Vikings

Things the Vikings Did That Proved They Deserved To Beat Chicago

Photo Credit: Jon Durr (USA TODAY Sports)

As it ever was, the Minnesota Vikings played a sloppy game in Chicago. For the second year in a row, they won the Soldier Field slopfest. It’s easy to discard an ugly win. After all, what did the Vikings prove? That they could stumble past an impressively inept opponent, ravaged by COVID-19 positives? But there are reasons that the Vikings won the game. Even against a bad team, you still have to take care of business.

With clear heads and sober minds, perhaps we can investigate just what the Vikings did to control the entire game and go home with a Monday Night win.

The Vikings Made Justin Fields Suffer

Games against Justin Fields will always be a little charged with irony. Since the Vikings declined to trade up for Fields, there’s a bit of a what-could-have-been lining up across from them. The Vikings did plenty to vindicate their decision, albeit in Fields’ broken rookie year.

The Bears have a significant problem setting their protections. This has plagued them all year, so a matchup against the league’s best pressure designer in Mike Zimmer was always going to be a mismatch. The Vikings did well to generate unblocked pressure and ruin Fields’ process.

Unfortunately for Fields, he has fallen into the dreaded “panic pit” this season. That’s the pit that rookies fall into when the team around them fails so hard, the only plays that work are the improvisational scrambles. That teaches the wrong lesson: to bail on pockets and drop your eyes to make something happen.

Later in Fields’ career, he’ll have to unlearn that habit for his true talent to take over. The Vikings exploited that. Fields scrambled out on a 4th and 1, hesitated, and could not convert. He scrambled backward 20 yards on a 2nd and 10 for a hideous sack. He fumbled twice in pressure situations, losing one.

Fields did his best to make anything happen amidst a sea of ineptitude. He probably tried too hard and did more harm than good. It’s hard to blame him considering the circumstances, but it’s easy to credit the Vikings for generating those circumstances. As sloppy as everything was on offense, the defense took a bad team to the cleaners. There’s not much more we can expect than a three-point performance until the irrelevant final moments.

The Vikings have struck gold with the heavy package

Blake Brandel, a self-proclaimed tight end in disguise, is a key cog in what turned out to be Minnesota’s best offensive package on Monday night. The “heavy” package refers to a personnel package with six offensive linemen, with Brandel making the sixth.

The Vikings ran two successful plays that took them into the red zone on their second possession out of heavy packages. That ended in a Justin Jefferson touchdown. On the first drive out of halftime, the Vikings worked in more heavy packages, leading to an 11-yard Kene Nwangwu scamper and positioning them for Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s first career score.

The Vikings can seldom call a five-man protection against the Bears. With Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn headlining a pass rush that has haunted Minnesota for years, they need to keep extra blockers in. The downside of the heavy package is having one fewer route runner (don’t tell that to Brandel, though). But if you’re taking out a route runner anyway, you may as well make him a bona fide blocker.

Against the likes of Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn, a little extra beef was more than welcome. Still, Hicks drew Mason Cole one-on-one far too often, leading to way too many explosive defensive plays. The Vikings only used a handful of heavy package plays. In the next game against Chicago, they should employ more. It tips their hand a bit, as Minnesota can only call so much variety out of it, but can the Bears beat something they can see coming?

Kirk Cousins And Turtling

(The Cousins Chaos Meter is offline for the holidays, but it would have been in the conservative gray after this game.)

Enough sunshine and rainbows. That offensive performance was putrid, and we have to reconcile it, even though the defense propelled the Vikings to a win anyways. The Bears dissolved in front of Minnesota but still had umpteen chances to win.

On the Locked On Vikings podcast before the game, I preached that they shouldn’t do what they’ve done against all the other bad teams. The Vikings relied too heavily on a conservative quick game and a sleepy run game against the Detroit Lions, or with significant leads, or any situation that should be advantageous.

When they talk about “getting complacent” or “needing a killer instinct,” it rings hollow when the Vikings fall into the same habits over and over again. The Vikings would rather throw a screen than an NCAA concept or other intermediate chunk play.

Klint Kubiak has a bad habit of over-scheming. A tunnel screen can be read and tackled. It doesn’t come down to winning a matchup or beating your opponent; it relies on precise execution and hoping the opponent is caught off-guard. The Vikings have the talent on offense to beat people straight up, but they instead opt for tunnel screens and the like.

Cousins can fall into bad habits too. After an 87-yard performance, it’s fair to have some questions. Why did so many targets go to tight ends and backs? Why was he so slow to react to the changing dynamic on the field?

Cousins has been a little slow for his whole career. Just a beat makes windows tighter and throws more difficult. It also leads to strip-sacks, like one Cousins coughed up on Monday night, and myriad issues.

It’s difficult to blame Cousins for a bad game plan from the coaches, but we can still examine how he executed those structures. If a receiver wasn’t wide open, he wasn’t getting the ball. Kirk’s aggressive streak from November seems to be drying out. That doesn’t bode well unless Kirk can feel his oats again.

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It seems like every Vikings win is an ugly win this year. But they all count. There’s no BCS-style points in the NFL. There are no “quality losses” and no moral defeats. That doesn’t preclude us from critiquing the issues Minnesota faced, but we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in them that we forget the things the Vikings did that led to the win.

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