The last time the Vikings met the Bears, it looked like Gus Frerotte and the passing game were taking off. Despite throwing four interceptions, Frerotte had 298 passing yards. It's been downhill ever since.
The Vikings signed wide receiver Bernard Berrian
to a $42 million, six-year contract in the offseason that included $16 million in guarantees. Then after losing their first two regular-season games, coach Brad Childress decided to replace Tarvaris Jackson
with veteran Gus Frerotte
All of this was done in an attempt to give the Vikings a respectable passing game to go along with a rushing attack that is led by Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson
. The Vikings were coming off a season in which they were No. 1 in the NFL in rushing but 28th in passing.
Eleven games into this season, the Vikings are tied atop the NFC North with a 6-5 record, but the consistency they were hoping to get in the passing game still isn't there.
A season-low 120-yard passing performance by Frerotte in a 30-12 victory Sunday at Jacksonville left the Vikings ranked 26th in passing and fifth in rushing. In each of the past four games, Frerotte's passing yardage has dipped, and he hasn't thrown more than 28 passes in any game.
This came after he passed for 298 yards — the most since Childress took over as head coach in 2006 — in a 48-41 loss at Chicago on Oct. 19. However, Frerotte also threw four interceptions in that game. The Vikings will play host to the Bears on Sunday night in a battle between two teams tied for the division lead.
Childress enters that game attempting to downplay any dissatisfaction he might have with his passing offense of late.
"You know that you can always do things to get better," he said. "I just think that we are finding different ways. If they are legislating against somebody, you are going to see a guy like Chester (Taylor) or a guy like Visanthe (Shiancoe) pick up some slack. The idea is that you are able to throw it to whoever you want, but realistically sometimes people are going to legislate against a Bernard Berrian."
As would be expected, Berrian's numbers also have gone down. He had a four-game stretch during which he grabbed 19 passes for 426 yards and caught a touchdown in each. But in the past three games, Berrian has four receptions for 52 yards with no touchdowns.
"I think we're leaving a lot on the table," said Shiancoe, a tight end. "This could be one of the best offenses in the league, and we have all the potential. We have (Adrian Peterson), we have Bernard, Bobby Wade
, Sidney (Rice), and our offensive line is good. I feel with our running game, it should really open up our passing game and vice versa. I feel like we really need to get it together when it comes to our offense."
RB Adrian Peterson did not play in the first two series Sunday because he missed a team meeting Saturday. Peterson's 17 carries tied for his fewest in a game this season, and his 80 yards rushing tied for his third-lowest total of the year. Nonetheless, Peterson did go 16 yards for a score and now has rushed for eight touchdowns.
RB Chester Taylor started in place of Adrian Peterson and finished with 25 yards rushing on nine carries with a touchdown. It was Taylor's second rushing touchdown this season. Taylor also caught two passes for 12 yards and now has 29 receptions on the season. Taylor continues to get almost all the work in third-down situations, despite the fact many feel that Peterson should at least have some type of role in the third-down offense.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe continues to be a much-improved player from a year ago and has established himself as an important part of this offense after some early-season struggles. Shiancoe tied for the team lead Sunday with three receptions for 60 yards and now has 26 catches on the year. He remains tied for the Vikings lead with Bernard Berrian for touchdown catches (four). Shiancoe has not caught a touchdown in the past three games.
WR Bernard Berrian caught only one pass for 6 yards against Jacksonville. Berrian, however, did get involved on offense, gaining 22 yards on two rushing attempts. He also was used on punt returns, something he had not done since the 2006 season when he was with the Chicago Bears. But Berrian only returned one punt Sunday, and that went for 19 yards. The Vikings need to make sure they get Berrian more involved in the passing game. He hasn't caught a touchdown in the past three games but before that had a four-game stretch where he caught a scoring pass in each contest.
WR Bobby Wade played Sunday despite having a thigh injury. He only caught one ball for 9 yards and dropped at least one other. Wade still leads the Vikings with 39 receptions for 408 yards this season.
WR Sidney Rice caught a season-high three passes for 27 yards against the Jaguars and now has 10 catches for 97 yards in what has been a mostly disappointing and injury-riddled season. Rice has the size and athletic ability to play a key role in the passing game down the stretch, and his emergence would be a big benefit to that part of the offense.
DE Jared Allen played again Sunday despite what he said was a grade-3 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. Allen did not practice last Wednesday or Thursday and might be taking those days off for a while in order to rest and avoid any contact. He did not have a sack Sunday and now has eight on the season.
DT Kevin Williams had 1.5 sacks against the Jaguars and has passed DE Jared Allen for the team lead with 8.5 sacks. That is Williams' highest total since he had 11.5 in 2004 in his second season with the Vikings.
CB Antoine Winfield had a team-leading 12 tackles and added a forced fumble in the victory over the Jaguars. The fact the Vikings played far more man-to-man defense than usual enabled Winfield to get more involved than he usually is when the Vikings play a mix of man and zone.