Tonight’s game against the Bears is the first for the Vikings since the apparent season-long unpleasantness between Brad Childress and Brett Favre became a matter of national discussion. So it seems appropriate that the game should be showcased nationally, on Monday Night Football.
A lot of people will be tuning in to tonight’s game hoping to see some sideline drama between Chilly and Brett, but I hope they’re not holding their breaths. Coach and quarterback will both be extra-careful now in making sure any issues that crop up between them are worked out discreetly away from the cameras.
Now that the whole controversy has faded in significance, Viking fans can go back to concentrating on the stuff that matters, like worrying about Adrian Peterson, worrying about the defense and worrying about momentum going into the playoffs.
We would be worrying a lot less about those things had the Vikings not stunk up the whole city of Charlotte the last time they took the field.
The fallout from the Panthers game is still falling, and will continue falling until the Vikings prove their offense hasn’t gone off the rails. And the issues with said offense run much deeper than just a disagreement between coach and QB over audibles. The benching of Bryant McKinnie was, finally, a much more revealing incident than the non-benching of Favre, because it pointed up the single factor that the passing and rushing issues have in common: less-than-stellar offensive line play.
The Vikings were supposed to sport one of the league’s better lines going in, but as the season has progressed, it’s become more apparent that this aspect of the team was wildly overrated. The pass blocking, solid for a good chunk of the season, has regressed, while the run blocking has remained consistently inconsistent.
As anyone who follows football knows, the star skill players don’t get to show their stuff if the big hogs on the line don’t get a push. Defensive penetration has been the biggest factor working against Adrian Peterson flashing his All-World talents; it’s not that he can’t find the holes, it’s that the holes just aren’t there.
Brett Favre, meanwhile, has seen his time in the pocket diminish seemingly with each passing week. Two weeks after getting harassed by the Cardinals, he was treated like a single, gray-haired bowling pin by Julius Peppers. This week, the opponent is the Bears, a team that hopes to cure its defensive ills by swigging a big dose of feeble Vikings blocking.
The biggest thing working against the Vikings may be the conditions in Soldier Field. It figures to be windy and cold, and the field, if the past is any indication, will probably not be in very good shape. As we’ve found out two of the last three weeks, the Vikings’ O-line doesn’t show up very big in outdoor, on-grass situations to begin with, and now they will have to contend with nasty December-in-Chicago weather besides.
There was a time when such conditions would’ve been thought to favor a team quarterbacked by Brett Favre. Unfortunately, Favre’s reputation as a cold weather quarterback took a permanent hit during the Packers‘ NFC title game loss to the Giants, outdoors at Lambeau with the temperature hovering just above the point where all molecular activity ceases.
A more telling example of what might be in store for Favre and the Vikings can be found by looking at a match-up from a few weeks before that NFC Championship Game fiasco vs. the Giants. On December 23, 2007, Favre led the 12-2 Packers into Soldier Field to face the 6-8 Bears, on a day when the wind was blowing hard off frozen Lake Michigan. A clearly uncomfortable Favre was picked off twice by the Bears, the second interception being returned 85 yards by Brian Urlacher for a touchdown. The final score was Bears 35, Packers 7.
The circumstances going into tonight’s game are somewhat similar. The Vikings are playoff-bound at 11-3, while the Bears are well out of the race, and have little to play for. Weather conditions will be far from ideal. The biggest difference? The Bears’ defense is less fearsome than the one they sported in 2007, a fact that became brutally apparent in the first Vikings-Bears match-up of 2009, which ended in a 36-10 Minnesota rout, with #4 throwing for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Vikings are not looking for a 392-yard, 3 TD performance from Brett Favre tonight. They’d settle for one of those efficient-but-unspectacular performances they saw from Brett early in the season when he still wasn’t entirely comfortable in the offense.
What the Vikings would really love is an Adrian Peterson performance approaching the 224-yard, 3-touchdown one he posted against the Bears the first time he ever played them, back on October 14, 2007. That would be quite a bounce-back after AD’s frustrating 35-yard effort vs. Carolina.
Not to beat a dead horse, but, if Adrian is going to do that, the offensive line is going to have to play much better than it has the last few times it’s been asked to function away from the warm, turf-carpeted confines of Mall of America Field.
And the Vikings’ defense also has a lot to prove tonight, after falling apart late vs. the Panthers. They had little trouble containing the Bears’ offense in the first game, when they picked off Jay Cutler twice, and held the Bears to just 43 rushing yards, but that game was indoors where the defensive line seems more able to use its quickness, the linebackers pursue more rapidly and the secondary seems more decisive.
The best thing the Vikings might have going for them tonight is the opponent. The Bears have seen a bad season degenerate into a miserable one. Jay Cutler still hasn’t gotten the hang of the offense, and now he doesn’t even have Devin Hester to throw to. The last time the Bears took the field, the defense was lit up by Joe Flacco for 4 touchdowns.
Of course, we thought last week that we were facing a sub-par team, one that might be ready to pack it in emotionally. And all they did was thump us. The difference, of course, is that the Bears have no one comparable to Julius Peppers or Steve Smith. Jay Cutler would seem several steps above Matt Moore on the quarterback pecking order, but as we saw last week, confidence matters as much as talent. And Cutler right now seems sorely lacking in the confidence department.
I personally am taking nothing for granted. Yes the Bears are awful, but they are still a professional football team. And it’s not like the Vikings are at the top of their game right now. I expect the Vikings to win, even if they have to win ugly, but if the last three weeks have taught me anything, it’s that anything can happen, especially bad things that make me want to pull my hair out.