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Matchup Index: Week 11 vs Chicago

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The Daily Norseman dives deep into statistical trends and player grades to find as many advantages as possible for the Minnesota Vikings.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It was rough not having any Vikings football last week, but if the bye week is good for anything it's good for getting yard work done.  I got my patios cleaned off after a week of nothing but rain, cleaned out the rain gutters and fired up the brand new gas grill.  Oh wait...you guys that are still in Minnesota have snow already?  Welp, these remaining outdoor games at TCF Bank Stadium will be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, we won't get to enjoy that weather at home as the Vikings will be traveling on the road to take on the Chicago Bears in the Windy City.  This week's Matchup Index will explore some of the general statistical trends for both teams as well as highlighting some of the individual matchups at the skill positions and in the trenches in an attempt to figure out where the Vikings gain some advantages and ultimately, which team will win the game.

The Chicago Bears have been in a funk the past couple of weeks and their offense is mired in mediocrity.  They currently rank 15th overall in total offensive yards per game, able to rack up a middle-of-the-road 348.9 yards per game average.  Despite this, the Bears average only 21.6 points per game (ranked 22nd), which seems low by comparison.  This could be related to their -5 turnover rating (ranked 26th) as Jay Cutler trails only rookie Blake Bortles in total interceptions on the year.  The Bears do have an aggressive play caller though, having gone for it on 4th down a league leading 14 times, but are only converting 36% of those attempts.  They are much better on 3rd down where they convert 42% of their attempts (ranked 12th best).  If this offense can cut down on the turnovers they certainly have the talent at the skill positions to do some damage.

At first glance it looks like the Bears have a pretty potent passing attack, ranked 12th in passing yards per game (251.7 yards per game).  It seems logical to think that with a gunslinger quarterback in Jay Cutler, and All-Pro receiver in Brandon Marshall and a young up and coming 2nd option in Alshon Jeffery that this could be the case.  However, the Bears high yardage total is mostly due to the relatively high number of passes they attempt per game: 37.7 which is ranked 10th most.  When those passing yards are broken down by attempts, the Bears fall from 12th in yards to 19th overall in yards per attempt (7.1 yards per attempt).  When turnovers are also factored in with a relatively low yards per attempt number, the end result is a pretty inefficient quarterback in Jay Cutler.  In fact, his Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt number of 6.07 is ranked 20th among quarterbacks this year.

The Bears used to have an excellent running game which was ranked 10th in total rushing yards in 2012 and 15th in 2013.  It could be that as they have fallen behind in games so frequently they have gone away from the run due to game circumstance.  But whatever the reason, they currently rank 24th overall in rushing yards per game (97.2), which is mostly due to their lack of running attempts (only 23.6 per game, ranked 27th most).  When they do run the ball though they are mostly effective with a league average rating of 4.1 yards per carry (ranked tied for 15th best).  But they have a shockingly low number of rushing touchdowns so far this year: only 4 through the first 10 games of the year.  While the Bears are throwing the ball much more often than running the ball, it would appear they are actually a more effective running team than passing team.  Unfortunately it could be the fault of their defense and turnovers on offense that puts them behind and forces them to throw the ball more than they would like.  In any case, the Matchup Index below will start, as it always does, in the trenches with looking at the Bears passing game, followed by their running game.

Matchup Index: Bears Pass Blocking vs Vikings Pass Rushing

Bears Player

RT Jordan Mills

RG Kyle Long

C Roberto Garza

LG Michael Ola

LT Jermon Bushrod

PFF Grade

-11.3

+4.8

-5.7

-1.3

+1.3

Vikings Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-5.6

+4.1

-1.0

+3.9

The Chicago Bears have dealt with their fair share of injuries along the offensive line early in the year as several different starters have missed a few weeks here and there.  This lack of consistency may have affected their overall performance, and they appear to have a pretty mixed bag in terms of their pass blocking abilities, at least on an individual basis in their PFF grades.  That said, PFF ranks them 14th best in terms of "Pass Blocking Efficiency" and Football Outsiders ranks them 18th best in Adjusted Sack Rating allowed.

So all things considered, it appears that the Bears have something of an "average" offensive line for pass blocking, and I expect our defensive line to take advantage of them.  With the exception of Shariff Floyd against Kyle Long (which is mostly a wash), the other three Vikings lineman all grade out slightly better in pass rushing than their opponents in pass blocking.  This should bode well for our defensive line in the trenches especially considering that we now have the #1 ranked defensive line by Football Outsiders in Adjusted Sack Rating.

Matchup Index: Bears Run Blocking vs Vikings Run Defense

Bears Player

RT Jordan Mills

RG Kyle Long

C Roberto Garza

LG Michael Ola

LT Jermon Bushrod

PFF Grade

-5.4

+0.5

+2.0

-1.3

+1.4

Vikings Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-0.4

+6.2

-1.6

+5.7

The Bears again grade out as something of a mixed bag as individual run blockers, with two players graded positively "in the green" and two players graded negatively "in the red."  Despite the lack of consistent individual grades, as a unit Football Outsiders ranks their adjusted line yards (independent of the running back) 8th best in the league.  And as mentioned above, the Bears also sport a respectable 4.1 rushing yards per carry average.

