Updated: October 17th, 2011 12:38am
Notebook: Inability to run ball, rush QB prove costly for Vikings

Notebook: Inability to run ball, rush QB prove costly for Vikings

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter
SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!

CHICAGO -- All week, the two matchups that seemed to favor the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday night's primetime game at Soldier Field were their rushing attack against Chicago's defense and their pass rush against the Bears' struggling offensive line.

Instead, the Bears made adjustments -- and won both matchups.

Normally a heavily Cover-2 defense, the Bears played strong safety Major Wright near the line of scrimmage almost exclusively in the early going and held Adrian Peterson to 16 yards on eight carries in the first half.

Peterson only got the ball four times in the second half, gaining 23 yards and the Vikings' only touchdown as the offense tried to play catch-up through the air in a 39-10 loss.

"We felt like there would be a lot of eight-man fronts to defend the run," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We wanted to be able to get to some things in the passing game. We just couldn't get in sync, for a number of reasons. If you get in a position where you have to throw, then we've got to be able to make some of those throws and we've got to be able to protect the quarterback, and we weren't able to do that."

Meanwhile, the Bears' protection unit held up relatively well with plenty of extra blockers for quarterback Jay Cutler, who finished 21-of-31 passing for 267 yards, two touchdowns and a 115.9 rating -- and only was sacked once.

"It's tough to rush with six, seven people blocking," left end Brian Robison said. "But that didn't matter. We've got to do a better job of getting to the quarterback."

Cutler's 48-yard touchdown pass on a corner-post to Devin Hester put the Bears ahead for good only 2 minutes, 43 seconds into the game. He also fit a 13-yard touchdown to Dane Sanzenbacher between combination coverage from middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and safety Jamarca Sanford and connected on "explosive" pass plays of 16 yards or more to receivers Johnny Knox and Roy Williams and tight end Kellen Davis.

"They did a lot of chipping with Jared (Allen) early on," Frazier said. "We didn't win the one-on-ones at other positions, from what I was able to see. If they're going to bring a tight end or a back over to chip him, that leaves somebody else one-on-one, and we just were not winning those one-on-ones (Sunday)."

Quick turnaround

The Vikings' lone sack generated their only positive momentum all day.

Allen -- who remains the NFL's leader with 9½ sacks through six games and is on pace for 25 -- got off left tackle J'Marcus Webb's block late, stripped Cutler and fell on the ball at the Chicago 44.

Six plays later, Peterson ran through a huge hole for a 4-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 26-10.

"We came out the second half, had a little burst, kind of felt the energy, coming out, creating a drive," Peterson said. "Then a kickoff return -- man, it just kind of hit us in the gut."

Hester fielded Ryan Longwell's boot at the 2-yard line and dashed 98 yards for a touchdown, making linebacker Larry Dean and Longwell miss along the way.

"I knew it was going to be tough when that happened, because we had gotten some momentum," Frazier said. "We had gotten a turnover like we talked about coming out of the half and gotten some pressure on the quarterback to create that turnover, and then our offense goes down and scores. You feel like we're getting ready to come, and that kickoff return was a big momentum turn."

The offense promptly went three-and-out, and Hester returned Chris Kluwe's ensuing punt 27 yards to the Vikings' 38-yard line to set up a field goal that pushing Chicago's lead to 36-10 with 5:44 left in the third quarter.

Bad timing

Another chance for a momentum shift slipped through the Vikings' fingers late in the first half.

Facing fourth-and-3 from the Bears' 15-yard line and already trailing 23-3, the Vikings sent their field-goal unit onto the field after the 2-minute warning, only to call timeout after deciding to go for the first down.

Instead, receiver Michael Jenkins was flagged for a false start, the field-goal unit went back onto the field and Longwell's 38-yard attempt hooked wide left.

"We were talking through if we had a good enough play that we thought could get us a first down and what we thought they might be doing defensively," Frazier said. "We felt like we came up with something and felt good about the extended time that we had. ...

"We thought we could get a first down and then get a touchdown. That was the thinking. Unfortunately, we weren't able to run the play."

That strange sequence followed a surprise third-and-4 run play to Joe Webb, who lined up in the shotgun with starting quarterback Donovan McNabb split wide left. Webb gained only 1 yard on the sweep.

"Pretty much, I had my lead blockers to go out and lead," Webb said. "I just tried to beat the defenders around the corner. I made one guy miss and another guy came in and made the play."

Peppers plays

Listed as doubtful (25% chance of playing) on Friday's injury report, Bears end Julius Peppers suited up, played with a brace on his injured left knee and had two sacks.

There had been speculation in Chicago that Peppers actually had a better chance of playing than that and the doubtful designation was payback for the teams' last meeting on Dec. 20, when Brett Favre was upgraded from out to questionable on game day and started against the Bears.

"This past week, he really couldn't go," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "When a player doesn't practice Friday, history has told us it's not looking good. He made progress after that. You can't really explain a guy like Julius Peppers. He's special and there's nobody like him in the league."

Quick hits

• After two weeks of reduced action to rest his ailing left knee, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson returned to his usual role in the nickel defense.

• HB Lorenzo Booker, not WR Percy Harvin, took the Vikings' first kick return.

• DT Kevin Williams was flagged late for a personal foul when he lowered his helmet into Bears QB Jay Cutler's.

• The Vikings' captains were QB Donovan McNabb, PK Ryan Longwell and MLB E.J. Henderson. They called tails and won.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
3261