MINNEAPOLIS – If the Bears were once, and not too long ago, among the top 10 defenses in the league, that distinction was not reflected in the final days and hours of the 2016 season.
The 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was the third straight game with the Bears allowing 30 or more points. With struggles against Green Bay (30 points), Washington (41) and now Minnesota, the Bears allowed an average of 36.3 points per over the final three games of a lost year.
Still, “I’m not frustrated right now,” insisted linebacker Willie Young. “There’s a lot of upside to look at.”
Not all of the points Sunday came on the defense’s watch. But the overall was another game marked by poor tackling, poor execution and a general lack of anything resembling NFL-grade football.
Minnesota scored on four of its first six possessions and piled up 244 yards to go with 24 points in the first half, with the Bears repeatedly suffering individual breakdowns at points of attack, and no one making impact plays, particularly in the back-seven, which was exploited throughout the game by quarterback Sam Bradford (25-of-33 passing for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns and a meaningless late interception) and a variety of receivers.
The defense was given less than no help by the offense and special teams, which turned the football over five times, including two possessions that permitted the Vikings to score 14 points needing to cover only 56 yards total in the first half.
Defensive line: D-
Akiem Hicks delivered another strong game in a lost cause, with disruptions and pursuit in multiple situations. But Bradford was never sacked and hit only once, while a very average Vikings run game netted 124 yards on 28 carries, including a 24-yard scramble by Bradford when discipline in rush lanes broke down.
Nose tackle C.J. Wilson led linemen with three tackles, one for a loss. But the Bears never gained any dominance along the front and were able to convert 6 of 12 third downs.
Jerrell Freeman had a team-high 10 tackles and 2 passes deflected. But he and Nick Kwiatkoski were too often a step slow getting off toward tackle targets, and too often unable to get off blocks in time to force plays. Kwiatkoski and Freeman were ineffective in coverage, particularly against tight end Kyle Rudolph, who finished the game with 11 catches for 117 yards and a 22-yard touchdown grab.
Sam Acho was beaten around the edge by Jerrick McKinnon for a 10-yard touchdown run off a Wildcat formation in the fourth quarter. Willie Young was in on 3 tackles but had no quarterback hits and was without a sack for the sixth time in the last seven games.
Pernell McPhee not making the trip because of the shoulder injury suffered last week against Washington did not help, particularly with Leonard Floyd inactive. The absence of two of the Bears three best pass rushers had a predictable effect. Christian Jones logged considerable time at outside linebacker in 4-3 nickel packages but got little pressure on Stafford in rush situations.
“What it comes down to is each individual doing his job to the best of their ability,” Young said. “Do your job, dominate the one-on-one battles and everything else will take care of itself.”
The problem was too many players too infrequently winning those battles.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Team leader and No. 1 cornerback Tracy Porter overslept and was penalized by being left out of the starting lineup at the outset. The bigger problem was that too many of the other defensive backs appeared to sleep during the game.
The poor play and breakdowns that characterized too much of the secondary’s play against Green Bay and Washington resurfaced early. Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc allowed Cordarelle Patterson to break behind him on a third-down play on the opening possession, giving up a 39-yard completion into the Bears red zone.
Then safety Adrian Amos was slow to react and then took a bad angle on a swing pass to running back Jerrick McKinnon, who scored from 21 yards out. Amos was out of position and lost the football on McKinnon’s fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Safety Harold Jones-Quartey made a failed flying tackle try that allowed Rudolph to get into the end zone for the Vikings second TD. Jones-Quartey missed a one-on-one tackle in the open field on McKinnon, contributing to a 26-yard burst in the fourth quarter.
Special teams: D-
Bralon Addison was brought in for a look in the return game and damaged things by mishandling a second-quarter punt in the Chicago end, leading to a Vikings TD and 24-7 lead, when a return and score potentially changes the game. Instead of the Bears getting the football at their 25 with time for one drive before halftime, the Vikings got the ball at the Chicago 21 and turned it into points.
Deonte Thompson returned a late-second quarter kickoff 64 yards to set up a field goal but little else was positive in special teams, something the Bears needed to be at least even with the Vikings. But Thompson failed to bring two fourth-quarter kickoff returns even to the 20, somehow an effective emblem for the all-around futililty of the game.
Punt coverage was woeful in allowing a 36-yard return by Marcus Sherels in the second quarter. Cordarrelle Patterson took advantage of slow kickoff coverage that appeared to assume Patterson would keep the opening boot in the end zone. Thirty-five yards later the Bears figured it out that he hadn’t.