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Bears’ bad news? Vikings defense very good and only getting better

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Bears’ bad news? Vikings defense very good and only getting better

Each week it falls to offensive coordinator Adam Gase and his staff to devise a strategy and the tactics to deal with another NFL defense. The process involves starting with the intricacies of that defense, in this case the Minnesota Vikings and specifically what they are doing that has made their pass rush No. 8 in sack percentage after ravaging Detroit’s Matthew Stafford last weekend for seven sacks in the Vikings’ throttling of the Lions in Detroit.

The Vikings have 15 sacks over the past four games, and where exactly that pressure is coming from.

“I have no clue,” Gase said, with a sort-of smile. “They do a great job as far as disguising who is coming. That is why coach [Mike] Zimmer has had the success he has had over his career. He makes it tough offenses, he always has.

“You saw last week what it did to Detroit, so it’s been that way for a long time and you just have to do a good job of giving the quarterback options, making sure that we do a good job in our protections, knowing who to block and working our system.”

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The Vikings operate out of a base 4-3 scheme but assault the “A” gaps on either side of opposing centers.

During Vikings Week the fixation has been on Adrian Peterson, while understandable given the Bears’ history, can obscure what has been happening on the other side of the football in Minnesota. And it is a source of considerable concern to the Bears.

And that concern is likely to extend well into the future.

How did they get this good?

While the Bears have struggled through three general managers over the past five years, making changes in large part because of draft misses, the Vikings have quietly hit on draft picks that are the major reason why they are 4-2 and becoming a threat in the NFC – tied for No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed and No. 7 in yardage given up.

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A significant proportion of those draft hits have been on a defense that has five starters from among their No. 1 picks. So good has been the Minnesota drafting that Trae Waynes, a cornerback who was among the Bears’ cluster of seven prospects worth the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, is down the depth chart as the No. 4 cornerback after the Vikings took him 11th. Part of the “problem” for Waynes is that the Vikings signed two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman last offseason. Newman was the No. 5 pick of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

(For comparison purposes only, the 1985 Bears had four No. 1’s starting on their defense. It was a different NFL-personnel era, obviously, and hardly anything scientific, but there it is.)

And the minefield confronting the Bears is not restricted to first-rounders. Linebacker Eric Kendricks, a 2015 second-round selection (No. 45 overall) out of UCLA, was just named the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month. Kendricks had 20 tackles, four sacks and one pass defensed in October. His first three starts were the Vikings’ last three games and Kendricks and had at least one sack in all three games.

Nose tackle Linval Joseph was a second-rounder of the New York Giants in 2010.

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All of which has come together in a “balanced” defense, ranked 13th in rushing yards allowed per game and 11th in passing yards, reflective of the Vikings standing eighth in sack percentage after putting Detroit quarterback Stafford down those seven times last Sunday (the Bears sacked Stafford twice the week before).

“They are a tough defense,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Third down they’re really tough [No. 5 in the NFL] and first and second down, they’re no slouches either. They have some stuff that presents a lot of problems for us. The offensive line being the way that it is, we’re going to have to make sure our communication is on point and hopefully the guys on the outside can make some plays for us.”

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.