This Sunday, the Vikings find themselves in a win-and-in game against a divisional opponent that happens to have one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Chicago Bears. While the Vikes faltered against the Bears when they met earlier this season, they now have a new offensive coordinator and have thus made some important changes to their offense. Last time the teams met, they were held scoreless in the first half, but they did manage to start scoring later in the game. That’s encouraging, especially as the Bears were not just sitting back playing prevent defense in the second half of that game. The Vikings ended up getting things back to a one-score game but the defense allowed a field goal, thanks to a couple of dumb penalties, which meant that even a late touchdown from the offense couldn’t save them. So while the Bears defense is one of the few “elite” units in the league, the second half of the first Vikings/Bears matchup and a few other games have shown that this Bears defense is definitely not on the same level as the ’85 Bears. So with that in mind, I looked at how some of the Bears opponents this season, namely the Giants and Patriots, were successful against them, as well as how the Vikings found success against the Bears back in November. All of this work was to find out how to score against the Bears defense and to see how the Vikings can do just that come Sunday!
The Giants managed to put up a total of 23 points on offense when they faced the Bears earlier this season. New York also had an interception for a touchdown, which put them at 30 points total, the Bears put up 23 points, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is higher than the season average the Bears allowed/accrued. The two main points to take away from this game are: the Giants ran the ball effectively and passed over the middle to move the ball. One of the main things the Bears defense attempts to do is limit the big plays the opposing teams has which naturally/typically opens up the short passing game for offenses to take advantage of. The Giants did that by using their receivers on the outside to cut to the middle of the field to gain consistent yardage. Short and medium plays across the middle worked well. Here is a play where Odell Beckham Jr. does a slant to get a big gain. Sorry no video this time.
As soon as the middle linebacker starts towards the tight end, who is running towards the flat, Eli Manning fires it in the tight window to Odell for a big gain. This also was used effectively by the Patriots when they faced Chicago.
Here is another play towards the middle. This play took longer to develop but still shows the Bears giving up yardage between the numbers. Saquon Barkley was lined up as the Z receiver, on the right side of field, and cut across the middle of the field for a huge gain. This is on a 3rd and 5, a key down and distance. The other two receivers routes create a natural pick to allow Barkley to get wide open. The two pictures show the progression of the play.
The Giants also used their Tight Ends pretty well. Here is a play where, Vikings former tight end, Rhett Ellison is wide open after cutting across from the other side of the field; it’s off a play action on 4th and 1. He fakes a block and cuts across the field, making himself wide open for a big first down. The Vikings should be doing this multiple times on Sunday, especially out of their heavier personnel formations. Here is Ellison at the point of the catch.
Another key of success for the Giants, is that they did not give up on running the football. They did get stuffed plenty by the Bears defense, but they kept running and ran well. Their biggest gains came from outside the tackles, where a lot of teams have had success running against this defense. If the Vikings want to be successful, they can’t completely give up on the run and have to have plenty of runs develop outside the tackles. However, you can’t completely go away from running up the middle, because the defense will adjust to it and stop your outside running success. Barkley gained 67 yards on 10 carries outside the tackles to the right side and 27 yards on 5 carries outside the tackles to the left. Very efficient running.
Overall, the Giants offense was patient. They didn’t look for the deep ball too much and kept working the short passing game. They didn’t put up a lot of points, but they put enough. They would have like touchdowns, but those three field goals were important in getting the win. Which is what the Vikings will need Sunday.
Bill Bilichick, head coach of the Patriots, always seems to know how to exploit the weaknesses against great teams. His offense put up 31 points against the Bears defense. How did they manage to do it? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a closer look.
The Patriots have never been afraid to run the ball. No matter how pass heavy the NFL gets, they manage to always have a more balanced offense. Like the Giants, the Patriots ran the ball outside the tackles very successfully. To the right, the Patriots totaled 53 yards on 10 attempts and 24 yards on 10 attempts towards the left side outside the tackles. Overall, the Patriots ran the ball successfully to keep the defense guessing and honest.
Tom Brady and the Patriots did very well passing the ball against the Bears. And yes, they had most of their success across the middle of the field and on shorter passes. But, a key component to the Pats great passing success was using their running backs, mainly James White. Either he was coming out of the backfield or lined up as a receiver. Here is a play I expect the Vikings to run multiple times, or something similar to this.
The running back comes from the backfield and goes to the right flat, the most outside receiver runs across then curls in, and the tight end runs a corner route towards the sideline. This is a route concept called a “triangle” or a “spot”. Every team uses it, and have been for a long time because it’s a good zone coverage beater and creates a nice quick read for the quarterback. The quarterback reads the zone defender to see if he stays back or comes up. On this particular play, two defenders stay back and give the receiver room to curl in. It is an easy read for Brady to make. This works well against the Bears defense because of 3 things: they run a lot of zone and this play has a receiver going across the middle, it gets the running back involved in passing game, and it gets the ball out of the quarterback’s hand fast. All three things that the Vikings will have to do against the Bears on Sunday.
