The Minnesota Vikings left the Windy City with a win in a game where their defense was nothing short of spectacular. They played their best game of the season, stifling the Chicago Bears offense at almost every single turn.
Kirk Cousins and the offense complemented the defense by rising to the occasion in prime time. They were able to move the ball down the field efficiently against the Bears on a night where Dalvin Cook had 96 yards and could not carry the team as he had in the previous two games. Cousins silenced a majority of his critics, finally putting to bed the narrative that he can’t win on Monday night.
Here are five stats to consider when looking at the Vikings 19-13 win over the Chicago Bears:
This isn’t the same defense that the Vikings had in 2018, but they sure played like it tonight. After the Bears took the lead on the opening kickoff of the second half, everybody knew it would be up to the defense to keep the game close for the offense, and they did just that and more.
In the second half, the Vikings defense gave up only a total of 31 yards to the Bears’ offense, and 18 of those 31 yards came on a screen pass to running back Ryan Nall when the game was all but over. The defensive line was able to pressure Nick Foles on almost all of his dropbacks, making the secondary’s job much easier.
The defense frequently delivered when put into a tough spot. Chicago started in Vikings territory three times and came up with a total of three points on those possessions.
The defense made a total of six tackles for loss. Whether it was Jeff Gladney blowing up Allen Robinson behind the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 5 or fellow rookie D.J. Wonnum taking Foles down nine yards behind the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 6, the defense seemed to keep the Bears’ offense behind the chains.
The defense kept making big stops, only allowing the Bears’ offense to get 149 yards the entire game. When looking back at this season, it’s hard to believe that the same secondary that got chewed up in Week 1 could have so much growth at the midseason point, only allowing Foles 106 passing yards. Even more incredible is the fact that they did this without Week 1 starters in Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Cameron Dantzler.
Furthermore, the Bears only had an 18% conversion rate on third down. Zimmer came with exotic blitz packages that confused Foles and the Bears linemen, as they couldn’t tell who would drop in coverage and who would blitz the quarterback. These packages and the confusion they caused allowed Eric Wilson and Hercules Mata’afa to pressure Foles and force him into quick decisions and bad reads.
The Bears defense came into the game with by far the best third-down defense in the NFL, allowing a 31% conversion rate. The Vikings converted 53% of their third downs, and No. 8 was a big reason why. On third down, Cousins was immaculate, going 10-for-11 for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Cousins was able to convert time after time, hitting his weapons in the open field and moving the chains. Kirk had 51% of his passing yards come on this crucial down. On a night where Cook was ineffective for the majority of the game, Cousins came to play.
Although Cousins had an interception on his stat sheet, it was no fault of his own. It hit off Thielen’s hands and into the arms of a waiting Khalil Mack. Cousins also could have had another touchdown if Thielen had held onto a 20-yard pass in the end zone.
On a night where Thielen had some uncharacteristic drops, Cousins was able to work the ball to tight end Kyle Rudolph and Justin Jefferson. Rudolph finished with 63 yards, while Jefferson finished with eight catches and 135 yards. He has 762 yards on the year, which puts him on track to finish with over 1,000 yards as a rookie.
Deep into the third quarter, Cook had been contained by the Chicago defense.
On a 1st and 10 at the Chicago 32, Cousins rolled out to his right and tossed the ball out of bounds for an incompletion. Though on paper this might look like meaningless play, I believe it was the turning point in this game. Akiem Hicks, Chicago’s run-stuffing nose tackle, left after this play with a hamstring injury and didn’t come back onto the field.
Before his injury, the Vikings had 40 rushing yards on around two yards per attempt. After he left the game, Minnesota ran the ball much better, totaling 61 rushing yards in the three possessions he was on the sidelines.
Vikings fans know as well as anyone how an injury to a key player can swing the momentum of a game. Think back to the Seattle Seahawks game when Cook injured his groin — the next two Seahawks drives resulted in touchdowns. Hicks was playing exceptionally well with four tackles and a quarterback hit, and he was getting in Cook’s face early and often.
Not only was he not there to make tackles, but he also couldn’t eat up the blocks that freed up Roquan Smith to make tackles all over the field. This means that 60% of the rushing yards came after this crucial injury.
Although I could probably end on a bummer talking about the poor play by the special teams that cost the Vikings at least eight points, I decided to end yet again with another defensive stat.
Zimmer has earned his job by being a defensive mastermind. His defenses are known for locking down opponents on third down, and Monday night, they seemed to recapture some of the third down magic of his former defenses.
Foles was 12-for-17 for 94 yards on first and second down. Although those numbers won’t blow anyone away, the fact he was 3-for-9 for 12 yards on third and fourth downs should impress everyone. He faced pressure nine out of 11 times and was sacked twice.
This young inexperienced defensive line seems to have found their rhythm these last few weeks, and it will be important for them to continue at this level of play if the Vikings are to make a playoff push.