Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Bears
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 28-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
One late throw across the middle outweighed all the good ones Christian Ponder (66 snaps) made underneath on a day his receivers did him no favors. He tried to wait for the dig route to come into the second window and ended up with an overthrow that hit Bears FS Chris Conte in the chest. The Vikings clearly wanted to attack the void between the safeties in Tampa-2. But once WLB Lance Briggs broke up the first try up the seam, Ponder started putting more air under those throws and couldn't connect. He finished 22-of-43 passing (51.2%) for 159 yards -- and 0-for-10 on passes targeted at least 10 yards downfield. Eight of his completions (36.4%) came at or behind the line of scrimmage. He seemed to get uneasy after the interception, patting the ball at times instead of delivering in rhythm and bailing prematurely at others. Ponder throws a good slant and had no trouble working the flats when the Bears abandoned them, opening the door for the 2-yard touchdown. He just looks frazzled at times when his first read is taken away. A jump ball to the pylon failed on third-and-2 when Briggs clubbed the drag, and pressure prevented Ponder from seeing the open man after MLB Brian Urlacher took away the slant on fourth down. That ball can't be thrown out of bounds. One sack was on Ponder for holding the ball 3.3 seconds, although it's not like he had anywhere to go with the ball. He scrambled twice for 6 yards. The whole day might have been different if not for a drop on third-and-4 early and a turnover let the Bears take momentum. Those aren't Ponder's fault, but the bottom line is the Vikings can't gain chunks when they fall behind, and the uneven play of a young quarterback whose intermediate to deep accuracy remains an issue isn't helping.
Running backs (1)
HB Adrian Peterson (59 snaps) set a bad example by showing up late to the stadium and a worse example by coughing up the football once he arrived. SLB Nick Roach knocked the ball out of Peterson's right hand, RCB Charles Tillman recovered to set up the Bears' first touchdown and it was downhill from there. Peterson also was at fault on the bad exchange that turned over the ball at the 50. He broke three tackles on a 23-yard run late, finished with 108 yards on 18 carries (6.0 average) and caught six passes for 30 -- but the damage was done. Peterson is supposed to lead by example, and on this day, he failed. He strained a shoulder laying into CB Kelvin Hayden at the sideline, too. The Vikings were in so many passing situations the Bears put a safety within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage a relatively paltry 21 times (31.8%). Peterson gave up one QB hit to SS Major Wright and remains enough of a liability in that area HB Toby Gerhart (seven) continues to get a lot of work on third downs, though he didn't touch the ball for the first time this season. FB Jerome Felton (14) played sparingly and led well in limited chances.
There's no other way to put it -- Jerome Simpson (29 snaps) is a mess. The slant that bounced off his chest on third-and-4 was an early turning point. His only catch came on a one-step option route, and he didn't come close to making Tillman miss. He dropped two more passes in the third quarter and was practically benched in the fourth. Whether it's the back problem or just the latest example of his career-long inconsistency, Simpson has found a way to fall out of favor at a position where the Vikings are grasping for warm bodies. At least Jarius Wright (39) showed up again, catching a team-high seven passes for 49 yards (7.0 average) -- including an impressive, one-handed stab on a ball behind him that nonetheless came up short on third-and-10. He has a long way to go as a route-runner, but his speed gives him a chance. Wright caught another ball with his heels out of bounds and dropped one, too. So did Stephen Burton (16), who continues to block well but can't be trusted to make a play on the football at this point. The Bears keyed on motion with Michael Jenkins (41) to stop the run and paid him typically little attention in the passing game. He caught two passes for 17 yards, couldn't pull in another against LCB Tim Jennings and let Wright inside to recover the botched exchange, which probably was affected by the clutter in front of Peterson. Devin Aromashodu (26) was the first read on fourth-and-2, which seems like an issue in itself. Ponder threw his way three times and never connected. Percy Harvin can't get back soon enough.
Tight ends (3½)
It took the Bears the better part of three quarters to locate Kyle Rudolph (48 snaps), who in the meantime racked up five catches for 55 yards. Three of them -- including a 25-yarder and a 2-yard touchdown -- came on the same play, with Rhett Ellison (24) driving a linebacker upfield while Rudolph spun wide open to the flat. Then Rudolph got pancaked by Briggs on third-and-2 in the red zone and the jig was up. He left with a concussion a short time later. It wasn't the first time they'd run into each other -- Briggs rerouted Rudolph on third-and-6 in the red zone earlier, slowing him enough for Conte to roll over and break up the corner. Those are balls the Vikings need Rudolph to find some way to bring in. He mostly blocked OK, giving up one QB pressure to LE Israel Idonije and letting Wright scuttle a draw that went nowhere. Ellison did his usual "H" movements, ending up in the backfield seven times, and blocked well overall. He ended up playing less than John Carlson (27), who double-clutched a curl for 7 on fourth-and-5 and dropped a slant three plays later. He knows how to stick those backside cut-off blocks, but they're paying him for more than that.
Offensive linemen (2)
For the second straight game, the Vikings opened by motioning their base personnel into an empty set and looking to throw. This time, though, C John Sullivan (66 snaps) got caught waiting on a bull rush that never came and let DT Henry Melton swim past for a sack in 2.6 seconds. It wasn't a pivotal play exactly, but it got the crowd into things and certainly wasn't the way OC Bill Musgrave hoped to get Ponder started. Sullivan otherwise played a clean game in protection and was typically effective in the run game. The problem spot continues to be on his right, where RG Brandon Fusco (30) got fewer snaps than backup RG Geoff Schwartz (36) for the first time, sitting out three of the last four series. Fusco gave up a QB hit to Melton and two additional pressures. Schwartz had a hand in three QB pressures, too, and let DT Stephen Paea off the hook to ruin a shovel pass late. Both run blocked well in limited opportunities. The Vikings had to keep throwing once they got behind, though, so the Bears just kept running stunts and games to challenge the entire protection unit. RT Phil Loadholt (66) got caught up in the mess and had a hand in five QB pressures. He couldn't climb to Roach on a power play that gained only 1 early but otherwise fared well in the running game. Limited in practice all week by a sore toe, LG Charlie Johnson (66) gave up a hit to DE Shea McClellin on a stunt and another pressure to RE Julius Peppers, who got his share of extra attention and shed Johnson to stop Peterson on the Vikings' last play. Johnson seemed to be moving OK but wasn't finishing. LT Matt Kalil (66) hasn't been beaten with many speed rushes this season, but Peppers got him once to hit Ponder and McClellin got a hit, too. Kalil's run blocking continues to be better than advertised.
Defensive linemen (2)
RE Jared Allen (71 snaps) probably has a five-figure fine coming for the blindside block that ended RG Lance Louis' season. It's no surprise Allen had some frustration to take out. His only hit on QB Jay Cutler came off a bootleg that yielded a touchdown as the Bears used chips and extra protectors (18 times in 30 dropbacks, 60%) and got the ball out quickly with more short, in-breaking routes than the Vikings had seen on tape. Of Cutler's 33 passes (including two wiped by penalty), 16 (48.9%) were targeted within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage and all but eight (75.8%) within 10 yards. Allen also took a penalty for jamming LT J'Marcus Webb in the face, got chopped a couple times by backs to open passing lanes and couldn't get off blocks in the run game -- never more glaringly than on HB Michael Bush's 1-yard touchdown run as TE Matt Spaeth worked him over. The best Allen could do was bat down one bubble screen and clean up a couple plays from the backside. Why was he still on the field in garbage time? LE Brian Robison (59) had four QB pressures against RT Jonathan Scott, but Cutler somehow flipped the ball to HB Matt Forte the one time he found himself in the grasp. Robison stopped a draw for no gain after NT Letroy Guion (25) stood up C Roberto Garza to force the cutback and got completely turned around on fourth-and-1. DL Everson Griffen (33) ripped off Cutler's hand-warmer the one time he got home against LG Chris Spencer and couldn't finish the job either. The only sack went to NT Fred Evans (33), who fell on Cutler in 2.6 seconds after pushing back Garza to knock him down. Evans also handled Garza in the run game. Guion got Garza for a rare QB pressure, too. UT Kevin Williams (47) saw his share of double teams, had two pressures against Spencer and otherwise blended. DT Christian Ballard (28) hit Cutler once.
If the game went differently, there might not have been a more important play than MLB Jasper Brinkley (62) blowing up FB Evan Rodriguez's lead on the Bears' first play. Rodriguez bounced back into Forte, who coughed up the fumble SLB Chad Greenway (68) recovered. Chicago leaned on a steady diet of power runs with pulling guards after that, averaging 2.9 yards on 36 designed carries for Forte, Bush and HB Armando Allen to keep themselves in third-and-short most of the day. Brinkley kept cleaning up on the edges. He allowed two completions for 31 yards in four targets and looked more comfortable in coverage than WLB Erin Henderson (57), who just seemed discombobulated in space. TE Kellen Davis got behind him for a 15-yard completion up the seam after the play broke down -- one of five passes Cutler completed in six targets into Henderson's coverage for 38 yards. The difference in the Bears' middle drops and the Vikings' couldn't be more stark. Henderson did keep Bush from going the distance on fourth-and-1 and batted one pass on a delayed blitz. He just seemed sort of off. It was Greenway's play to make on the first touchdown and all he could do was throw a shoulder into Bush, who easily bounced off. Greenway's coverage was OK, save for getting caught in trash as Rodriguez cruised to the flat on third-and-3. No matter how many times he shot gaps and knifed into the backfield, the Bears seemed to find a way to make him miss. LB Larry Dean (five) took over on the final series.
Defensive backs (2)
Cutler's numbers (23-of-31 passing, 74.2%) belied the relatively competent play of the secondary. Look no further than the throw Cutler somehow fit in for a 13-yard touchdown to Spaeth with S Jamarca Sanford (50) draped on his back or WR Brandon Marshall (12 catches, 92 yards) ripping one away from CB Antoine Winfield (66) on third-and-6. It was just one of those days. Winfield corralled one that got away for an interception off Marshall's fingertips to set up the Vikings' only touchdown. He also missed three tackles, gave up three completions for 22 yards and was flagged for a questionable, 24-yard interference penalty as Marshall boxed him out in the end zone. The best play CB A.J. Jefferson (71) made was letting Cutler toss the ball into his chest to draw a taunting call. He gave up four completions for 46 yards to Marshall, who stiff-armed Jefferson to finish another play, and took a weak personal foul for fighting WR Eric Weems off his back after the whistle. CB Josh Robinson (32) continued to handle nickel duties and gave up four completions in as many targets for 14 yards. Sanford flowed outside on Bush's first touchdown run and got dragged into the end zone on the second. He also blitzed for two QB pressures, including a hit against Forte, on a day the Vikings rushed five or more just five times (16.7%). S Harrison Smith (45) roped Marshall for a 7-yard loss on third-and-14, missed Forte at the sticks on third-and-5 and suffered a concussion knocking WR Earl Bennett out of bounds. That meant more snaps for S Mistral Raymond (51), who let Marshall get over the top on a sluggo route that ended up dropped and continues to look weak at the point against blockers and ball-carriers alike. Taking Forte's non-fumble to the house was a heads-up play, even if officials eventually caught the error.
The Bears exploited a weakness in one of the Vikings' base extra-point block plays, running holder Adam Podlesh directly at flat-footed Sanford when Guion crashed inside, with OL Gabe Carimi leading the way. A two-point conversion in the first half of a 13-point game is nothing short of a schematic slap in the face. That came after Peppers elevated over Fusco to block PK Blair Walsh's 30-yard field-goal attempt. Only Kevin Williams' block of PK Robbie Gould's 39-yard attempt before the half -- the second he'd gotten a piece of -- saved this from being worse. Walsh hit a 40-yard field goal and an extra point. He averaged 3.77 seconds of hang time on three kickoffs -- all returned for a 21.7-yard average by Weems, who took over after a Smith hit concussed Devin Hester. P Chris Kluwe grossed 40.5 yards, netted 39.0 and averaged 3.85 seconds of hang time on four punts. That included a 23-yard shank to the sideline after Kluwe stepped right to field LS Cullen Loeffler's wide snap. Marcus Sherels had a 38-yard kick return and gained nothing on the only punt he fielded. Robinson's first shot as a return man was a flop. He looked tentative coming out and got clocked after a 14-yard kick return.