Last week’s comeback victory over Arizona was a nice little win, but it will be rendered more-or-less meaningless if the Vikings can’t follow it up with a victory today against the Bears. A smattering of plucky performances isn’t enough to get you into the playoffs: at some point you need to get on a serious roll, and the Vikings have now reached that point. The schedule sets up for them to do it, starting this afternoon against a Bears team that, despite being over .500, hasn’t convinced a lot of people that they are a serious contender. The issue for the Bears is their offense, which in spite of the presence of Mike Martz, has yet to evolve into The Greatest Show on Grass. The biggest drag on the Bears has been their offensive line. The pass protection has been so brutal that Chicago has had to adjust their entire offense, eschewing deep drops and putting more onus on the running game. This would seem to play into the Vikings’ hands, given their traditional strength against the run. However, the Bears will certainly remember the second match-up with the Vikings in 2009, where Jay Cutler played some of his best ball of the season, exposing the Vikings’ lack of speed and size in the secondary. Were I the Bears, I would at least try to throw on the Vikings, and see if I couldn’t rekindle the magic Cutler had going in that game. Obviously, this plan would depend on the pass blocking being much, much better than it has been all season.
Offensively, the Vikings just need to do what they did late in the Arizona game: spread the ball around to multiple receivers, get Adrian Peterson involved in the screen game, and mix in some hurry-up looks to take advantage of Brett Favre‘s savvy. Clearly, running a hurry-up style for the whole game would not be realistic, given Favre’s age and lack of stamina, but you should be able to run it for short bursts, giving the Bears something else to think about. The key to this approach is Peterson’s continued evolution from a bull-in-a-china-shop-style runner into a complete back who better understands the nuances of the game. As Peterson showed vs. Arizona, he can be a very dangerous weapon if used right. Unfortunately, Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell have shown a tendency to forget about Peterson, especially if the team falls behind. Should Peterson somehow not get involved enough in the running game, I would like Brett Favre or someone to get in Chilly’s ear about it. The Vikings will have their hands full all day with the Bears’ pass rushers, especially Bryant McKinnie‘s old pal Julius Peppers, but that pass rush can be slowed down by judicious use of screens and swing passes…things that Peterson now does well.
The worst thing the Vikings could do overall is come out overly conservative. That’s what happened to them last season against the Bears in that infamous second game: they showed the Chicago defense too much respect in the first half, played it too safe and fell behind. As we remember, in the second half, Brad Childress handed the keys to Brett Favre, and Favre led a furious comeback that finally fell short in overtime. If Chilly has any ability to learn from his mistakes, he will be aggressive early against the Bears, test their defense, and above all, let Favre have the freedom to do what he does. Amazingly, a year-and-a-half into Favre’s tenure, we are still having these discussions about Favre’s level of control over the offense. By now the debate should be closed: the Arizona game should’ve convinced everyone that the way to victory is to follow Favre. If Brad Childress wants to save his job, he needs to shelve his grandma ideas about offense and let Favre and Bevell do their thing. The Favre-Bevell playcalling combo clicked at the end of the Arizona game, and hopefully it will click again today.
The circumstances may not feel as desperate as they did last week, but in fact, they are at least as desperate if not more. If the Vikings win today they will get back to within a game of .500, and they will have another conference victory in their pocket. If they lose they will be all-but-eliminated. Desperation proved a great motivator for the Vikes last week. The team needs the same sense of urgency this week, from the start of the game to the end.