The Vikings come into Soldier Field Sunday playing what is essentially, at least for them, a post season elimination game. A win against the Bears and they're still very much in it. A loss means 1-2 in the division, 3-6 overall, and at least 3 games behind the division leader. It was against this backdrop that I was able to do a Q and A exchange with Kev H from WCG, the great SB Nation blog dedicated to all things Chicago Bears. You can find my answers to his questions here, and I hope you (non gender specific) guys enjoy the perspective of our second most bitter rival.
Thanks to Kev and WCG, SKOL Vikes and let's have a great game on Sunday!
Q and A after the jump.
DN: The Bears made the early free agent splash by quickly signing Julius Peppers and Vikings fan favorite Chester Taylor. Up until this point, it seems to be money well spent as the Bears are 5-3. Who has made a bigger impact, Taylor or Peppers, and why?
I'd like to say Taylor, just to rub salt in your wounds, but without a doubt, it's Julius Peppers. One needs only look at the Packers game to see the kind of impact he can have for your team. The Packers offensive line didn't plan well for him, and seemed to panic, giving up a staggering amount of holding calls during the game. Additionally, he's having some benefit for some of the other defensive linemen, as well. Izzy Idonije is having the best year he's had yet, and that's some of the pressure that Peppers is taking off of him.
Unfortunately, he's not elevating everybody. Tommie Harris is still Tommie Harris. While we see a play out of him every once in a while, he's long removed from when he was arguably one of the best three-technique tackles in the league. The younger tackles might be able to play, but it's not like we have a young Warren Sapp on our team. The main pressure by the defensive line is coming from Peppers, and when he's on, a team's gameplan still isn't always enough to stop him. The play in which Stafford was (unfortunately) injured is another example. He's a big, scary man capable of big, scary things.
DN: Lovie Smith has been under siege, it seems, for three or four seasons. Has the good start to this season got the heat off of him for the time being, or is his seat still warm?
To be perfectly honest, it depends on where you think the heat was coming from. The fan base, it generally seems, has had him on the hot seat ever since the post-Super Bowl season. Their play in 2006 rightly raised our standards back from "Hey, at least they're competing" to "Why aren't you winning now?" We regularly have discussions about whether he's a lame duck, if he technically fits the definition, etc. We've seen a spectacular number of bad decisions by Smith, that other franchises probably wouldn't have tolerated for so long.
That said, the McCaskey family seems to live in an alternate realm where mediocrity is alright, if not rewarded. He's got another year on his contract...I think it remains to be seen what's going on with football. The increasingly odd parity of the NFL this season means that a struggling Bears team has every shot at making it to the playoffs. Once they're there, who knows? Maybe they're the 2008 Giants. (They probably aren't.) If they make it deep, he'll most likely work out the last year of his contract, if nothing else. A lot of fans are concerned that he's successful enough here that the team gives him some kind of extension, which would likely hamper development for years to come.
DN: The Mike Martz hire was the one that as a Vikings fan scared me more than even the Peppers signing, as I thought Jay Cutler and his cannon arm would be a perfect fit. But the offensive line has had troubles and Martz has removed the section called 'running plays' from the playbook for long stretches of games. Is this system a good fit for the Bears and Cutler, and are the receivers any better than last year?
I'll be honest...it's not going as well as I thought it would, and that's mainly because of the line, but Martz has some to do with it as well. Early on we saw a lot of quick adjustments and plays that masked how bad the offensive line actually was. The Giants game became a sobering reminder of how bad they were, and things spiraled a bit after that. Martz did abandon the run when Cutler came back, and it was to the detriment of the team. Then shockingly, they ran the ball more last week and found some consistency on both sides. It's been rumored that Mike Tice, who I know you're familiar with, had words with Lovie to try and have Martz call at least some run plays, just so the line can try to build some cohesion. The Red Zone has been another problem. As much of a "genius" as Martz is hailed to be on offense, his Red Zone calls often show an amazing lack of originality, or utilization of personnel.
The receivers are young, and learning a tough system. There's as many mistakes on them as Cutler. Give them another year or two, and some offensive linemen, and I do think this group could really sparkle. They're not likely to get that chance, though. They've got a lot of the characteristics you'd want in your Martz receivers, but until everyone's on the same page, we're likely to see the up and down passing game we've seen all season. When they're on, they're on, but when they're off, it can make for a frustrating day of football, especially with the high level of defense we've seen all season.
DN: Brian Urlacher's return has really boosted the defense after a lackluster 2009 campaign. What can the Vikings do to minimize his impact on the game and move the ball effectively?
From a conversation with our guy Lester: "The best thing would be to run right at him. Historical he isn't the best at shedding blocks, so going right at him will help minimize his great pursuit speed. But running right at him would allow both Briggs and Pisa to close in and make plays. Also if they can catch Urlacher dropping deep middle in the Tampa 2 they can dump the ball over the middle to a back or TE coming late. But if the Bears switch it up and go a traditional Cover 2 'Lach will be waiting there to pulverize the receiver. "
Couldn't agree with Lester more. Especially with Peterson's ability to make plays, getting a big block on him will keep him from getting the line to the outside and taking AP down.
DN: When the Bears traded for Cutler, it was hailed as an 'all in' move by GM Jerry Angelo. It didn't work out last year, and this year Cutler's numbers are better, but his production still isn't what it was in Denver. With about 18 months hindsight, was this a good trade for the Bears?
You know, whenever there's a loss, or a particularly high day of interceptions (like the Washington game), there's a lot of "There's no way we should've gotten rid of Kyle Orton. He was a game manager, and he didn't lose games." Which, while that's great and all, he also didn't have the possible playmaking ability of Jay Cutler, either.
I'd say it was a good trade for the Bears--if you put Orton into this situation, he would probably be on injured reserve. There's no way he'd be able to escape the pressure, as he just doesn't have the feet that Cutler does. (You could argue that Cutler hasn't been escaping it either, but that's not what we're looking for here.) There's a reason that #4 says he sees himself in Cutler. Jay will still try to make a lot of throws that his arm will let him get away with, but cornerbacks won't. Cutler's got to learn some more about being a quarterback, but I don't want him to do it anywhere but Chicago.
DN: Bonus: Give me a prediction, and if you're right, you get a free plate of lutefisk and lefse. Trust me, you'll enjoy it. At least the lefse.
24-21 Bears. Probably a late field goal that does it.
Thanks again to Kev over at WCG.