Bears vs Vikings: Defense Is Key to a Vikings Victory in Week 14
I have written a lot this week about Christian Ponder, the wide receivers and what they have to do to win this game.
So rather than retread the same ground, let's talk about what the Vikings defense has to do if they have a hope of winning this game.
There is a hope, by the way. At home, against a defense which will be without Brian Urlacher and might be without Tim Jennings? The Vikings can absolutely win this one.
Yes, even without Percy Harvin and with the struggles of Ponder.
Of course, it requires the defense to step up its recent level of play. The Minnesota defense has really slacked off recently. I'm not talking just about points allowed, though that has been brutal the last five weeks.
No, it's the basics—like technically sound tackling, playing through the whistle and staying consistent through 60 minutes. Unfortunately, those things have been a problem and are as big a part of the reason the Vikings have gone 1-4 in that stretch.
It really stretches back to the loss to Washington.
After three very solid games, the defense looked shell-shocked and much less effective in the loss to Washington.
The Vikings should take a look at how some other teams have shut down the offense.
For example, the San Francisco 49ers did an excellent job, not just of unleashing Aldon Smith for five sacks, but covering the Bears receivers.
If you look at the screen cap, the Niners have six players in coverage, including some linebacker help.
While you can write off the big night as partially a result of the Bears having Jason Campbell under center, not Cutler, part of the key to getting those sacks with any quarterback is to give him nowhere to go with the ball.
The Bears are intimately aware of this, as that's how their defense works as well. For them it's a symbiotic relationship—the coverage helps create pressure which makes it easier to create better coverage.
For the Vikings, who lack the playmakers in the secondary that the Niners and Bears have, the secondary will have to play even tighter coverage.
It will certainly have to be better than what they produced against Green Bay.
In this first still, I've diagrammed the way the play actually happened.
The cornerbacks stayed with their receivers while the linebacker covering the slot receiver lets him go, to be picked up by one of the two safeties. This left James Jones in single coverage, which had to have Aaron Rodgers salivating.
Of course, Jones beats the coverage and Rodgers hits him for a touchdown.
It would have been much more effective to have the linebacker stay in coverage and get safety help from one player while the other safety moved to assist the cornerback with Jones.
There is still the problem of Greg Jennings (on the right sideline) in single coverage, but as he's just back from a long-standing injury, I would have been confident that he could be covered man to man this early in the game.
Either way, pulling the safety in to guard a crossing route rather than help with either of the much more dangerous go routes was a mistake.
Now, we know the Packers are a special matchup problem because they have so many receivers who can hurt you.
With the Bears the biggest threat is Brandon Marshall, even if Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester return from injury.
Wherever Marshall goes, whichever cornerback is on him, a safety has to assist. You can't leave him in single coverage or he will burn you for a catch every time.
With the Bears' offensive line the way it is, Jay Cutler works hard to get the ball out of his hand quick. He's very good at it too, which will make it hard for Minnesota's front seven to get a hand on him.
If they can jam up Marshall or blanket him, Cutler will have to wait another second or two (at least) to get the ball out.
That could be the difference between a sack or pressure and the chance guys like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson need to put Cutler on his back.
The Vikings have to win this game. Sure, even if they do their chances are poor to make the playoffs.
Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.
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