The Vikings lost a poorly coached, and poorly played, game at Soldier Field 16-6. It wasn’t a game one had the feeling the Vikings could come back and win, despite being down two scores or less most of the game, simply because they were continually being outperformed and out-coached on both sides of the ball.
The Vikings were facing a depleted Bears team on a short week for them. They were without DT Akiem Hicks, DT Bilal Nichols, LB Roquan Smith, WR Taylor Gabriel, and for most of the game, QB Mitchell Trubisky.
But the Vikings managed virtually nothing on offense most of the game, and allowed the Bears to possess the ball 11 minutes longer than the Vikings over the course of the game.
Let’s take a look at all the shortcomings.
Extremely Poor Game Plans on Both Sides of the Ball
Going into this game, it was clear that on offense, the Bears thrived on short yardage passing more than anything else. But Mike Zimmer and the defense did not game plan to take that away, and only after half-time did they make adjustments. There is no excuse for such a poor game plan, playing off the Bears’ depleted receiver group and allowing them to make many short passes to extend drives and maintain possession.
Offensively, the Vikings went into this game knowing the Bears’ defensive front would be a challenge for their offensive line, which was also missing Josh Kline, but inexplicably did nothing to game plan for this.
From the standpoint of battles being won or lost before they’re fought, the Vikings lost this one before they ever took the field. That failure falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike Zimmer, who’s post-game comments were pretty lame as well- saying his team didn’t play well enough to win, commending the Bears for playing well, and offering little to suggest he’ll do anything different, or be better prepared in the future.
Offensive Line Completely Out-Played, Overwhelmed
Nobody on the Vikings offensive line looked good against the Bears, who were playing mostly 2nd string guys on the interior outside of Eddie Goldman. The Vikings offensive line could not run block, could not pass protect, and committed some key penalties as well, en route to 40 yards total rushing, and 233 yards passing (most coming in 4th quarter), giving up 6 sacks, including two strip sacks- at least one of which Cousins couldn’t be blamed for.
Cousins clearly didn’t feel comfortable in the pocket most of the game, as he was constantly under-pressure either from the edge by Khalil Mack, or at least as often right up the middle, which didn’t allow him to step up into the pocket.
Despite all that, Cousins managed to go 27/36 (75%) for 233 yards and a 91.6 passer rating.
While none of the Vikings offensive linemen looked good, Garrett Bradbury looked especially bad, failing to do much of anything in either run blocking or pass protection. His getting blown back into Cousins is becoming a regular occurrence.
Offensive Game Plan Poorly Planned
Again, going into the game, the Vikings knew the Bears’ defensive front was going to be a big challenge for their defensive line. Kevin Stefanski said as much earlier in the week at his press conference. And yet they did nothing to plan for this.
Some of the things you can do to counter a stout defensive front include running the ball. The Vikings rushed the ball 16 times vs. 36 pass attempts. The Vikings were never that far behind where they had to abandon the run, but they could’ve been much better in terms of how they set up their running plays.
Another thing you can do against a good pass rushing front is run some play-action bootlegs to give your QB more time to throw. I counted one such play in the first three quarters, and I’m not sure there was one later either.
Yet another thing you can do, once you get a drive going with a first down and/or get to around mid-field, is go up-tempo and gas the defense, not allowing them to substitute or do much in terms of adjustments. This is a way to keep them off-balanced and on their heels, and yet the Vikings failed to do this until it was too late in the 4th quarter - despite having the opportunity several times in earlier drives.
Lastly, when it came to the outside zone runs, the Vikings didn’t do enough to help the tackles with their assignments. Just about every outside zone run was turned back inside because the tackles failed to either push their man outside or pin him inside. Instead, they held the edge and drove them back, forcing Dalvin Cook inside where the interior line failed to create much of anything for Dalvin Cook to work with the entire game.
Using a tight-end or fullback and/or motion to help pin the edge rusher inside, or pitching the ball outside, or both, can be an effective way to get the ball outside where Dalvin Cook can be more effective in space. But the Vikings didn’t do this.
Defensive Game Plan Just as Bad
Again, looking at how the Bears offense has struggled, it was clear that they depend on the run and especially short passing game to move the chains. And yet time and again the Vikings were out of position to cover the short passes as the Bears’ marched down the field and scored their opening drive (a rare occurrence for their offense) and dominate time of possession the entire first half.
In his post-game press conference, Zimmer was asked about this and admitted that the defensive backs were playing too soft against the short routes, and this was based on the play call and what he was asking them to do. Only in the second-half did he make adjustments.
And what else did the Bears do to try to help their offense against a more dominant defense? They went up-tempo. There were a number of plays on that first drive, and subsequent drives, that were no-huddle, which helped them gain momentum - and an early lead - which is all-important for their offense.
The Vikings Offense Lack of Production Was Not On Kirk Cousins
As I mentioned, Cousins went 27/36 for 233 yards, no INTs, for a 91.6 passer rating - despite being under-pressure most of the time. He was sacked 6 times, including two strip sacks. The first strip sack, in the second quarter, he was pressured up the middle and had the ball knocked out of his hand in the process, and was ultimately recovered again by the Vikings but killed the drive as the Vikings were forced to punt. I give Cousins the blame on this one, but it didn’t give the Bears a short field, and wasn’t a crucial factor in the game’s outcome.
The second strip- to open the second half - came as Riley Reiff got beat early by Khalil Mack, who hit Cousins’ arm just after he began his passing motion. I don’t blame Cousins for that one. He didn’t hold the ball too long, and the hit came at a point when there was no way he could hold onto the ball. That one was on Riley Reiff for getting beat early by Mack.
Cousins was also able to rally in the 4th quarter, which was his best in the game, going 92 yards and completing 10 passes in a row in 4 minutes for the Vikings first score - once they decided to go up-tempo. Too little too late, but Cousins did what he could with the time remaining.
Again, being under pressure most of the game, Cousins played about as well as you could hope for in that game plan - which left much to be desired.
Mike Zimmer Not Getting It Done As Head Coach
This game was a very poor performance by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. He was unable to come up with a good game plan against the Bears, was too late in making adjustments, and also made a mistake (which he put on himself) for taking a timeout that allowed the Bears time to change their call on 4th down and go for it, rather than go for a long field goal or punt, which turned into points.
Getting out-coached like this in key games is becoming more commonplace with Zimmer, as is his inability to get the most out of a pretty solid roster on defense.
Going 2-2 with two division road losses in four games, while not fatal to the Vikings post-season or division hopes, certainly puts him in the hot seat. Not making the playoffs this year is likely to end his tenure as head coach of the Vikings, but falling behind early could also lead to his removal if the Vikings ownership felt that could salvage the season.
He’ll need to step-up his game considerably the rest of the season to give the Vikings the best chance to win and realize their post-season ambitions.
Today’s game was another poor performance in a key game that is becoming a theme in his head coaching tenure.