The Vikings defensive line continues to grade well against the run on an individual basis with Floyd and Griffen improving each and every week.  But for as much as Football Outsiders loves our defensive line in adjusted sack rating, they apparently hate them just as equally in Adjusted Line Yards allowed, ranking them 31st best overall.  Looking at that ranking a little deeper it would appear their "Stuffed Rank" which measures how often they are able to stuff a run at the line of scrimmage is comparatively low ranked 30th overall (14% of the time, compared to the league leader at 28% of the time).  They also allow the 23rd most "open field yards" and 21st most "2nd level yards."   If the Bears commit to the run in this game, it could spell trouble.

Matchup Index: Bears Receivers vs Vikings Defensive Backs

Bears Player

WR Brandon Marshall

WR Josh Morgan

TE Martellus Bennett

WR Alshon Jeffery

PFF Grade

-0.9

-3.4

+7.2

+0.4

Vikings Player

Xavier Rhodes

Robert Blanton

Harrison Smith

Captain Munnerlyn

PFF Grade

-1.8

-1.1

+5.0

+0.8

Depending on how the Bears decide to line up their receiving options, the Vikings secondary looks like they will matchup pretty well against them.  WR Brandon Marshall has dealt with a variety of injuries so far this year and is having one of his worst statistical seasons of his career.  Alshon Jeffery is a solid 2nd option in the passing game, but he's not quite at the level of Brandon Marshall in his prime.  Martellus Bennett is an excellent, and often underrated, pass catching tight end.  The Bears would be wise to utilize him much more often.  Of all the receivers on the list, Bennett has the most potential to present matchup problems for us.  In game 2 of last year with the Bears at home, he caught 7 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including the last second game winner, although he was held to only 2 catches for 14 yards in the game 14 rematch.  So Bennett is clearly capable of a big game at home against the Vikings.

The Vikings defense allows an average of 22.1 points per game, ranked 14th in the NFL and allows 326.3 total yards per game, ranked 9th.  They have the #4 ranked passing defense allowing only 213.6 passing yards per game and the 16th ranked run defense allowing 112.8 rushing yards per game.  Based on the matchups above, I expect the Bears passing game to struggle, and if they commit to the run unlike they have in the recent past they could find some running room.  If the Bears stick with their pass heavy approach and barely run the ball, then that should play perfectly to our defensive advantages.  I expect our defensive line to harass Jay Cutler all afternoon and force him into some poor decisions.  I would be surprised if we didn't come away with at least 3 sacks and 1 interception at a minimum with the potential for a fumble recovery to boot.

The Vikings offense has been slowly improving under the development of Teddy Bridgewater and Jerick Mckinnon and as a team the Vikings average 316.4 yards per game, ranked 27th overall.  We are averaging 18.7 points per game, good enough to rank 26th overall.  This may seem bad, but both are slight improvements from the previous game.  Bridgewater has been much more careful taking care of the ball lately, and the Vikings are now even on the year in turnover differential.  The slight uptick in offensive production can also been seen in 3rd down conversion percentage where we have increased from 34% to 36% and jumped from a 28th ranking to a 26th ranking.  Again, it may not seem like much but any amount of progress is always a good thing.

The Vikings passing game now averages 197.1 yards per game, ranked 29th overall (up from 31st).  This is still pretty low, and the fact that we attempt the ball 34.7 times per game (20th most) and only generate 6.3 yards per attempt (ranked 30th) implies that we aren't very efficient with the ball when we do throw.  Teddy Bridgewater currently throws the ball 4.81 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which is ranked 30th among all QBs so far this year.  After two stellar performances against New Orleans and Atlanta, he had a couple of abysmal games.  But his Adjusted Yards per Attempt have increased every game from weeks 6 through 9 (1.43, 3.35, 6.21, 6.86).  In other words, while the passing game is struggling on the whole, Bridgewater has been improving each and every game and if that improvement can continue to the end of the year the future for Bridgewater looks very bright.

The Vikings running game looks great, even without Adrian Peterson.  We average 119.3 rushing yards per game (ranked 10th best) and this is not just a byproduct of running the ball a lot.  In fact, the Vikings really don't run the ball that often, only 26.4 times per game (ranked 19th).  But our 4.5 yard per carry average ranks 7th best in the league.  Our 8 rushing TDs on the year also ranks 8th most in the NFL.  Our offensive line has traditionally been built to run the ball with Adrian Peterson, but our backups are also taking advantage of their strong run blocking abilities.  The indices below start in the trenches by first looking at the Vikings pass blocking, and then run blocking.

Matchup Index: Vikings Pass Blocking vs Bears Pass Rushing

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Joe Berger

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-3.3

-4.0

-0.1

-7.1

-14.8

Bears Player

LE Willie Young

DT Jeremiah Ratliff

DT Stephen Paea

RE Jared Allen

PFF Grade

-3.6

+4.9

+4.9

-4.0

Believe it or not, but three out of five Vikings offensive lineman have improved their pass blocking grades from the previous game.  But the reality is, all five of them still grade out negatively, with four of the five graded significantly "in the red."  Pro Football Focus has the offensive line ranked 29th overall in pass blocking efficiency, and Football Outsiders also has us ranked 29th overall in "Adjusted Sack Rating allowed."  Both are mild improvements, but let's not sugar-coat it.  This is still an offensive line that is poor at pass blocking and our level of opponent may have just as much to do with the slight improvement in rankings than anything.

On the other side, the Bears 4-3 front has really struggled to generate pressure from the edges, especially after losing starting left end Lamarr Houston to a season ending ACL tear during a celebration of his first sack of the year a few weeks ago.  Willie Young has proven to be a downgrade in replacement.  Their interior can generate a strong push though and despite the down year from their defensive ends, the Bears still have 20 sacks on the year and are ranked 21st overall in adjusted sack rating.   Due to Matt Kalil's familiarity with Jared Allen I expect him to be just fine this week.  I do think the Vikings offensive line may struggle to contain Ratliff and Paea up the middle, which could make it tough for Bridgewater to step up in the pocket.  The Vikings may want to utilize a few designed roll-outs and play-action bootlegs to neutralize the Bear's advantage in the trenches.

Matchup Index: Vikings Run Blocking vs Bears Run Defense

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Joe Berger

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

+2.9

+1.9

+1.3

0.0

-7.6

Bears Player

LE Willie Young

DT Jeremiah Ratliff

DT Stephen Paea

RE Jared Allen

PFF Grade

+6.6

+3.5

-5.6

-1.3

Well look at that, only Matt Kalil grades negatively in run blocking at this point in the season, with Charlie Johnson edging up just enough to "average" or "neutral."   Football Outsiders ranks our offensive line slightly below average in Adjusted Line Yards: 22nd overall (a slight improvement over last game).  Based on the overall team stats mentioned earlier, the Vikings running game is only getting better with each passing week.

The Bears have a mixed bag in their front four against the run, with their strength on the left side of their formation.   This looks like a "strength against strength" and "weakness against weakness" matchup in the trenches.   Football Outsiders ranks their defensive line 19th overall in Adjusted Line Yards Allowed, which is just below average.  Overall, the Bears run defense is almost identical to the Vikings: they allow 112.6 yards per game and 4.2 yards per attempt, making them roughly league average.  I would expect the Vikings to find some moderate success on the ground.

Matchup Index: Vikings Receivers vs Bears Defensive Backs

Vikings Player

WR Greg Jennings

WR Jarius Wright

TE Kyle Rudolph

WR Cordarrelle Patterson

PFF Grade

-2.0

-3.4

-2.2

-3.4

Bears Player

CB Tim Jennings

S Ryan Mundy

S Chris Conte

CB Kyle Fuller

PFF Grade

-2.1

-0.2

-3.4

-1.8

Assuming Kyle Rudolph returns this week (and early reports of him putting in limited sessions at practice suggest that he will), PFF paints our receivers out to be pretty terrible all the way around.  All of them grade significantly "in the red."  Here's a sobering statistic: in "Yards per Route run" which measures a receiver's efficiency on a per route basis, Greg Jennings is our best receiver ranked 93rd out of 175 receivers.  I've mentioned this before, but we have three problems in the passing game: a line that can't block, receivers that can't get open and a young quarterback that holds onto the ball too long.  Bridgewater is getting better at delivering the ball faster, but until our line can block better and our receivers can get open they won't find a ton of success.

On the upside, the Bears secondary looks to be equally bad at covering receivers as the Vikings receivers are at getting open.  It probably goes without saying that the Bears miss Charles Tillman (who went on IR early in the year with a triceps injury), but the Bears are really struggling defending the pass.  They allow 268.6 passing yards per game, 28th most in the NFL.  This appears to be another "weakness vs weakness" matchup, but hopefully our offensive line can block just long enough for our receivers to break open.  At the very least, I expect a lot of scoring for the Vikings, because the Bears defense allows a league worst 30.8 points per game.  If the Vikings could do well against Atlanta (another bad defense), perhaps they can do equally well against Chicago.

So, at the end of the day I expect the Bears to struggle passing the ball, and have an average outing running the ball.  Meanwhile, I expect the Vikings to have a bounce-back passing game against one of the league's worst passing defenses, while our running game should be able to stay on track.  If this were at home, I would predict the Vikings to win pretty easily.  But it's worth pointing out that in most of the matchups we come out as a "wash" in that our strengths matchup against their strengths and their weaknesses matchup against our weaknesses.  Because of that I expect a pretty close game.  It remains to be seen what kind of effect the sudden cold weather will have on both teams, but if it snows that could make any statistical trends or predictions completely irrelevant.  This week I think the Vikings can come out of Solider Field with their first road win since 2007 and I predict a close road win with a score of Vikings 23, Bears 20.