1. Downfield passing game has dried up
The Vikings were forced to make do with shorter gains Sunday against a Bears defense that’s given up the third-fewest plays of 20 yards or more this season. Case Keenum attempted only four passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air Sunday, completing two of them for 31 yards and a touchdown. In recent weeks, though, the Vikings have had more trouble connecting on downfield shots after finding some success there earlier this season. In the Vikings’ past six games, according to Pro Football Focus, Keenum is only 5-for-20 on passes of 20 yards or more, after hitting 10 of his 21 deep shots in the six games before that. Coach Mike Zimmer said Keenum was “a little up and down” Sunday, adding, “I thought there were some things he missed.” The Vikings could use part of their bye week to sharpen the quarterback’s connection with his receivers.
2. Murray shows his value
Running back Latavius Murray had just 14 carries for 38 yards in the Vikings’ first four games, as he recovered from offseason ankle surgery while Dalvin Cook took the lead role in the Vikings’ backfield. The tandem of Murray and Jerick McKinnon helped the Vikings weather Cook’s season-ending injury, though, and particularly as the Vikings have salted away recent wins, it’s become clear they’re willing to lean on Murray. He’s carried at least 20 times in four of their past five wins, including each of their past three. On Sunday, he posted 20 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while breaking runs of 18 and 22 yards in the final three minutes of the game.
3. More wide receivers find Rhodes in their shadow
After waiting until Week 15 of Mike Zimmer’s first season to have Xavier Rhodes shadow a receiver (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson), the Vikings have grown increasingly comfortable with asking Rhodes to follow one receiver across the field. According to Pro Football Focus, only two corners (Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Detroit’s Darius Slay) had done it more often than Rhodes through the season’s first 16 weeks, when Rhodes followed a receiver nine times. Sunday, the Vikings had Rhodes traveling across the field with Bears fourth-year receiver Dontrelle Inman. While Inman ended the game with five catches for 94 yards, the Bears targeted him 10 times, and he was flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty in the second quarter.