Keys to Vikings Victory at Soldier Field House Of Horrors
With the return of winter, respiratory virus hysteria is sweeping across the world again. This time, however, it’s yet to keep or limit the number of fans allowed in pro stadiums. But at Soldier Field on Monday night, that could spell trouble for Mike Zimmer, given his Minnesota Vikings are yet to beat Matt Nagy’s Bears with fans in the stands (1-5 overall). Zim’s lone win came last season with fans locked out of stadiums league-wide. But on a positive note, it also came in Chicago on Monday Night Football.
Fans or not though, the Bears’ defensive line has absolutely dominated Minnesota’s front-five during those six meetings. That’s mostly due to how terribly the Purple’s interior OL has been in those matchups. But with the expected return of Christian Darrisaw this week, we should get our first look at what might be the best combination we’ve seen up front in years. (Darrisaw, Cleveland, Bradbury, Cole, O’Neill).
Stop Akiem Hicks
That leads us to Akiem Hicks, who seems to single-handedly blow up the Vikings offensive line every time these two teams meet. And this week, as it always does vs the Bears, winning will happen in the trenches. Can the o-line open holes for Dalvin Cook and keep Kirk Cousins clean ENOUGH. The pressure will be there, like it has been all year, but there are different types of QB pressure.
Against the Browns earlier this season, Cousins saw overwhelming pressure. The kind that any QB would have struggled against. Thus, Kirk finished with just 206 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT on 20/38 passing. When the pocket is constantly collapsing like it was that day, life is difficult as a quarterback.
But not all pressure is treated equal, which we saw vs the Packers in November. Kenny Clark manhandled Mason Cole for a majority of that day but the o-line did just enough to keep Cousins semi-comfortable and, in return, he was able to pick the Green Bay secondary apart all game long, passing for 345 yards, 3 TD’s and 0 INT’s.
We know Hicks and the Bears’ defensive line will win their fair share of snaps on Monday night. But Cole, Bradbury and Cleveland cannot let him wreck the game plan.
Lean On The Offense
Given what we’ve learned through 13 games this season, the Minnesota Vikings offense will have to carry the defense down the stretch, if they want to make the playoffs. With Adam Thielen questionable to play with an ankle sprain, it is likely that Kirk Cousins will have to lean on KJ Osborn again. But as long as Kirk shows up and he has a semi-clean pocket, it shouldn’t matter. KJ’s been great all season and deserves the team’s “most improved player” award when it’s all over.
On the ground Minnesota has ‘Harness Dalvin Cook’, who might be scarier than ‘Masked Rip Hamilton‘ was for the Pistons back in the mid-2000’s. Between Cook’s 2019-20 playoff game vs the Saints and the Steelers win last Thursday, he has racked up 352 total yards and 4 TDs with that shoulder harness.
OTD: Rip Hamilton wore his signature, iconic, one of a kind mask for the first time (2004)— Barstool Detroit (@BSMotorCity) March 10, 2021
Pressure Fields All Night
If there were a way to bottle up what we saw from the Minnesota Vikings defense when they shut out Pittsburgh in the first half (nearly two weeks ago), Mike Zimmer would pay a year’s salary for it. But with just four games to go, expectations for Zim’s defense are non-existent in reality.
They rank near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive metric that matters. Here they are, as of Monday morning. Most teams have played one more game than the Vikings so no matter how well they play vs the Bears, they’ll rank worse in most defensive categories come Tuesday morning.
|DEF METRIC||TOTAL PTS||TOTAL YDS||YDS/PLAY||TO|
But if there’s one thing Mike Zimmer can take away from that 30 minutes of shutout football last week, it’s that sound aggressiveness can cover for a lot of deficiencies in your defense.
Justin Fields is a rookie quarterback and gap-sound pressure is something he’s struggled with. Sure, you might give up some big plays, but you’d rather force Fields to make quick decisions than leave your CB’s on their own island for 10 seconds while he chooses between his arm and his feet.
With Bashaud Breeland being cut yesterday, Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler will be on the outside, which is what many fans have asked for all season. Being short-handed like the Vikings are up front is tough, but this is where coaching needs to show up. With a playoff spot on the line, there’s no wiggle room.
Brian Heintz | Minnesota Sports Fan