It’s been a few days since the Vikings lost their season opener 34-24 at Detroit and, quite frankly, we’re tired of talking about quarterback Christian Ponder’s four turnovers. So, for the next 600 words or so, we’ll look ahead to this week’s game at Chicago, where the Vikings are 1-11 in their last 12 games. Here are three things you should know:
1. The Bears are starting two rookie offensive linemen for the first time in 30 years.
And guess what? That’s a good thing. After absorbing 113 sacks in his past 40 games, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was well-protected Sunday in a sack-free 24-21 victory over the Bengals at Soldier Field.
The Bengals have a strong defense with a good pass rush, but an all-rookie right side of the Bears offensive line held up nicely. Guard Kyle Long, a first-round pick from Oregon, and tackle Jordan Mills, a fifth-rounder from Louisiana Tech, meshed well in pass protection and in the running game. The highlight came when running back Matt Forte had the room to run wide right to pick up 8 yards on a fourth-and-1 conversion during the Bears’ game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter.
A year ago, the Bears tied the league high by using seven different starting offensive line combinations. Last Sunday, center Roberto Garza was the only returning starter. Signing former Saint Jermon Bushrod to play left tackle appears to have finally brought some stability to Cutler’s blind side, while releasing J’Marcus Webb, now a backup with the Vikings, seems to have made the right side more aggressive.
“We just projected [Long and Mills] to be better players over the long haul, and were good enough that we could play them early and work through their growth as linemen,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “[Releasing Webb] wasn’t something we made a quick decision on. We gave all the guys a chance to make the group.”
2. ‘Peanut,’ Bears D pick up right where they left off last year.
Charles Tillman is 32 and showing no signs of slowing down. In anything, “Peanut” was picking up steam with two interceptions during Sunday’s spirited back-and-forth battle with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, one of the NFL’s most difficult receivers to defend.
“He’s gotten a little bit older in the league, but he still has tremendous experience and great instincts and tremendous anticipation,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “It shows up because he makes a lot of plays.”
A year ago, the Bears missed the playoffs despite leading the league in interceptions (24) and total takeaways (44). On Chicago’s second defensive snap of Sunday’s season opener, Tillman read Andy Dalton’s eyes and jumped the route, timing it perfectly to steal the ball from Green for the first of Chicago’s three takeaways.
Green did have nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. But not all of those catches came against Tillman. One of the touchdowns, a 45-yarder, came against cornerback Tim Jennings. Tillman also was called for a 34-yard pass interference penalty on Green that set up a first-and-goal at the 1.
3. Trestman isn’t afraid to gamble.
Trestman, who won the CFL’s Grey Cup twice in five season as Montreal’s coach, made his NFL head coaching debut at 57, the second-oldest debut behind Romeo Crennel, who was 58 when he took over the Browns in 2005.
If Sunday is an indication, Trestman won’t be afraid to make an aggressive call. Trailing the Bengals 21-17 with 8½ minutes left, he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 27-yard line, passing up a 45-yard field goal.
“I guess I didn’t view it as that difficult of a decision,” Trestman said. “We didn’t want to lose the field position. We could have kicked the field goal. I felt like we were good enough to make the distance that it was. I don’t know that it was even a full yard. And if it was we probably would have still gone for it. I just felt like it was the right thing to do at the time. I didn’t try to overanalyze it.”
One play after Forte’s 8-yard run behind the all-rookie right side, Cutler threw the game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall.