Defensive sets and film observations: Week 13 vs. Bears
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Welcome to another installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears.
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Bears.
A week after letting 19 tackles slip by in a tie at Lambeau Field, the Minnesota Vikings executed their most complete defensive performance since their Oct. 21 loss at the New York Giants.
Three Chicago Bears' plays netted them 167 yards and 14 points, otherwise the Vikings held their division rival to 313 yards and six points across 62 plays.
Two of those impact plays - one 80-yard touchdown pass to Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery and another for 46 yards - both came in the third quarter with the latter ending in cornerback Chris Cook's ejection. The Bears did not score after Cook was thrown out as the Vikings forced two punts and a turnover in the fourth quarter.
Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown made his fourth start in five games for the injured Jay Cutler and put up his best passer rating as a starter since his last win as an Oakland Raider in 2007. McCown also set a career high with 9.86 yards per attempt as the starter on Sunday. After allowing 480 yards and 20 points, the Vikings now allow 407.6 yards/game (30th) and 30.5 points/game (32nd).
The defense did its part by holding the Bears to 59 yards on their last five drives of the game. However, running back Matt Forte had ran for 24 yards on five carries before coach Marc Trestman elected to attempt a 47-yard field goal on 2nd-and-7. Instead of moving the ball closer, Gould whiffed wide right for his second miss of the game and the Vikings won off a 34-yard attempt seven plays later.
Base: 8/34 [24%]
Nickel: 26/34 [76%]
Yardage allowed: 209
Base: 10/19 [53%]
Nickel: 9/19 [47%]
Base: 2/10 [20%]
Nickel: 8/10 [80%]
1) Defensive end Brian Robison had a sack, tackle for a loss, pass deflection and three quarterback hurries despite the Bears placing an extra offensive lineman on his side every now and then. The Bears paid no such attention to defensive end Jared Allen, who turned in an unstable performance against mostly single blocks. Allen was a non-factor until his overtime strip-sack on 3rd and 11 that forced a punt. Allen was flagged for a late hit on 2nd and 15 on the previous play, but the refs picked up the flag instead of moving the Bears into Vikings' territory.
The Vikings stood defensive end Everson Griffen up and chose to rush just three on a handful of third downs. After Forte caught 10 passes in their Week 2 loss against the Bears, it appeared defensive coordinator Alan Williams was wary about screens and checkdowns to the running back. Even when Griffen spelled one of the two end spots, he often delayed his rush to read linemen and the backfield.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams played seven of every 10 snaps at the three technique and had one tackle and one hit on the passer. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd got his first sack since Oct. 13 after McCown tripped in the third quarter. Floyd had three tackles, one for a loss, in 21 snaps from the three technique. Floyd is also the one who dragged down McCown in the fourth quarter, forcing his errant flip to Forte that linebacker Audie Cole batted into the arms of Bears guard Kyle Long. Long ultimately fumbled and linebacker Marvin Mitchell recovered for the Vikings' lone takeaway.
2) In his second career start, Cole turned in another stout performance, save for a few missed tackles and pass completions his way. Cole ended up with two pass deflections, one leading to the Vikings' fourth-quarter fumble recovery. The second-year linebacker missed a few tackles, one which led to an 11-yard gain by Forte. Otherwise Cole appears to be an upgrade over Erin Henderson, who did not play despite his return to the team. Cole's standout play was not either pass deflection, but a one-on-one stuff of Forte on 2nd-and-1 at midfield in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Chad Greenway tackled Forte for no gain on the following play and the Bears were forced to punt after Matt Cassel's interception. The much-needed three-and-out by the Vikings defense led to Cassel's game-tying drive to force overtime. Greenway all but blanketed Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, who had a career game in the Bears' Week 2 win over the Vikings. Bennett was targeted just four times and caught two passes, neither on Greenway, for 14 yards.
Mitchell saw 20 snaps at weak-side linebacker out of base and appeared to be the weakest link in the linebacker corps. Mitchell got behind one play and collided with Cole, which led to a 15-yard gain on running back Michael Bush's only carry. McCown looped one over Forte's shoulder for a 26-yard gain as Mitchell was in man coverage and didn't turn to play the ball. Henderson and swing tackle J'Marcus Webb were the only active Vikings to not play on Sunday. Coach Leslie Frazier said he's considering moving Henderson back to his original spot along the weak side considering how well Cole has filled in.
3) McCown can thank Cook for his career-high numbers as a starter on Sunday as he burned the cornerback for two touchdowns on two throws for a combined 126 yards. Whether it was Martellus Bennett in the Week 2 loss or Giants receiver Rueben Randle in the Week 7 loss or Jeffery twice on Sunday - Cook has continuously put himself in position to make a play, but shrinks at the point of the catch. After his near-interception on a deep incompletion to Jeffery in the third quarter, Cook lobbied heavily for a pass interference call to no avail. Two plays later, Jeffery made a spectacular 46-yard touchdown grab, holding on despite Cook's right arm trying to pry the ball away. Cook was ejected after giving the referee a light shove with the same hand he got the ball on. The Bears did not score after Cook's ejection.
About 160 of the Bears' 355 receiving yards [46%] came after the catch and Pro Football Focus puts Cook on the hook for 63 of those yards to Jeffery. The Vikings were able to capitalize at times on McCown's inaccuracy, but he knew he just had to put the ball up somewhere where the 6-foot-3-inch Jeffery and 6-foot-4-inch Brandon Marshall could catch it.
Safety Robert Blanton played nickel cornerback for the second straight game and made one critical penalty again. Blanton timed a blitz wrong in the first quarter and jumped early, which negated Greenway's interception on the ensuing play. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion got his helmet ripped off by Bears guard Matt Slauson on the play, but there was no penalty. Safety Andrew Sendejo continues to show adequate closing speed, but is still missing tackles as he flies in with his shoulders, not arms, first. Specifically, Sendejo missed a tackle on a 15-yard gain by Earl Bennett that Blanton saved for the near first-down on 3rd and 18. Sendejo also missed Forte on his 41-yard run in the third quarter, but tackled him on the second try down the far sideline.
4) In back-to-back overtime games, the Vikings defense has forced a 5-for-27 third-down conversion rate [18%] and 15 punts. After two weeks at that clip, the Vikings no longer hold the title of worst third-down defense in the NFL. At 44 percent, the Vikings are just better than the Atlanta Falcons, who give up 46 percent of third downs.
The Bears went 2-for-11 on Sunday as McCown was 4-for-9 for 89 yards and a touchdown in those situations. One of the Vikings' four sacks came on third down - from Allen in overtime.
5) Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes had two pass deflections when defending Marshall. Rhodes allowed seven catches on a team-high 12 targets for 98 yards, most of which came from a hand-check happy Jeffery on slant and hook routes. Jeffery appeared to get away with a lot of hand play without penalty on Sunday as he would give light pushes in and out of his breaks to Rhodes. Rhodes played strong downhill, getting Jeffery for a loss on an end-around and Forte for a loss of three in the third quarter. Rhodes led the team with three missed tackles as he struggled bringing down the Bears' tall receiving duo of Marshall and Jeffery. One of Rhodes' two pass deflections came on man-coverage on Marshall in endzone and another on Marshall on 1st and 15 in overtime.
Game Ball: Chad Greenway. Greenway revealed postgame that he's been playing the last month with a fractured wrist. On Sunday, he played all but two snaps of another overtime game and looked just fine before Sendejo and Forte's helmets collided on his wrist on the last drive in overtime. Greenway finished with three tackles for losses and a sack and did not miss a tackle after he personally missed four in the tie at the Green Bay Packers last week. Greenway also did not allow a reception to the Bears' 6-foot-6-inch tight end Martellus Bennett. Honorable mention for Audie Cole, who missed one too many tackles to earn this spot.
Goat(s): Chris Cook. Cook's day went awry in five plays. The five-play stretch began with Jeffery's 80-yd touchdown catch, in which the fourth-year cornerback timed his jump wrong and fell flat as his receiver ran another 50 yards for the score. On the opening play of the next drive, Forte blew by Cook off the left side for 41 yards. Two plays later, Cook's ejected after making contact with the referee following a 46-yard touchdown catch by Jeffery.