Mike Zimmer didn’t feel his Vikings offense “matched their intensity” against a Bears defense that was already entering Sunday with a talent advantage up front.
The offense’s lack of aggressiveness started with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who missed the first of what would be a handful downfield opportunities on the first play of Sunday’s 16-6 loss in Chicago.
“There’s times you just have to pull the trigger,” Zimmer said Monday, “and believe you’re going to make the throw. There were some times he got the ball out really good.”
As our Ben Goessling noted on Monday morning, the Bears loaded up to stop Dalvin Cook, who entered Sunday as the NFL’s rushing leader through three weeks. So, on the first play the Vikings tried to throw out of two-back personnel against a loaded Bears front. Then Cousins’ poor performance started before he ever took a hit.
1. Why didn’t Cousins throw downfield much? It’s become a pattern against the Bears. Cousins has attempted 115 passes in three losses to Chicago; just three gained at least 20 yards.
Cousins’ bad game doesn’t show itself in passer rating (91.6), but he continuously left opportunities downfield, seemingly playing it too safe at the detriment of the offense.
The Bears’ pressure — whether real or perceived by Cousins — was a major factor throughout a game he was sacked five times during the second-half comeback attempt.
But Cousins’ internal clock ticked too quickly from the first snap.
On first down, the Vikings try to pass from this offset fullback formation. The Bears safeties respond accordingly with an aggressive alignment. Safety Eddie Jackson (#39) drops near the box with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#21) lurking in centerfield. Seeing this before the snap, Cousins should know he has tight end Kyle Rudolph (#82) going vertical against a single safety.
In the clip below, watch Clinton-Dix (#21) at the far right. The Bears safety quickly breaks onto a short route by Diggs, leaving the deep middle of the field open for Rudolph, who ran past Jackson (#39).
This was a huge missed opportunity on the offense’s first play.
2. You saw the overthrow to Adam Thielen on a third-and-10 play ending the opening drive. Another deep shot was schemed to Thielen on the next drive, but actual pressure up the middle stymied this possible deep ball.
Coordinator Kevin Stefanski calls a double move to Thielen on this second-and-6 play. The Vikings go max protection, with a slide to the left. Rudolph and Cook block toward Mack’s side on the right.
Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris (#95) gets the sack, which appears to be the fault of left guard Pat Elflein (#65). But watch rookie center Garrett Bradbury (#56).
On the second angle (0:11) of the clip below, watch Bradbury (#56) slide left seemingly without the proper depth to match both guards, who cede a yard or two. This split between Bradbury and Elflein allows Robertson-Harris an easy angle inside of Elflein, who is expecting help to his right due to the protection slide. Bradbury had many rookie moments like this in Sunday’s loss.
The first angle of this clip shows Thielen (top of view) running an out-and-up double move; Cousins clearly tries to set up the route with a pump fake, but he’s quickly sacked.
3. One of Cousins’ most head-scratching plays came in the third quarter.
Both flats are open on this third-and-2 snap. Yet Cousins double clutches, flees the pocket unnecessarily and gets O’Neill flagged for holding Leonard Floyd.
The Bears’ presnap look is an aggressive man-to-man coverage with corners pressed up to the line; this eventually develops as it looks — into an apparent Cover-1 call.
Cousins doesn’t look to his left, where Cook (#33) is wide open in the flat thanks to a pick set by Diggs (#14) on the slant. He does look toward Rudolph (#82) in the right flat, where a quick throw could’ve given Rudolph a chance for the two-yard gain. Yet no throw is made.
Cousins tucks the ball and flees despite no immediate threat, once again running from Mack’s side. If Cousins stands in the pocket, Floyd likely isn’t lurching away from O’Neill — a move that drew the holding penalty.
4. The Vikings’ outside zone running game was all but shelved against the Bears. That seemingly helped neuter a Vikings running game that saw nearly half (261 of 576) of its yardage entering Sunday come from the left and right edges, according to NFL Game Statistics and Information.
Just two of Dalvin Cook’s 14 runs bounced outside against vaunted edge defenders in Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. The Vikings tried — and tried, and tried — to establish the inside zone run against a defense without star DT Akiem Hicks and ILB Roquan Smith.
But Cook’s longest inside zone run went just four yards.
On this first-and-10 play in the fourth quarter (down 13-0), Stefanski dials it up for the last time, as it gains just two yards.
Problems, as Zimmer said, too often involved offensive linemen getting “overpowered” by the Bears’ front. That includes replacement right guard Dakota Dozier (#78), who couldn’t handle Bears defensive end Nick Williams (#97) on this play.
Cook has a hole behind Elflein and Bradbury, but he cuts to the right when he senses Williams crossing Dozier. Williams appears so ready for Cook’s cutback, you’re left wondering if Cook instead hit the hole, would he have found a crease past Williams?
5. Once again, the Vikings defense had a hard time hitting Matt Nagy’s Bears quarterbacks. In Nagy’s run (3-0) against the Vikings, Zimmer’s defense has come away with just two sacks in three losses.
It’s all part of Nagy’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach. The Bears fielded two of the quickest-throwing quarterbacks in the NFL’s Week 4 between Mitchell Trubisky (1.87-second average on three throws) and Chase Daniel (2.4-second average on 30 throws), according to Pro Football Focus.
Daniel completed a couple deep balls against the Vikings, including Allen Robinson’s 25-yard catch against cornerback Mike Hughes to help set up the opening touchdown.
But most of Daniel’s passes (25 of 30), including this 4th-and-3 play below, were kept within 10 yards of the line.
After Zimmer’s timeout snafu, the Bears flip from punt to offense on fourth down before halftime. As you can see below, all three Bears receivers aligned right run “stick” routes, or curls as deep as the first-down marker.
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander (#20) saw a heavy workload (41 snaps) in his return from a dislocated elbow. He led the way as the nickel corner, from where he allowed Bears receiver Anthony Miller (#17) too much cushion on this 5-yard catch for a first down. It brought the Bears into field goal range, where they took a 10-0 lead entering halftime.
“There’s a couple times [Alexander] needed to be tighter in coverage,” Zimmer said. “For the most part, he did okay.”
The Vikings defense adjusted well after halftime, allowing just four first downs and 87 total yards in the second half.