Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
The Bears entered Sunday’s game with the Vikings ranked near the bottom of the league at allowing sacks. So why is it the only time Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was technically sacked was when he got his foot stepped on by his own lineman, falling to the ground?
In other words, why were the Vikings unable to get to the quarterback?
A big reason, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, is that the Vikings rarely put the Bears in the position of having to get the ball deep downfield. “They had a lot of five, six-yard passes and trying to run after the catch,” Frazier said. “So we didn’t get them into the kind of game we needed to be, where we were able to take advantage of what we thought was an opportunity for our defensive line.”
The Bears started the game by chipping on the Vikings defensive ends with the tight end, and never really had to deviate from that plan. Things were different for the Bears against San Fransicso the week before. In that game Chicago got behind early and had to get more aggressive in the passing game.
Sunday the Bears came out with a conservative game plan -- helping the line with tight ends and backs -- and the Vikings never forced Chicago to change.
“Their passing game was different than what they had used the week before or the week before that,” Frazier said. “They really shortened some things down, which was smart. They did the right things to do.”
And the Vikings offense never put the Bears in a position to have to change things up.
“In (the San Francisco) game they were behind,” defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “They had to get receivers out and backs out to catch the ball. (Sunday) they chipped our ends and doubled up inside. That made it tough to get to the quarterback.”
--Williams was asked if playing outside, on natural grass, was a problem for the Vikings. Minnesota will do that again this week in Green Bay. “You’ve just got to execute,” Williams said. “Doesn’t matter where you play the game at. It’s about executing and doing your job. If you don’t do it you don’t win, whether it’s inside, outside or on the roof.”
--Center John Sullivan said the Bears used an unusually high amount of line stunts in an attempt to get pressure on quarterback Christian Ponder. “There were a lot of line stunts, but that’s also because they were up by so much, we were forced to pass the ball. It’s a byproduct of how the game is going. When a defense like the Bears can get you behind, and they can just pin their ears back and pass rush, it can be a pretty tough group to deal with.”
CHICAGO -- It's gotten very ugly very quickly for the Vikings at Soldier Field.
So what else is new? They haven't won here since 2007, and a fifth consecutive loss at Chicago seems a certainty at this point.
Christian Ponder was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the first play. And things didn't get any better from there.
Adrian Peterson lost a fumble for the second time this season, giving the Bears a short field and a 7-3 lead that grew to 25-3 when a Ponder interception gave the Bears an even shorter field and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth with 1:48 left in the half.
The Vikings did lead 3-0 when the offense turned a Chad Greenway fumble recovery into a four-play, 6-yard, um, march to a 40-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
Walsh also had a 30-yard field goal blocked -- only his second miss of the season -- while a 23-yard shanked punt by Chris Kluwe led to yet another short field and a 47-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
The lowest of the first-half lowlights possibly came during the Bears' 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. They converted three third downs, a fourth down and reached the 1-yard line on a questionable pass interference penalty on Antoine Winfield, who was covering Brandon Marshall in the end zone. Winfield was arguing for offensive pass interference because Marshall had his right arm extended, holding Winfield at a distance while the ball was in the air.
The Bears capped that humiliating drive with a 2-point conversion run by holder Adam Podlesh. Podlesh simply took the snap and ran untouched over the left side of the line. Ouch.
The Bears probably could have scored another touchdown late in the game -- after the Vikings' offense used up only 27 seconds on a three-and-out. But they didn't use their time outs and settled for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which Kevin Williams blocked.
Here are some first-half stats to chew on:
. The Vikings have more turnovers (1) than first downs in the first quarter.
. The Bears lead in first downs, 16-3.
. The Bears have converted 7 of 10 third downs and 1 of 1 fourth downs.
. The Vikings have only 92 yards.
. Peterson has 25 yards on seven carries.
. Ponder has a 33.9 passer rating, completing 8 of 17 passes for 70 yards and one pick.
Vikings safety Mistral Raymond and linebacker Jasper Brinkley each drew personal foul penalties within 2 minutes of each other during the fourth quarter of last weekend's 34-24 win over Detroit. It turns out those infractions will cost the duo a combined $28,875.
Raymond drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty for his late hit on Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, falling on top of Leshoure a moment after Kevin Williams had made the tackle. That hit will cost Raymond $7,875 as a result of a fine administered by the NFL.
Three snaps later, Brinkley delivered a helmet-to-helmet shot on Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, a hit that will cost him $21,000. Johnson made a 25-yard reception on the play and the Lions were also awarded 2 yards on a half-the-distance to-the-goal penalty. Brinkley's fine, the league said, was assessed due to "helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless player."
In a 40-minute session with print reporters Wednesday morning, Vikings general manager delivered what amounted to a casual “state of the team” address. Spielman discussed everything from Adrian Peterson’s incredible recovery to the Vikings’ potential playoff push to the contract situations of receiver Percy Harvin and head coach Leslie Frazier. Here are some Spielman highlights from that session, in the first of three parts.
