The Chicago Bears are 2-6 following last night's 20-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
It was victory few saw coming. The Vikings were considered one of the best teams in the NFL and just two weeks ago were the last undefeated team in the league. The Bears were coming off three straight tough losses and were playing at home, where they've won just once in the past calendar year.
Yet Chicago manhandled Minnesota in nearly every phase of the game, particularly in the trenches. The 10-point deficit doesn't do justice to the manner in which the Bears dominated, particularly on offense.
The Vikings came into the contest with the NFL's top overall defense, which had allowed the fewest points in the league. Minnesota was ranked 3rd against the run, 4th against the pass and had the best turnover differential (+11) in the NFL. Yet Chicago's offense piled up 403 total yards, 158 of which came on the ground. It was the first time since Week 14 last year the Vikings defense allowed 20 points in a game.
Some are already downplaying this victory, due in large part to the extreme ineptitude of Minnesota's offensive line, but this was no cupcake fluke victory. The Vikings defense is for real. It's a relatively healthy unit that has played like the best defense in the league for the past year, and the Bears took them behind the woodshed.
Enjoy this win Bears fans. It was legit.
RB Jordan Howard
Coming into the game, it was anyone's guess how the backfield touches would be distributed. Jeremy Langford returned after missing a month due to an ankle injury, while Ka'Deem Carey had led the team in rushing the past two weeks. Many, myself included, believed the Bears would deploy a three-headed monster at running back but Jordan Howard quickly dispelled those notions. On his second carry of the game, Howard exploded up the middle for a 69-yard run. It was his show from that point on. Howard was on the field for 50 of the 61 total offensive snaps (81 percent), while Carey (6) and Langford (5) combined for just 11 total snaps. Howard rushed 26 times for 153 yards (5.9 avg.) and added 4 catches for 49 yards. He forced five tackles and of his 153 rushing yards, 120 came after contact. Howard was also able to pound the rock late in the fourth quarter, picking up multiple first downs to help run out the clock and seal the victory.
QB Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler played extremely well behind solid blocking and an effective run game. The Bears couldn't run the ball or pass protect early in the season -- Cutler was sacked 7 times in the season opener -- but with those issues resolved, Cutler looked great. He completed 21-of-30 pass attempts for 252 yards, 1 TD and, most importantly, no turnovers. His 100.5 was his highest since Week 14 last year. He wasn't great under pressure -- 14 dropbacks, 53.1 QB rating, per Pro Football Focus (PFF) -- but he excelled in clean pockets, going 16-of-19 for 185 yards (124.8 QB rating). He was rusty early but Cutler played his best football in a long time, showing emotion on the field and on the sidelines. Alshon Jeffery said Cutler even gave an inspirational speech to his teammates before the game, which is unheard of. With his job on the line, it's clear Cutler is going to put forth maximum effort to prove the doubters wrong, and potentially keep his job beyond this season.
OT Bobby Massie
The weak link of Chicago's offensive line, RT Bobby Massie is one of the league leaders at his position in pressures allowed, per PFF, yet he had his best game of the year on Monday night. He was consistent as a run blocker, helping seal Minnesota's defensive line and open cutback lanes for Howard on a number of rushing plays. He was also very good in pass protection, allowing just 1 QB hurry the entire night. Remember, Massie struggled early last season for the Cardinals but came on strong late in the year, espeically in the playoffs. If he can build on last night's performance, Chicago's offensive line, which is already the biggest strength of the team, will get even better.
DL Akiem Hicks
Chicago's defense sacked Sam Bradford five times, with solid pass-rush outings across the defensive line. Yet Hicks stood out amidst a dominant performance up front. He finished with 4 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and a 1 pass breakup. Per PFF, he led the team with 4 QB hurries and 3 run stops. The Vikings had just 57 total rushing yards, due in large part to Hicks clogging run lanes between the tackles. This is the Hicks we saw in training camp, the unblockable force that can take over a game. His 4.0 sacks through eight games are just 0.5 off his career high in a single season. If Hicks continues to be a man among boys along the interior -- along with Willie Young, Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd all collapsing the pocket regularly -- the Bears pass rush could be on the verge of taking a huge step forward.
