Bears quarterback Rex Grossman enters Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings as the surprise leader in the league in completions (53) and yards per attempt (10.4).
"They've got the leading passer in the National Football League right now, a full 2 yards above everybody else in his yards per completion," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "A lot of times you have to grow into those offenses. I think you're seeing, obviously, Rex Grossman mature, along with that offensive line and wide receivers."
But Grossman hasn't experienced as much success when it counts – on third downs or in the fourth quarter.
He falls from the overall league lead at QB all the way to 19th in fourth-quarter passer rating at 67.4, but the Vikings' Brad Johnson doesn't even register in the top-20 in that category. Grossman is the least experienced throwing the ball in the fourth quarter among the leaders this year, attempting only six passes with three completions, with the lack of necessity to throw the ball skewing the statistics.
The more meaningful statistic this early in the season might be third-down passer rating, where Johnson holds a slight edge over Grossman despite facing the seemingly tougher defenses – Minnesota has played Washington and Carolina while the Bears have faced Green Bay and Detroit.
Johnson has a 102.8 rating on third down while Grossman has a 94.0 rating.
So far, the Vikings have been defending well on third downs, ranking in the top five, which Childress attributes to defenders sticking to their roles.
"I think obviously it's playing team defense. Whether it's covering, or whether it's rushing, or whether it's stunting, I think it takes all 11 of those guys to get off the field," he said. "Playing with the right responsibility, playing in the right zone, playing with the right technique. I think it's more about players than plays. And it is on offense too."
The Vikings, however, are concerned about the long third-down situations they have been putting themselves in the last two games.
"We need to do a better job," Childress said. "When you're standing there, with seven of them plus-8 (yards) or better, obviously you're not doing enough on the first two downs, or you're shooting yourself in the foot with the pedaling. That needs to improve."
The Vikings have nine penalties in each of their first two games, a dubious fourth-place ranking among the league's 32 teams. But there are some penalties that hurt more than others.
Against Carolina, with the ball at the 7-yard line on the first drive of the game, guard Artis Hicks was flagged for holding as Chester Taylor neared the goal line. That translated into first-and-goal from the 17-yard line. The Vikings didn't recover enough to score a touchdown, settling for a field goal in a game where four additional points could have kept them out of overtime.
"It's a concern for me from the standpoint there's only three other teams in the National Football League that have more than us, nine apiece," Childress said. "It makes it really tough to move the football up the field when you're scattershot. When you can have a nice drive like that first drive of ours (against Carolina) and end up with a run down to the 1-yard line and back up because of a hold, it's disappointing. These guys work too hard to get it down there. But it's been addressed, whether it be offense, defense, whether it be keeping the defense on the field. When they're off the field they got a stop and if there's a hold or a pass interference, you just have to be smart about those kind of things. More often than not, it's a matter of just having a little mental discipline when you extend a drive, and when you're a little bit more tired. You generally don't see those on first downs."
"The coaches have addressed that and said we can't beat ourselves," cornerback Ronyell Whitaker said of the penalties.
PRESSURE BY PEPPERS
Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson faced heavy pressure throughout the Vikings' win against Carolina, but that hardly came as a surprise to him or his head coach. Johnson was sacked five times, three by defensive end Julius Peppers.
"Actually, I thought when you play against Julius Dr. Peppers, man, something happens every week," said Johnson, who faced Peppers several times as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFC South rivals with the Panthers. "I've played against him a bunch and he seems to create havoc wherever he's at on the field. I thought his best play was on the fake field goal where he almost blocked it and then actually made the tackle from inside the gap, jumping up and down, and making the tackle on Richard (Owens).
"He's an explosive player, a difference-maker is what you'd call him. I thought for the most part we actually did a pretty good job against him. Sometimes they get coverage sacks from coverage plays where you get the late hits with sacks and those types of things. For the most part, I thought we did a good job."
Peppers had three sacks against Johnson, in addition to four quarterback hurries, eight tackles and a pass defensed. He also blocked a field goal and later tried to block a second one before retreating into coverage when the Vikings faked the field goal and Ryan Longwell threw a touchdown pass to Richard Owens, who had to race to the pylon to beat Peppers for a TD.
Like Johnson, Childress put the sacks on more than just the offensive line.
"Sack-wise, we played against a very good defensive end. I think when you look at the sack game, when you look at five sacks, the comfortable place to put it is always on the offensive line, but it's usually a combination of a few different things – whether somebody is not wiggling open in the passing game, whether a guy did in fact get beat at the line of scrimmage, whether a back was supposed to be there with some chip help or whether the quarterback held the ball too long," Childress said. "Sometimes you just need to live to play another down. We kind of break those sacks into parts as opposed to putting them on any one person and usually there are a bunch of things that happened aside from someone just getting beat."
Childress said earlier in the week he thought the Vikings should have given right tackle Marcus Johnson more help in stopping Peppers.
Whitaker couldn't believe his eyes on Sunday as he approached Carolina return man Chris Gamble, who fielded a Vikings punt, turned and fired the ball laterally across the field, where the Vikings' Jason Glenn recovered the errant trickery.
The play changed the momentum of the game. The Panthers were leading by seven points with just under 10 minutes remaining in regulation when the play happened.
"I was like, ‘What is going on? What's about to happen?' They were up, they had the lead. We knew when they got the ball they were going to try and run it. That's the type of team Carolina is," said Whitaker, who is on the punt coverage team.
"I was like, ‘Is somebody getting paid to do this?' The pendulum was swinging back our way."
Four plays later, the Vikings' fake field and ensuing touchdown tied the game.
FOX IN THE HOLE
Former Vikings cornerback Dustin Fox, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was promoted to the 53-man roster earlier this week after Philadelphia suffered numerous injuries.
"I think I can contribute some immediate depth," said Fox. "Obviously, we are kind of hurting at corner right now. Guys have been getting nicked up a little bit. So that's the main goal."
Notebook: Grossman, Penalties and Pressure
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking Update5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking Update3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking Update3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking Update2:57 PM
Zimmer on Vikings loss: ‘Embarrassing’The Minnesota Vikings’ undefeated season came to an abrupt end in a overwhelming 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
Viking Update2:33 PM