off to an undesirable -1.7 in Week 2 as he appears to still be finding his feet.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson again saw just a handful of offensive snaps but chipped in with his first kickoff return for a touchdown as he opened the game in style, flashing the big-play impact Minnesota envisioned on draft day. He’s 3-for-3 on passes his way and the screen pass he took for a weaving 14 yards against Chicago was a peek into what we may see more of soon.
Following his 73-snap debut against the pass-happy Lions, cornerback Xavier Rhodes settled for 41 plays this week and saw a big bump in his coverage grade, leading all Viking DBs with a +1.6 while again locked in to spending the day lined up on the defense’s left side.
Must See TV
In the time spent reviewing each game during our analysis process, we invariably come upon plays (or elements of plays) that keep the rewind button clicking. A couple from the Vikings in this one got their due on the broadcast replays, but are worth another mention for the individual efforts displayed — both coming in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
The first being fullback Rhett Ellison’s absolute destruction of Bears safety Chris Conte on 4th-and-inches (Q4, 10:43) to clear the path for Adrian Peterson’s conversion and keep the go-ahead drive moving. Ellison leads into the RG-RT hole for an Iso block so scary dominant that I’d recommend sending the children out of the room before viewing. Not only is Conte flat-backed and de-helmeted, but Peterson takes the cue to run directly over the top of the encounter adding just the right touch of finish.
First down gained, the Vikings go on to kick a field goal and take the lead with eight minutes left. Chicago’s ensuing possession provides the setting for the second play.
Looking to answer with points of their own and the clock becoming a factor, the Bears have moved to midfield and are riding Matt Forte via pass and run. From their 48 (Q4 6:41) they send Forte wide right, looking to churn toward another first down, but Viking defensive tackle Letroy Guion has other plans. From his DRT spot, the play goes away. Guion gives ground off the snap then charges laterally with the flow, crossing the line of scrimmage, discarding fullback Tony Fiammetta with one arm and tracking down Forte from behind.
What happens at this point takes his play from a solid hustle effort to one of a player desperately wanting to secure a win. Guion latches on to Forte from behind and not only takes him to the ground, but steals the ball away in the process. A textbook swipe at a key moment in the game that gave the ball back to Minnesota with a short field and an opportunity to build on their recently-gained lead.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Day of Extremes
If you’re only going to remember one play from Jay Cutler’s set on Sunday, his last throw would be the one he’d suggest. Though his day of extremes finished on a high note with the beautifully placed game-winner he delivered to Martellus Bennett at the pylon, the valleys were as low as the peaks were high. All factored in as Cutler settled near the midline with an overall +1.0 grade for his troubles.
Balancing that throw was a forced effort into traffic at the goal line late in the second that pin-balled its way into the waiting arms of Minnesota’s Kevin Williams. The fumble he lost at the hands of Jared Allen earlier that quarter was even more painful as he watched Brian Robison scoop and score.
Then there was the perfect pitch-and-catch ‘go route’ touchdown to Brandon Marshall in the first quarter that was offset by an equally smooth shot on a similar pattern that sailed to Viking safety Harrison Smith.
The dramatic ending improves the taste left, but taken top to bottom, this day did not follow well on his Week 1 showing.
Everywhere in Coverage
Having long been a positive-grader in coverage, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs unsurprisingly continued on that front in this game (+3.3 coverage). Notable about his display, though, was the manner in which he made his impact against the pass, getting his hands to balls not only targeting his coverage but those around him as well.
Briggs logged one pass defense of a simple nature, reaching past fullback Zach Line who had settled just past the line of scrimmage to swap down a relatively harmless Ponder attempt. Later, though, Briggs came up with a more impressive deflection (Q2, 4:28) by leaping to get a piece of a ball intended for Jerome Simpson on a route run a level deeper than his coverage.
His most disruptive – and most subtle – addition to this collection of coverage moments, came deep into the third quarter and helped keep points off the board. With Minnesota down three and driving, a third-down slant from the Chicago 10-yard line found its way into the midsection of Viking receiver Jarius Wright at the 3 – yardage that would be enough for a first down near the goal line. Briggs reacted to the throw and from his inside-out position, arrived just after the pass, swiping a paw at it as it settled into the WR’s belly and getting enough to rattle it loose.
The Bears up front — particularly the Peppers-Paea-Melton-McClellin starting quartet — had their share of issues any way you look at it. As pass rushing group they managed only a hit and three hurries on the day and against the ground game there were just four stops to be had. All graded solidly in the red overall, each notching -2.1-or-worse marks and negatives in both facets as the Viking O-line had all the answers.
It wouldn’t be as worrying if it were not shaping up to be a trend… all but Paea had similar results in Week 1, but it looks like he’s been pulled in. A small silver lining may be what Nate Collins showed while rotating in at DLT and DRT, a +1.6 to go with a stop and two hurries in 27 snaps.
– Martellus Bennet was targeted five times when lined up in the slot. He caught four for 54 yards and a touchdown.
– Robison and Allen each rushed 100% of the time from their designated sides of the line (Robison from the left, Allen from the right). They were two of only five 4-3 DEs with at least 30 pass rush snaps this week to do so.
– The Vikings’ offensive line gave up just eight total QB pressures (one sack, two hits, five hurries).
PFF Game Ball
A starring performance from Brian Robison. His touchdown may stand out, but it was his hit and six hurries that got him the nod.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick