What We Learned: Vikings vs. Bears Storylines

Posted Sep 14, 2013

The week of practice is over and the Vikings are nearly set to travel to Chicago for a second consecutive road game within the division, as they are nearly set for a showdown with the Bears. Here’s what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared to face the Bears…

Expect to see the Vikings in more base defense personnel groupings
In last week’s game at Detroit, linebacker Marvin Mitchell was on the field for just 15 defensive snaps. Cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes were on the field for 80 and 70 snaps, respectively. What does this tell us? It tells us the Vikings were in their nickel defensive package for much of the game in response to Detroit running out 3+ WR sets frequently. In fact, according to my unofficial count, the Lions had 48 snaps with 3+ WRs on the field, which comes out to 62.3% of their offensive snaps.

Asked how Mitchell played against the Lions, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams responded: “Did well. I wish there would have been a little bit more base [defense]. I’ve liked what Marvin has done for us at the WILL linebacker spot.”

But Williams also said on Thursday that he expects something different from the Bears this Sunday. And he may be right, assuming  Chicago operates similarly this week. Chicago, again according to my unofficial count, ran 16 plays with 3+ wide receivers on the field, which constituted just 26.2% of their snaps.

“I know this is not going to be that type of ball game, so Marvin will be on the field more with this group,” Williams said. “They want to run the ball and they want to make sure they are a balanced attack, so Marvin will get more snaps this week.”


Cordarrelle Patterson may see more of the field on Sunday
Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has looked explosive nearly every time he's touched the ball so far. He returned the opening kickoff of the preseason 50 yards and then caught four passes for 54 yards later in the game. In Detroit, he caught a screen pass and darted 10 yards toward the goal line nearly scoring a touchdown, and later in the game he was just a shoelace tackle away from returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

With the passing game needing a boost, it sounds like more snaps for Patterson is part of the solution.

“We’re going to try to get him a few more snaps,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier in the week.

To get Patterson on the field more, the Vikings need to sustain drives. To sustain drives, players need to execute their assignments better. In Detroit, the Vikings didn’t produce a series of more than four plays until deep into the 3rd quarter. That lack of production on the field will doom even the most talented playcallers. It’s hard to blame the Vikings coaching staff for not getting Patterson on the field more frequently when the players who are on the field aren’t producing 1st downs and allowing the offense to get into the game plan, which surely contains opportunities for Patterson and the rest of his talented receiver teammates, such as Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright.

The Vikings know more screens and quick slants are coming
When opposing offenses prepare to play the Vikings, you can be sure their top priority is to neutralize the pass rush. No NFC team has more sacks than the Vikings since the start of 2011. The Detroit Lions accomplished this goal last week, and they did so by using the quick passing game – specifically by using the screen pass and quick slants. The Lions threw 23 passes that traveled in the air for under 10 yards last week, and 73.9% of those passes were completed for a total of 147 yards, nine 1st downs and one touchdown.

As a result, expect to see more of this style of attack from opposing offenses.

"I’m sure Chicago’s going to look at the tape and we’ll see something similar. When you have a pass rush like ours, we’re going to repeatedly see that until we show we can defend screen passes and short passes over the middle.”

If the Bears employ this attack, keep an eye out for starting running back Matt Forte, who may try to attack the Vikings in the same way Reggie Bush did.


Kevin Williams looks likely to return
For those who thought missing Kevin Williams last week might be a blessing in disguise because it meant we’d get to see some young players in action, guess again. The Vikings defense was on the field for the majority of the 1st half and for too much of the 2nd half, and Williams’ presence would’ve been helpful from a talent level and production standpoint as well as from a depth standpoint. It looks as if Williams will be back this week, though – he’s listed as probable on the week’s final injury report. This will make what is already a strength of the Vikings roster – their defensive line – even stronger and should provide the defense the boost it needs in terms of ability and production as well as leadership and attitude.

Devin Hester’s numbers aren’t as good vs. the Vikings since Mike Priefer’s arrival
Devin Hester may be the greatest return man in NFL history. If he’s not, he’s definitely in the conversation at least and is certainly one of the three best. Vikings fans will probably lie in the camp of saying he’s the greatest of all-time, considering Hester has four return touchdowns against the Purple, averages 27.4 yards per kickoff return and 14.3 per punt return.

But there’s good news, Vikings fans. As I wrote on Thursday, Hester’s numbers have gone down since Mike Priefer became Special Teams Coordinator in Minnesota. In the past three seasons (Priefer’s tenure), Hester has no return touchdowns and averages of 11.0 on kickoff returns and 8.5 on punt returns. Those numbers are drastically decreased from his career numbers vs. the Vikings and those numbers will be just fine if they are what the Vikings allow this Sunday.


Sunday’s weather conditions could be sloppy
The weather forecast for the Chicago area on Sunday calls for mid-60s and a 60-80% chance of scattered thunderstorms. That could lead to a messy day at Soldier field. How does this impact the game? I’ve always wondered if a sloppy field was better for receivers or for cornerbacks. On one hand, a sloppy field makes it tougher for quarterbacks and receivers to be as precise, but on the other hand it makes it even tougher for defensive backs to guard receivers. The same back-and-forth argument can be made for defensive and offensive linemen, or for running backs and linebackers. I see adverse weather conditions as a bit of a neutralizer. Looks like we’ll find out on Sunday.

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