5 things we learned: Vikings at Bears
Off the bye, facing a team on the brink of imploding, the Minnesota Vikings took a 10-0 lead in Chicago on Sunday.
Minnesota looked ready to continue momentum of two straight wins. Soldier Field appeared close to turning on the hometown Bears, who had lost five of the past six games and allowed more than 50 points in the past two contests.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Vikings' coronation. Chicago didn't roll over and Minnesota (4-6) didn't finish off the teetering Bears. Minnesota's offense couldn't take advantage of a porous defense and the defense hemorrhaged yards to Chicago's lengthy receivers.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings' 21-13 loss:
Sure it was Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers who had shredded the Bears' defense in the past two weeks. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is a rookie who was making his sixth NFL start. Yet, Chicago's defense had offered little resistance in recent weeks and had, indeed, allowed more than 50 points in each of the last two weeks for a total of 106 points.
Bridgewater was coming off a strong second half in the win against Washington - the league's seventh-ranked pass defense -- before the bye and had his most extended sequence of success since his first NFL start against Atlanta. The Bears had allowed 657 yards and 11 passing touchdowns the previous two games. Bridgewater accounted for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Sunday.
Minnesota's offense could do little against Chicago, finishing with 243 total yards. Bridgewater was under pressure, though he only took one sack. Bridgewater completed 18 of his 28 passes, averaging 5.64 yards per attempt.
When he dropped back, Bridgewater often went short to screens or checkdowns and rarely challenged downfield until the fourth quarter when Minnesota was in catch-up mode. All too often this season with Bridgewater, third-down pass attempts are short of the first-down marker. The Vikings were 2 of 11 on third downs.
Against a questionable defense, Bridgewater and Minnesota's offense took a step back instead of forward.
It's soon to be the giving season, but the Vikings would like a little bit more receiving. The breakdowns on offense are across the board and each unit shares blame. Bridgewater didn't try to get the ball downfield Sunday and it's likely on the team's receivers, as well.
Bridgewater spoke during the week about trusting receivers to be in the right spots, but there was no chance to make such plays on Sunday without the ball going to the receivers. Coach Mike Zimmer said one of the issues is receivers running the wrong routes and some blame goes to the offensive line.
Yet, Minnesota hasn't been able to use its receiving corps this year nearly enough. Charles Johnson, a midseason acquisition, had the only catch by a receiver in the first half Sunday and he had just one. Johnson ended up leading the team with six catches for 87 yards, connecting with Bridgewater a few times in the fourth quarter for good gains.
Receiver Jarius Wright pulled up with an injury on one target. Greg Jennings caught one of two targets, a 4-yard reception on third-and-7. Cordarrelle Patterson had two catches for 24 yards. Bridgewater needs more from his receivers group to help him out in his rookie season.
Pressure on Bridgewater was an issue again and it could have led, partly, to the amount of short passes, checkdowns and screens. The finger has been pointed at left tackle Matt Kalil all season and he was in the spotlight again Sunday.
Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was on the other side. The matchup was Kalil, in the midst of a poor season, facing Allen, who entered with just 1.5 sacks. The two had gone at each other in practices for the past two years. Allen was looking forward to the matchup and told reporters this week that Kalil was playing well this year and it would be a matter of who was better in technique Sunday.
Allen won the battle. Kalil struggled again. Bridgewater was only sacked once, and it was Allen getting him on the ground leading to his calf-roping sack celebration. Allen ran right past Kalil for the sack. There were other such instances when Bridgewater managed to get rid of the ball. On one occasion, Allen beat Kalil to the outside and then was able to nip Bridgewater who had stepped up in the pocket and delivered a pass. Bridgewater went limping off the field after Allen hit him.
The Vikings knew all about the size disadvantage coming in. The Bears have Brandon Marshall (6-foot-5) and Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3) on the outside. Minnesota has 5-foot-9 cornerback Captain Munnerlyn starting in the base defense and 5-foot-10 Josh Robinson to go with 6-foot-1 Xavier Rhodes on the outside in the nickel defense.
Chicago knew where Josh Robinson was and targeted him often with the tall receivers. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler just threw the ball up and let Marshall and Jeffery use their length. Jeffery was targeted 17 times and had 11 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown against Robinson. Marshall had 10 targets leading to seven catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns against Robinson.
Robinson wasn't out of position in many of the cases, but Marshall and Jeffery used their size to make plays. Cutler was 31-of-43 passing -- with 27 attempts to Marshall and Jeffery -- for 330 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Minnesota, particularly Robinson, just had no chance against Marshall and Jeffery.
The pass rush didn't help the mismatches. The Vikings didn't sack Cutler once. Chicago had allowed 24 sacks and Minnesota had the second-most in the league coming in. Yet, Cutler got the ball out of his hands quickly, able to trust in the matchups on the outside.
The Bears were 10 of 17 on third downs, with several third-down attempts going at Robison and to either Marshall and Jeffery. Jeffery had six catches on third down alone.
How tough was the going for Minnesota's offense? Safety Andrew Sendejo had the most rushing yards for the Vikings and was leading all offensive players in yards until Charles Johnson had a big fourth quarter. Minnesota's fake punt return seemed to put the Bears on the brink of an implosion.
Facing a fourth-and-2 on the second offensive series for the Vikings, Zimmer called for a fake punt. Receiver Adam Thielen took the snap and handed off to Sendejo, who wove in and out of the defense for a 48-yard run. Bridgewater connected with tight end Rhett Ellison on the next play for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Sendejo's run was the first fake punt attempt by Minnesota since Dec. 5, 2004. The trickery worked and the Vikings appeared ready to capitalize on a toxic situation at Soldier Field and looked ready to put the Bears away. Of course, the play also represented the only offense for Minnesota until late in the game.
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