The Chicago Bears might not have a single Pro Bowl-caliber player on their defense, but they still held the Vikings to 258 yards in a 20-10 victory that never seemed in doubt.
ESPN’s Jon Gruden, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl, said during the telecast that the Vikings offensive line is simply not good.
“I don’t think that if the Vikings had Adrian Peterson it would make any difference when it comes to them moving the ball with this kind of blocking,” Gruden said.
The inability of the Vikings’ banged-up offensive line to block for either the run or the pass has finally caught up to the team. It started last week at Philadelphia and continued with a loss at Chicago to a Bears team that was 1-6 going into this game.
But until the fourth quarter, the Vikings had managed only three points, coming when their drive of more than seven minutes at the end of the first half stalled 3 yards short of the goal line.
And that score was only possible because Bears defensive end Cornelius Washington ran onto the field and got a 15-yard penalty on a third-down play when the Vikings should have punted following a Sam Bradford fumble.
When coach Mike Zimmer was asked by reporters afterward what went wrong, he simply said: “We didn’t make any plays. We didn’t make any plays. They made them all. When there was opportunities to make plays, they made plays.”
Run game stymied
Going into Week 8 the Vikings were last in rushing yards per attempt in the NFL at 2.6 yards per carry. It didn’t get much better at Chicago, where they had to play without injured Jerick McKinnon. Against the Bears, they gained 57 yards on 18 carries, a 3.2-yard average. That effort raised the Vikings’ season average to 2.7 yards per carry.
No NFL team has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry since New England averaged 2.8 in 1994.
The Vikings simply do not have a running game, and their run-blocking has been miserable. Ronnie Hillman, signed on Sept. 21, wound up with only 15 yards rushing on four attempts. Last season while with the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos, Hillman ran for 102 yards on 21 carries in a 17-15 victory at Chicago on Nov. 22.
What was equally discouraging was that the Vikings defense gave up 153 yards rushing to rookie Jordan Howard, a fifth-round draft pick out of Indiana.
Jay Cutler has been a menace to the Vikings from the time he arrived in Chicago. After missing five games because of a thumb injury, he came back Monday night to haunt them again.
He was efficient all night with a number of perfectly designed pass plays that led him to 252 yards passing and one score.
Meanwhile, Sam Bradford has looked like a different quarterback the past two weeks, as he has been under intense pressure with 11 sacks in the two games. He was sacked five times by the Bears, and while he completed 23 of 37 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown late in the game to Stefon Diggs, the offense looks nothing like it did during his first four starts.
It’s hard to understand how a team that played so well, posting a 5-0 record, could collapse in these two road games to the Eagles and the Bears. But as mentioned, you normally don’t win games if your offensive line cannot block and you can’t run the ball.
If Vikings fans want to know the benefit of starting 5-0, it’s easy to see now. Despite their struggles these past two weeks, the team still has a one-game lead in the NFC North race as the rest of the division has stumbled. The Packers have plenty of their own injury concerns, and that was evident during their 33-32 loss at Atlanta on Sunday.
And a big plus for the Vikings is that they still have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way to try and reach the playoffs.
They have four road games remaining: Week 10 at Washington (4-3-1), Week 12 at Detroit (4-4), Week 14 at Jacksonville (2-5) and Week 16 at Green Bay (4-3), a game on Christmas Eve. They could be favored in the first three of those games.
They figure to be favored for four of their five remaining home games as well. Detroit is here on Sunday, Arizona (3-4-1) in Week 11, Dallas (6-1) in Week 13, Indianapolis (3-5) in Week 15 and Chicago (2-6) to end the season. Amazingly they face only three teams the rest of the season that currently have a winning record in the Redskins, Cowboys and Packers.
Meanwhile, the Packers schedule still features games at Washington and at Philadelphia, and home games with division leaders in Houston and Seattle. There’s simply no question that they have a much harder road the rest of the way than the Vikings do.
But if this Vikings team can’t find a way to block, it’s hard to see how they turn the offense around.
• The Vikings will face the Lions on Sunday, and Detroit coach Jim Caldwell came under fire after a 20-13 loss at Houston on Sunday. Caldwell called for an onside kick with 2 minutes, 57 seconds remaining when the Lions were trailing by seven and still had three timeouts left. The Texans easily recovered and were able to get two first downs to run out the clock. “We didn’t get the bounce right,” Caldwell told the Detroit Free Press. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t get it done.”
• One player the Vikings will have to contain is Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is having an outstanding season. He has a 103.4 passer rating, ranking fourth in the NFL, and 2,154 passing yards, which ranks eighth.
• Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson was asked what fans will find different at the home opener Tuesday night now that construction has started on Target Center. “Quite a few things are different, but they’re also going to see a building that is going to stay in renovation throughout the course of the season and into the next spring and summer,” he said. “First and foremost is a brand-new scoreboard, one of the biggest in the Midwest. That’s one thing they’re going to see that will absolutely change the in-game experience.”
• Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on what’s been working differently during his team’s three-game winning streak: “Devyn Dubnyk is in a zone right now, and it’s a zone we hope he stays in for a long time. I’m not doing anything different. I think the goaltending is different. They’re playing better and the defense is starting to be more cohesive as a unit.” Dubnyk is the first Wild goaltender to record three consecutive shutouts.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org