EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski sees similarities between Chicago’s defense and Minnesota’s defense … which is why he’s anticipating a big challenge Sunday afternoon.
Stefanski told media members on Thursday that he could “rattle off all the statistics” that put the Bears defense at or near the top of the league in several defensive categories.
“They are impressive across the board from level one, to level two, to level three,” said Stefanski, who added that he has a high level of respect for Bears Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and his coaching staff.
“I think they do a great job,” Stefanski said. “Reminds me a lot of our defense, honestly, just in how sound they are. Then you look at the personnel and it’s, again, from every level of the defense, they have some play makers and some really good players. We are going to have our work cut out for us.”
When the Vikings last played the Bears, at Soldier Field on Nov. 18, John DeFilippo was serving as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.
Stefanski, at the time the Vikings quarterbacks coach, wasn’t running the offense that game but said it’s still useful to go back and review the film.
“It’s the same defense versus the same offense,” Stefanski said. “And certainly, having been part of the staff, I was a part of [putting the game plan] together. So I think it’s useful to go back and look at it.
“The nice part is, we can see who we were, we can see what they were doing in that particular game,” Stefanski added. “It’s part of any process, looking back at the first time you played them.”
The play caller knows Minnesota will especially have to account for Khalil Mack, who in the teams’ previous meeting recorded a sack, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Stefanski called Mack a great player.
“He is a great combination of size, athleticism, power, effort. Just turn the tape on. He is an impressive player,” Stefanski said. “He certainly is someone that we have to account for in a bunch of different ways. That is why we are out here working and implementing that plan.”
Here are other topics covered by Stefanski, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer:
Stefanski on ‘bouncing back’ against Detroit:
Stefanski’s first game as interim offensive coordinator was against the Dolphins, when Minnesota jumped out to an early 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Vikings offensive performance in the following game went quite a bit differently, when they initially struggled to get anything going against the Lions.
Stefanski was asked if he felt more comfortable in his second game calling plays, and he responded that it was easier in the sense of knowing what to expect, but he wasn’t pleased with the game’s start.
“I give our players a ton of credit [for] last week and bouncing back,” Stefanski said. “Was not the start we wanted, not the start we envisioned. A lot of times you talk about starting fast, and you hope it happens, and in that case it didn’t. But really, the guys bounced back, which was important. That is part of who we are, being resilient, and that is going to be important this week, too.”
Edwards on Trubisky’s mobility:
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can use his legs to hurt teams, and he proved that against the Vikings at Soldier Field earlier this season.
Trubisky recorded a career-high 10 rushes against Minnesota and racked up 43 yards.
“He really got [away from us] a couple times on third down earlier in the game at Chicago. Also, first and second down. I mean, he can find a seam,” Edwards said. “He’s gotten a lot more comfortable with what they do schematically and how they’re using their different personnel, so we’ve got to be very disciplined in our rush lanes and hopefully get out and execute the game plan.”
Edwards on Linval Joseph affecting the quarterback:
The Vikings have one of the most dynamic defensive tackles in the league in Linval Joseph.
Edwards was asked about what Joseph brings to the table, and he responded that opposing offenses are in for a “tough day” if they single block him.
“They realize a lot of times that they have to double him,” Edwards said. “For us, that allows our linebackers who play at the second level to be a little bit [freer] as they’re coming across [the line of scrimmage].
“He is going to give you a hard day’s work every day that he’s out there. He pays attention to the detail,” Edwards added. “He’s more than your typical nose [tackle] with the push that he gets in the pocket, being able to understand block recognition, his effort to the football on screens. So he brings a lot to us defensively.”
Joseph in 2016 and 2017 recorded 4.0 and 3.5 sacks, respectively, and has just 1.0 sack this season. Edwards reminded, however, that stats don’t tell the whole story.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that, when they do double him, he’s getting push in the pocket. Any time you can feel, as a quarterback, you’re getting push at your feet, it can still affect the throw,” Edwards explained. “We don’t talk about sacks all the time around here, just getting sacks. It’s about affecting the quarterback, and he does that.”
Priefer on backup punt returners:
Marcus Sherels, the Vikings mainstay punt returner, suffered a foot injury at Detroit and did not play the remainder of the game. He has been a non-participant in practice so far this week.
If Sherels doesn’t play against the Bears Sunday, Priefer would like to see rookie receiver Chad Beebe back there, but Beebe was on Thursday’s injury report with a hamstring. If Beebe also is unable to go, Priefer said the role would likely go to Brandon Zylstra – but he always has options.
“If [Beebe] can’t, then Brandon will do it. Craig James has done it – he did in preseason,” Priefer said. “Holton Hill can do it; Adam Thielen is always an emergency backup for us. We have enough guys that can do it. Obviously, we’re going to miss Marcus and what he brings to the table.”
Sherels has averaged 12.0 yards on 23 punt returns this season and has a long of 70.
Zylstra has averaged 7.3 yards on three returns this season.
Priefer on ‘erring on the side of caution’
Priefer pointed out that he is less concerned about return yardage and more about ball security when replacing the veteran Sherels with a younger returner.
When asked how to coach the decision to call for a fair catch or try to make a defender miss, Priefer said it’s based on experience.
“I think a young guy like Brandon needs to err on the side of caution because like I told you guys a hundred times, it’s ball possession,” Priefer said. “It’s the number one thing we do – kickoff return, punt return. We have to get the ball back to the offense in the best field position possible, so when he goes back there he needs to understand that’s first and foremost on his mind.
“How do I coach it? I think you have to talk about different situations, you practice different situations, and then when they happen in the game, you have to coach off that,” Priefer added.