Some of the closest games come from divisional play. Teams just seem to play differently, like they know each other’s games better, even in cases where there is new coaching staff. The Bears came into Week 8 with two wins and in need of racking up W’s in Weeks 8 and 9 just to get to .500. However, the Vikings came in looking to prove they should be taken seriously in this division and looking to add a 5th win to their standings in hopes of minimizing the gap between themselves and the undefeated (no longer) Green Bay Packers.
While the Bears didn’t end up in another overtime finish, it still came down to the wire. Neither team ever led by more than 7 points, keeping this game interesting throughout.
The Bears got a few breaks early, including a Mike Wallace drop for what would have been a first down and a muffed punt that barely rolled out of bounds on the ensuing 4th down. They then settled for a long field goal after two screen passes that were well diagnosed by the Viking defense.
Both teams struggled to sustain drives, despite having early-down success when they ran the ball. The offensive lines gave in to pressure on third down pass plays regularly, allowing the QB to be sacked or forced to elude the rush for minimal gains. The first sign of life came on a punt return touchdown by the Vikings’ Marcus Sherels towards the end of the 1st quarter. Evidently he doesn’t have trouble dropping punts like Marc Mariani of the Bears (2 muffed punts early).
The Viking staff did a good job of using Adrian Peterson in the first half, establishing the run and then using play action for short yardage passes that turned into big yards. Peterson managed to lead the Vikings to a 2nd quarter field goal, as he sat down exhausted form juking Bears defenders and repeatedly gaining first downs. The Bears took a different approach by accruing a number of holding penalties on early downs, leaving Cutler susceptible to big hits on blitzes, and the staff continued trying to use Eddie Royal as some kind of gadget player, using end-arounds and a ton of screen passes for little or no yardage.
Luckily for the Bears, the Vikings went away from their success in the run game in hopes of a score before halftime, and after another Wallace drop, Teddy forced a pass that was intercepted by Kyle Fuller in their own territory. This was followed by another impressive pass and catch from Cutler to Jeffery in the back corner of the endzone to tie the game at 10 before the half. I feel like we see one every week or every other week between these two. These are the type of throws that fans wish Cutler would step into and throw regularly.
The Bears found continued success to the start the 3rd quarter, making use of playmaker Matt Forte on first down and giving Cutler manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. Cutler, again, did a good job of stepping into his passes and even throwing as he ran forward into pass rushers. This led to an early second half field goal (33 yards) and proved the Bears were capable of moving the ball against this defense (or at least until they lost Forte to knee injury). The Vikings answered with a drive that came up just short of field goal range by using up-the-gut runs with Peterson and getting Diggs involved in the pass game, as he was the previous weeks.
With Langford filling in for Forte at running back, the word “decisive” came to mind. He wasn’t juking defenders like Forte, but he was taking what the defense gave him, not wasting time dancing in the backfield. He continued picking up those 3 and 4 yard gains to keep the offense in manageable spots. Cutler quickly became attached to his number one receiver in Alshon upon Forte’s leave as well. Although it was being forced his way, Alshon Jeffery proved to be the best remaining playmaker, making a great jumping turn-around catch along the sideline to get the Bears in field goal range. Unfortunately, Robbie Gould suffered a rare miss on the 51-yard attempt.
That short field remaining after the miss allowed for Peterson to put the Vikings in range for a 48-yard attempt of their own that they were able to cash in on and tie the game at 13. Peterson once again found success on runs up the middle, making the type of moves that made me wonder why they didn’t use him more, especially with the timing and drop issues from Wallace and the other receivers.
On the following drive the Bears followed the Langford/Jeffery narrative again, including a risky 4th down throw in field goal range on a comeback route to Jeffery. Cutler also made several plays with his legs including running himself head-on into a defender for the go-ahead touchdown.
Bridgewater matched Cutler’s rushing and saved his team with his legs and a heavy dose of Diggs targets, one resulting in long run after the catch for a touchdown to tie the game 20-20. It was the first time all day the Vikings seemed capable of moving the ball without AP. The Bears immediately went three and out, ending on an open Langford drop that would have been a first down.
Charles Johnson then made his only play of the game following a Diggs injury, catching a deep ball by stepping in front of the safety and saving Bridgewater from a very late interception. After another Peterson run to whittle the clock down, Walsh struck a short field goal through the uprights to take the game as the clock expired.
To Panic or Not to Panic?
Despite the loss, there were definitely some positives to take away this week. The Chicago defense only allowed 3 points through three and a half quarters, and I think this week showed more than any how this team can succeed by limiting turnovers. The defense did a great job of defending the pass and pressuring Teddy in known passing situations. They also kept the Vikings out of the redzone and situations where Peterson could have done more damage.
I liked Cutler’s aggressiveness, throwing downfield, even as they were trying to break the tie at the very end of the game. If not for that Langford drop, we might be talking about a 23-20 Bears victory, so the team, and specifically the quarterback, showed improvements as they continue to learn and grow with the this new 2015 staff. They play the Chargers in Week 9 in a game expected to see a lot of points.
I think we all know Alshon is a reliable starter. Cutler seems to be locked in on him weekly and in key situations, targeting him 26 times in their last two games. He’s a WR1 and should not only be started in all leagues, but is also a great value play on Daily Fantasy Sites like Fanduel.
The new kid on the block, Stefon Diggs, has now averaged over 6 catches, 110 yards, and 0.6 touchdowns over the last three weeks. He doesn’t have a great matchup in Week 9 against the Rams, and he has missed practice due to a hamstring injury this week. However, going forward he is a proven weapon for Teddy and should continue seeing success with his high volume of targets (30 over the last three weeks).
Forte has officially been ruled out for Week 9, leaving a great pick-up option in Langford. The Bears have the Chargers this coming week, and they have allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this season. If you were lucky enough to snag him on waivers, I would start him with confidence this week. He has history as a college pass catcher, and he should fit in well to the Forte mold. I doubt he will drop another wide-open first down pass like Week 8.