EDITOR’S NOTE: These stats- and smarts-heavy Bears Previews come courtesy our friends at Football Outsiders. For more, visit www.footballoutsiders.com.
The good news for the Bears is that the last two losses came against strong teams, both in the top seven of the league. The bad news is just how feeble they looked against Houston and San Francisco—especially San Fran—and how that feebleness had little to do with who was playing QB.
With the season on the line, is it fair to say that this week’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings—the first of four NFC North games in the next six weeks—is the perfect time for the Bears to throw down an old-fashioned thumping? Oh ya sure you betcha!
BEARS ON O
Despite the presence of demon defensive end Jared Allen, Minnesota’s defense is keyed around stopping the run. The Vikings force their opponents into third-and-long and squeeze them with the Cover-2 zone defense. Sound familiar? As such, Kevin Williams and a rotating corps of defensive tackles are the key defenders in the Twin Cities this year. The Vikes are our 8th-ranked rush defense, but just the 22nd-ranked pass defense. And the team is tops in the NFL in stopping runs up the middle, although they have proven to be far more vulnerable to runs to the offensive left side of the formation.
Jay Cutler is advised to throw it early. Minnesota leads the NFL in first-down run defense, usually playing eight box defenders. But first-down passes are far more effective—the Vikes are 26th in stopping them. So throwing the ball on first down is smart football, and a tactic used to great effect in the last month as the Vikes have cooled off from a hot start (we’ll see if Minnesota used its bye week to adjust tendencies).
In other words, a conservative game plan based around slamming it up the gut on first down is unwise. Forcing the Vikings out of their comfort zone is crucial to moving the ball on this defense. Cutler shouldn’t worry about winging it—Minnesota is third from the bottom at ending drives with interceptions.
BEARS ON D
Colin Kaepernick carved up the Bears D like it was Thanksgiving turkey, but Chicago remains the top defense in the league by DVOA. Now comes another challenge—the league’s top running back, Adrian Peterson. All Day’s remarkable recovery from knee surgery has been either miraculous or annoying, depending on whether you live nearest to the Mississippi River or Lake Michigan.
Fortunately, the rest of Minnesota’s offense is stagnant. Quarterback Christian Ponder had a great game against the 49ers back in Week Three, but has hardly improved on his rookie season overall. He is our 25th ranked QB, and hasn’t taken advantage of the running threat in his backfield. The Bears should be able to keep Ponder in check.
And remember when Percy Harvin was getting MVP chatter? Feels like some time ago, given that he ranks 29th in DVOA among wideouts. Harvin’s threat as a runner is also greatly exaggerated—he has 98 yards on 22 carries, with an inefficient -29.6% DVOA. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has been effective in the Red Zone with six TDs, but his Catch Rate is only 58%, and he struggles to separate on deeper routes.
ODDS & ENDS & HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
The Bears continue to drop in our special teams rankings, now in fourth place, one behind—the Vikings. In fairness, here is where Harvin has made his presence felt. The Vikes rise in the rankings is in large part due to Harvin’s good work returning kicks. Only four teams rank higher in that particular discipline.
The loss in ‘Frisco dropped Chicago’s Playoff Odds by almost 14%, the biggest drop of any team this week. But don’t fret—most of that decline comes from a severely decreased chance of capturing the NFC North. Overall, the Bears still have a 76.6% chance of postseason ball. Of course, you may be pessimistic about what will happen once the tournament begins, but don’t worry about missing out…yet.
Playing outdoors on Sunday is an advantage for the Bears. The Vikes parlay the noise inside the Metrodome to an obvious home/road defensive DVOA split. Minny is 12th-ranked at home, but 22nd on enemy soil. Fans of both teams are aware how the Bears have dominated Minnesota at Soldier Field of late. Winning a fifth-straight game against the Vikes at home is certainly doable, but the offense will have to start contributing at some point.