On what he saw in Peterson heading into the 2007 NFL Draft …
“You knew the unique skill set that you saw scouting him. There was no question about that. And then the more we spent time around him at the combine and we had him here for a top-30 visit, as talented as he was, he had all those extra elements that came with the talent to make him potentially be something unique in this league. Because you see a lot of guys who are more than talented enough to excel at this level but that ancillary thing -- the drive to be successful, the drive to be the best, the drive to win a championship -- all those things came out when we interviewed him. I don't know how those rumors got out about his collar bone before the draft. But we were very fortunate that he did slip to No. 7 because he was, at the time, the No. 1 player on our board that year. To get the opportunity to get someone with that skill set and that mental makeup we were very fortunate.”
On what Peterson has shown in rushing for more than 1,100 yards in his first 10 backs after major ACL and MCL rehab …
“The biggest thing was, I knew when we spoke to him and the injury occurred, the first thing that came out of his mouth was 'I'm going to get better than I was before this injury.' No one ever envisioned that. But that's what makes Adrian so unique and so special. He put in his mind that he was going to come back and not only come back but be better than he was before the injury. As we go through this last part of the season and how he's performed so far, he seems to be getting better and better each week. I think over the last two or three weeks he is a better player than he was before the injury. … I think he sets a great example of what he did this off-season and how determined he was. I think that filters down. But I also know physically he's probably unique in how he was able to come back
On how a 2012 Vikings team with such low outside expectations is now in a playoff chase …
“I think coming into this season, no one had high expectations for this football team. But I know internally we had very high expectations for ourselves. I think every year you go into training camp you better have high expectations for your football team or why are you in this? Why do you want to play the games? But I think the one thing you've got to credit, I think you have to credit the coaching staff because we knew we were going to have a young team. We knew we were going to have a lot of first and second year players playing for us. I think you have to credit the veteran leadership on this team –the Jared Allens, the Antoine Winfields, the Kevin Williams of the world – knowing they are going to bring these young guys along as well. So I think it's a combination of things, and we've done some good things this season, but I know there's some room that we still [can get better]. And Leslie has talked about it, we still need to improve and we still need to get better. And I still think, what I said in the beginning of the season was you want to see and evaluate each week kind of where you are at. And you are going to have some setbacks, you are going to have some growing pains. We've gone through some of that. But are the guys continuing to progress? Are we a better team in Week 1? Are we a better team Week 5? Are we a better team Week 10? Are we going to be even a better team at the end of the season? And that's kind of what you are hoping to see as we go through this thing. But we still have a ways to go to get better. We still need to get improvement. That's the attitude you have to have, I think.”
On whether he was tempted to wheel and deal before the Week 8 trade deadline passed …
“No, I think our philosophy and my philosophy that I believe in is that you continue to build this through the draft. We're looking forward -- I know our scouts are coming down to our final couple weeks here on the fall scouting. Our scouts are coming in in December, we're getting ready to start our meetings for the draft. Every year, this is the time of year your stomach starts to get excited because you know what's coming up here -- not only during the season, but what's coming up this offseason. With the systems that we have in place and some of the stuff we’ve implemented over the last two years and last year, I'm very excited about continuing and getting ready to improve this roster.”
Players and coaches teased rookie Jarius Wright all week about whether he'd be ready for his NFL debut after sittiing idle as a game-day inactive for the first nine games of his NFL career.
Wright, who was active only because veteran Percy Harvin is out with a badly sprained left ankle, answered them on his second regular-season snap as a professional, beating a weak zone defense for a 54-yard reception to the Lions' 1-yard line. Two plays later, Wright was uncovered when he caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead with 7:52 left in the first quarter.
Ponder, who entered the game in a four-game funk that was problem No. 1 of many in the team's 1-3 slump, completed his first six passes for 57 yards and a touchdown en route to leading the Vikings to a 13-3 halftime lead at Mall of America Field.
Wright, a fourth-round draft pick, had three catches for 65 yards.Ponder has completed 13 of 18 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. He completed passes to eight receivers, including himself. He caught a batted ball and was tackled for a 15-yard loss.
Meanwhile, the defense entered the game having not forced a turnover in nine quarters. But linebacker Chad Greenway's interception in tight coverage on tight end Brandon Pettigrew in Lions territory set up a 48-yard Blair Walsh field goal with 5:41 left in the first quarter.
Jason Hanson made it a 10-3 game with a 41-yard field goal with 11:07 left in the half. Kevin Williams stopped that drive with an 11-yard sack on third-and-five. But the key snap for the Vikings came the play before when cornerback Antoine Winfield knifed in off the left side of the offense to tackle running back Mikel Leshoure for a 2-yard loss on second-and-three.
The Vikings stretched the lead back to 10 points, 13-3, on a 23-yard field goal by Walsh with 4:41 left in the half. On the drive, Ponder showed no signs of the knee injury that's been dogging him. He followed a 15-yard run by Adrian Peterson with a 20-yard scramble into Lions territory.
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