In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Bears preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As I was sitting in my hotel room in Chicago watching Alabama defeat Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Bears today.
-- Last week we noted that the Detroit defensive tackle tandem of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh may have been the best tandem the Vikings would see all season. While that may or may not be true when all is said and done, don’t sleep on the tackle tandem we’ll see this afternoon with Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. These two anchor the middle of Chicago’s defense and they will pose a challenge for the Vikings offensive line as they try to pave the way for the NFL’s MVP,
-- In 10 career games against the Bears, Vikings defensive end
-- Another new face in Chicago is tight end Martellus Bennett. The former Dallas Cowboy and New York Giant is built like a house – 6-6, 265 pounds – and he has impressive athletic ability. He just hasn’t been able to put it all together during his six-year career. Hopefully that continues today, but he’s off to a good start this season after hauling in a touchdown reception against Cincinnati last week. Bennett is a solid blocker and he has the athletic ability to be a dangerous pass catcher, so the Vikings must be aware of Bennett’s whereabouts to make sure his fast start in Week 1 doesn’t get even fast in Week 2.
-- There’s been a lot of talk about how Bears running back Matt Forte can do the things Lions running back Reggie Bush did to the Vikings and about how Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is every bit as dangerous as Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. All of that may be true, but we’d be remiss to go this whole week without mentioning the triggerman of Chicago’s offense – quarterback Jay Cutler. Just as the Vikings had with Matthew Stafford last week, the opposing quarterback this week has as good an arm as you’ll find in the NFL. Cutler, an eight-year veteran, isn’t afraid to throw the ball into tight windows and he has a short memory, meaning mistakes don’t keep him from taking more chances. In eight games against the Vikings, Cutler is 6-2 and his averages in completion percentage, touchdown-interception ratio and passer rating vs. the Vikings are higher than his career averages in those categories. So what’s the point? The point is that member of the Vikings secondary must be cognizant of Cutler’s habits, particularly the fact that he will stand in the pocket to wait until his receivers break open and deliver a pass in the face of pressure. It’s important for defenders in coverage to stay plastered to their receivers even after it may seem the play is over because Cutler will wait until the final moment to try and thread the needle. The Vikings do average over one interception per game against Cutler and they’ve sacked him 14 times in eight games, so it’s not as if the Bears quarterback has this defense’s number. Cutler is dangerous because of his arm strength and cavalier mindset, but he’s also prone to mistakes.
-- We’ve discussed a few times this week how Chicago’s offensive makeup is similar to Detroit’s – gunslinging quarterback, dynamic run-pass option at running back, dominant outside receiver, up-and-down offensive line – and how that might lead the Vikings to a similar game plan against Chicago that they had against Detroit. But let’s also keep this in mind: the Bears may be looking at the Vikings as having a similar defensive composition to that of the Bengals, their opponent last week. The strength of the Vikings defense is its defensive line, a group that has 95 sacks since the start of 2011. The strength of the Bengals defense? The defensive line – they have 96 sacks since the start of 2011. So can we take a look at how the Bears approached the Cincinnati defense and wonder if they’ll approach the Vikings defense the same? I think so, and there are two stats from the Bears-Bengals game that make me believe the Bears will attack the Vikings similarly to how they attacked the Bengals.
First, the Bears ran on 56.0% of their snaps on 1st down, 42.9% on 2nd down and 28.6% on 3rd down. So just as the Lions did last week, I expect the Bears to commit to running the ball on 1st down to take advantage of the Vikings guarding against Brandon Marshall ruining the game. Secondly, 22 of the Bears 33 passing attempts last week were in the air for under 10 yards. The Lions took a similar approach last week to neutralize the Vikings pass rush. While quarterback Jay Cutler is a gunslinger who likes to take deep drops and throw the ball downfield, I expect he’ll have more than his fair share of quick throws that will take away the Vikings pass rush and put pressure on defenders to tackle well.