The Patriots ran multiple halfback curl routes, that James White had great success on most of the game. One play that caught my eye was a touchdown throw to White. He runs a deeper out route while being single covered by a linebacker. White beats him to be wide open for a touchdown. The Vikings need to have a couple plays like this for Dalvin Cook to be one on one with defenders, in open space, and catch the ball in crucial situations. The route that white runs isn’t just a simple halfback curl, but a route that came out of the backfield and caught the defense on their heels. James White finished the day with 8 receptions for 57 yards and 2 touchdowns. If Dalvin Cook can put up numbers similar to this, the Vikings offense should have a good day.
Lastly, the Patriots utilized the middle of the field very well against the Bears. The Patriots used a lot of slants, skinny posts, and drag routes across the middle of the field to gain yards. Several times, I noticed New England had receivers all do similar post routes no matter where they were lined up. The quick slants and skinny posts worked well all game. In this play you can see that the Bears have 2 safeties over the top. This usually means the middle of the field will be more open. In the first image, you can see Josh Gordon starting to get open as the linebacker is drawn towards the line of scrimmage from the play action. In the second picture, you can see the point of the catch and how Gordon caught the ball right in between the safeties in the middle of the field.
One more play attacking the middle of the field is this one. In this one we have a cover 3, a safety in the middle with two corners covering their sides of the field deep. The middle of the field is closed, one safety deep. The tight end runs out to the flat, to bait the defensive back into covering him, which opens up a tight lane for Edelman to get open in the middle on his slant route. Tom Brady ended up getting 231 yards on 19 completions and 24 attempts and 2 touchdowns on throws over the middle of the field. Brady clearly did well throwing in the middle of the field against the Bears, even if it was short, intermediate, or deep passing.
Even though the Vikings lost to the Bears earlier this year, they can take some good things away from their last game against Chicago to use this week. They did well in the middle of the field and did well with intermediate passes outside the numbers, which other teams struggle with. Kirk Cousins went 11/11 for 88 yards for intermediate passes outside the numbers. The Bears were playing off the Vikings receivers for the most part, and so Minnesota ran simple hitches and skinny posts to get open on the outside. Here is a play to get quick yards while the corners play off the outside receivers.
Over the middle, the Vikings ran more simple slants and curl routes to gain yardage and get touchdowns. Here is a touchdown to Aldrick Robinson on a quick slant. You can see the Nickel safety come and cover Dalvin Cook on a flat route, this allows Robinson to get some separation. It is the same concept the Patriots and Giants used and now you can see it in motion. Now, what the Bears could do to stop this, is have the Nickel safety drop back if the outside route comes across towards the middle and have the cornerback take the flat. It all depends on where the 2 routes are developing. Now, this would then open the space for intermediate/deep routes to the outsides of the field.
Cousins had 126 yards and had 13 completions on 18 attempts and 2 touchdowns on throws over the middle of the field. The problems was, the Vikings kept trying to stretch field vertically rather than horizontally all game, and paid for it. No one would get open and Minnesota had little success. With quicker passes against their corners, who played off, and the defense that just does worse against passing over the middle, the Vikings started having a lot more success. I expect to see some of the plays used in this game to carry over to this week.
For the Vikings offense to have success, they need to have a mix between what the Patriots did and what the Giants did. First, be patient. Use quick hitting passes and dump offs to the running backs to gain short to medium yardage. The Bears love playing further back and hate giving up deep plays. So keep methodically moving the ball on them and chew time off the clock. Minnesota’s passing needs to stretch the field more horizontally rather than vertically. The Bears defense are clearly susceptible to this type of passing attack and the Vikings need to take advantage of it. Lastly, keep at it with the run game. Keep the defense honest and have plenty of runs outside of the tackles. Also, I suggest the Vikings to have plenty of plays under center. Kirk Cousins performs better under center and being under center will help set up a run game and keep the defense guessing. The Vikings need to use heavier personnel like they have been for running and passing the ball. The Patriots succeeded out of spread but I’m worried the Vikings offensive line won’t hold up against Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush.
Overall, the Vikings could have some good success against a good Bears defense. I’m sure Kevin Stefanski is cooking up something good and better than my armchair advice. However, I believe these are the main things the Vikings offense should be doing against the Bears on Sunday. It won’t be easy no matter how well you scheme against them, but luckily, we have the talent so we don’t have to completely rely on game plan and scheme. Good luck to the Vikings and a big SKOL to everyone!