You know what you’re going to get from the Bears defense. A stout interior defensive line, explosive edge rushers, chase-and-tackle machines at inside linebacker and instinctive ballhawks in the secondary. It’s predictable, but it’s also overwhelming.
The offense? Well now that’s a different story. Predictable, not so much. Exotic is more like it.
On the Bears first offensive snap of the season, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky lined up in the gun with running back Tarik Cohen flanked to his right, two yards behind him. Another running back, rookie David Montgomery, lined up as a right wing. A third running back, Mike Davis, lined up on the left side of the formation outside the offensive tackle with his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.
Trubisky called for the snap as Montgomery motioned to the left and cleared the center of the formation. Then, Trubisky executed a reverse pivot and pitch to Cohen, who was looking to use down blocks by the offensive line, a kick out block by Montgomery and a seal by Davis to knife through the Green Bay Packers defense.
Cohen botched the exchange and the play went for a loss. But the unusual personnel grouping, exotic formation and creative play design is just one example of what the Vikings are expecting from this Matt Nagy-designed and Andy Reid-inspired offense.
“Offensively, they give you a lot of fits with a lot of the things they do,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer explained on Wednesday. “Try to misguide your eyes, so we’re going to have to play really, really well on the road to beat them.”
Nagy is a disciple of Andy Reid, having spent two seasons on Reid’s staff in Philadelphia (2011-12) and five on his staff in Kansas City (2013-17). Currently, Reid has perhaps the NFL’s most explosive offense and the use of exotic formations, motion and smooth quarterback ball handling is a staple of the Chiefs offense. Nagy has carried that with him to the job in Chicago, and he’s done so gracefully and effectively.
The challenge for the Vikings defense this week was to catalog the varying personnel groupings, formations and plays, then design defensive concepts to neutralize or at least slow down the production. A big part of this effort for the Vikings has been the training and trusting of the eyes.
“That’s a very important part, and that’s one thing that we’re stressing to our players. There’s a lot of motion, a lot of shifts, a lot of rockets, a lot of go’s, so those things try to really preoccupy the eyes pre-snap,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. “That’s been something that’s been a league trend over the last couple of years, and we’ve done our due diligence to work on what we need to get done in those situations in the offseason, carrying over to the preseason and in the first couple of ball games.
“We’ve definitely got to carry that to the game and be disciplined with our eyes and our assignments and our alignments.”
Having starting linebacker Anthony Barr back in the fold is significant for the Vikings this week because he knows the Vikings defense inside and out and is also the one who relays the play call and commands of Zimmer to the rest of the defense before every play. Barr and the rest of his defensive teammates will have a tall task on Sunday as they look to contain a Bears offense that features a young quarterback who continually shows progress and is well supported by a cast of athletic and explosive athletes at the skill positions, such as the aforementioned running backs as well former Vikings playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson and veteran receiver Allen Robinson.
Vikings won’t be sleeping on special teams
The Vikings kickoff and punt coverage units have been solid to begin the season. In three games, the Vikings have allowed a stingy 3.5 yards per punt return on 13 punts and only 44 yards on 13 kickoffs. With what the Bears present at the kickoff and punt returner positions, though, you can be sure the Vikings coverage units will not be resting on their laurels.
“Yeah, they have real dynamic returners, absolutely,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf said earlier in the week. “84 (Cordarrelle Patterson), obviously was here. He’s a Pro Bowl returner. 29’s a Pro Bowl returner, Tarik Cohen. Both are dangerous weapons for them in their return phases.
“We take that seriously. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound in everything that we do in the coverage phases and that’s probably the most important thing and finish each play because those guys gain yards after the initial hit. We’ve been emphasizing to our guys that we have to finish and be very fundamentally sound in our coverage lanes and responsibilities.”
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.
The Vikings and Bears will both be without an offensive starter on Sunday, as the Vikings ruled out starting right guard Josh Kline (concussion) while the Bears ruled out receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion). A pair of defensive starters for each team are listed as questionable – nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander (elbow) for the Vikings and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (knee) for the Bears.
Thursday night was a great example of why I like the Vikings run-first identity. Five minutes to go with 2nd and 5 from the 50, and the Eagles throw incomplete twice after gashing the Packers over and over starting at their own 1! Come on man! That gave the Packers a chance. Then the Packers throw it four times from the goal line. POUND THE BEEF! SKOL!
Teams work on their “four-minute offense” in practice every week and regularly during the offseason for moments exactly like this. When there is fewer than five minute to go in the game and you have possession of the ball as well as the lead, the goal is to maintain possession and run the clock all the way down to 00:00 or to leave as little time on the clock as possible. Now, the defense knows this is your goal so they are going to overcompensate to stop the run, and therein lies a potential dilemma for the offense because they want to be disciplined and run the ball to take time off the clock but they also know there is going to be opportunity to extend drives and gain yardage through the air due to the defense committing to stopping the run. In the example from Thursday night with the Eagles, I feel head coach Doug Pederson did a good job of walking the line. He called five runs in the first six plays, and those runs generated 26 yards; the lone pass generated a nine-yard gain. Facing 2nd and 6 from the Green Bay 49, there was still 5:17 to go so it’s not as if Philadelphia could’ve just sat on the ball and not gained yards at that point. Pederson tried to use Green Bay’s commitment to stopping the run against them by moving the ball through the air to extend the drive and take time off the clock. It didn’t work in this instance, but Pederson had the right idea.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bears.
Odds and ends
A couple of random notes regarding Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Bears…
- Chicago will wear an alternate uniform on Sunday that is a recreation of what the team wore for the 1936 season. It’s a white jersey with blue pants, meaning the Vikings will wear their traditional home/purple jersey for this week’s road game
- The No. 1 crew for CBS will broadcast Sunday’s game, which would ordinarily mean Tony Romo would be alongside Jim Nantz in the booth. But that may not happen this week because Romo is competing in a PGA Tour event. If he makes the cut, Romo will be unavailable to call Sunday’s game and it will be Boomer Esiason calling the action with Nantz.
Stat of the Week – 34
The Vikings lead the NFL with 34 points off turnovers in 2019. This is an aspect of the game Chicago dominated along the way to winning the NFC North in 2018 and the Vikings chances of knocking off the defending division champs on the road this week will increase significantly if they can add to this total for 2019.
The Vikings stand a reasonable chance on Sunday to play in their first off-weather game. Kickoff is slated for 3:25 p.m. CT from Soldier Field near downtown Chicago, and the forecast as of Friday afternoon called for a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms with winds gusting at 12-15 mph.
“Absolutely, ball security is extremely important in this game,” Maalouf said earlier in the week. “We saw the weather report. There’s a chance of rain. There’s going to be some wind. The best thing about our preparation is we see so much wind and different weather here in our back yard, so I think that’s a really good prep for us and it helps us get ready.”
National Television: CBS
Play-by-play: Jim Nantz
Analyst: Tony Romo (or Boomer Esiason)
Sideline: Tracy Wolfson
National Radio: Sports USA
Play-by-play: Josh Appel
Analyst: Mark Carrier
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman and Ben Leber
Pre-game show: Mike Mussman – 10:00 a.m. CT