CB Tracy Porter
Minnesota's only viable downfield threat in the passing game is WR Stefon Diggs, who finished with 8 catches for 76 yards and 1 TD. Yet Diggs could do very little against Tracy Porter, who shadowed him for most of the game. Of Diggs' 12 targets, eight came with Porter in coverage. Diggs caught just four of those eight targets for 25 yards. Against Cre'Von LeBlanc and De'Vante Bausby, Diggs had 4 catches for 51 yards and 1 TD. Once again, Porter continues to fly under the radar during a Pro-Bowl caliber season. He has consistently shut down the opposing team's best pass catcher, with Diggs his most recent victim. It's an effort by Porter made more impressive due to the fact he's playing on a bad knee, for which has to get substantial treatments before heading onto the field on game days. Porter left the game late with a leg injury but head coach John Fox said he's fine, which is great news for Chicago's secondary, which cannot afford to lose its best cornerback.
Honorable Mention: OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Jerrell Freeman, TE Zach Miller, S Adrian Amos, OLB Willie Young, ILB Danny Trevathan, OLB Pernell McPhee
Cre'Von LeBlanc has been one of the biggest surprises on defense this year. He started at boundary corner last night in place of the injured Bryce Callahan and move inside to the slot in nickel situations. He's given up a few plays the past couple of games but, for the most part, he's been very consistent as a defender. Yet as a punt returner, LeBlanc is a serious work in progress. In fact, he's a borderline liability in the return game. Last night, he allowed two punts to hit the ground, both of which he should have caught, which pinned the Bears offense inside the 10-yard line to start consecutive drives. When LeBlanc finally returned a punt, he made one cut and then fell down, choosing not to take advantage of a seam the good blocking had provided. For the punt return team, Eddie Royal cannot get healthy fast enough.
Alshon Jeffery finished with 4 catches for 66 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season. It wasn't a bad showing but it could have been a stellar night for Jeffery. On Chicago's first drive, he ran a deep out route to the front pylon of the end zone and never made a play on a ball well within his catch radius, forcing the Bears to kick a field goal. A few drives later, Jeffery stood in the end zone and let a ball go right through his hands and off his facemask, once again ending a drive that resulted in just 3 points. If Jeffery made both of those catches, he would have finished with nearly 100 receiving yards and 3 TDs, and the game would have never been close.
With Callahan on the shelf, Bausby worked at boundary corner in nickel sets. He was worked over by Diggs on two deep passes -- Bausby did not turn his head to find the ball on either play -- one of which resulted in Minnesota's only touchdown of the game. Bausby, an undrafted rookie, has shown some promise but he has struggled mightily the past two weeks with Callahan ailing.
Filling in for Josh Sitton at left guard, Eric Kush had a poor outing. He gave up two QB hurries and a QB hit, and could not handle Vikings DT Linval Joseph. Per PFF, Kush finished with the team's second lowest grade for the game (38.6).
To be honest, it was difficult to find five "losers" from a game in which the Bears played so well. Cornelius Washington actually had one of his best games as a professional. In just 19 snaps he had a sack, 2 QB hits and 1 pass breakup. He showed great power and athleticism as an interior pass rusher, which is a great sign in terms of his value going forward. Yet in a game that had just three total penalties called, Washington's boneheaded mistake in the second quarter really stood out. McPhee forced a Bradford fumble and the ball fell at the feet of Hicks, who did not jump on the ball. Washington ran onto the field trying to tell Hicks to get on the ball and he was called for entering the field illegal, which is a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. In reality, Hicks was the catalyst for a dumb play that should have resulted in a turnover. Yet Washington's momentary lapse of reason kept the drive alive for the Vikings, resulting in three points for the visiting team.null