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


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.”

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.