The Vikings Can Take Advantage Of This Bears Defense

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

Last week, Mike Zimmer earned his 70th win as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach. With a 70-54-1 record as head coach, Zimmer has been above .500 for quite some time now. He’s often heralded as a defensive guru, a cornerback whisperer, and has a proven track record leading some pretty damn good defenses.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t vulnerable against specific coaches. Since becoming the Chicago Bears’ head coach, Matt Nagy has been Zim’s kryptonite. Over the past three years, Nagy’s Bears boast a 5-1 record against the Vikings. It isn’t hard to see why. Chicago’s defense dominated Minnesota’s offense, specifically in the trenches. It didn’t matter what the Vikings’ offense had up its sleeve because it always got shut down before the plays could materialize.

This, in turn, led Zimmer to try and simplify the offensive game plan to build some sort of momentum. In this context, simplify means revert to a 1990s style offense centered around running the ball and controlling the clock. After all, it’s harder to turn over the ball when there are fewer opportunities to do so.

To make matters worse, it’s was nearly impossible for the Vikings to force the Bears to make stupid decisions because they also liked playing conservatively and emphasizing ball control. Only they centered their offense around RPOs. Either Mitchell Trubisky made a quick read, or he used his legs and scrambled down the field. Both were essentially an extension of the run game.

The result was that the Vikings lost all these gritty, defensive slugfests against a loaded Bears defense. Case in point: Three of Minnesota’s five losses to Nagy were by a touchdown or less.

What the Vikings needed to do was to stay aggressive and hope the tides turn in their favor. Even though the Bears’ offense set the bar pretty low, it simply wasn’t possible to gain any momentum against Chicago’s defense — until now.

Similar to the current iteration of the Vikings’ defense, the 2021 Bears’ defense isn’t the same unit that it was in its prime. Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai doesn’t have the same experience as someone like Vic Fangio had calling plays, nor does he have the pedigree. And in addition to being on the wrong side of 30, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Robert Quinn have been dealing with nagging injuries. Finally, the Bears rely on younger players to fill gaps left by veteran players who departed in free agency.

The Bears’ defense saw a noticeable decline in production from 2018 to 2021. In 2018, Chicago’s defense led the league in:

  • Points against (283)
  • Forced turnovers (36)
  • Interceptions (27)

Fast forward to 2021 and you can see how badly the Bears have regressed:

  • Points against — ranked 27th (324)
  • Forced turnovers — ranked 30th (11)
  • Interceptions — ranked 29th (5)

While the Bears’ defense has seen a significant decline in effectiveness, the Vikings’ offense is humming along. Kirk Cousins is having a career year. Through 13 games, he’s thrown 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson isn’t just a tremendous young wideout, he’s one of the league’s best. Dalvin Cook is still a premier running back and hasn’t lost any explosiveness. Even the offensive line is starting to find its stride thanks to Brian O’Neill‘s consistent production along with the emergence of Ezra Cleveland and Mason Cole.

The Vikings’ offense has been quietly efficient. Minnesota ranks 4th in yards per game, seventh in passing yards per game, and 10th in points per game.

Momentum is clearly on Minnesota’s side here, and they have to capitalize on it. Outside of their two games against the Chicago Bears, they play the Los Angeles Rams led by Matthew Stafford before traveling to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. Both of those teams are Super Bowl contenders, and the odds of the Vikings pulling off an upset against either of those teams are slim.

If we can be sure of one thing, this isn’t 2018. The Vikings’ offense has moved past its former ineptitude, and the Bears’ defense is struggling. If they’re serious about making a late wild card push, Minnesota needs to take advantage of the Chicago Bears’ weakened defense.

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