The Bears defense took the wind out of the Vikings' sails this Sunday. Can they do it again in two weeks?
While Bears fans are wise enough to still fear Adrian Peterson, he hasn't done much against the Bears in a long time. Still, after two straight weeks of watching the Bears D get run over by the likes of Frank Gore and Arian Foster, it was good to see the Bears right the ship by sinking the Vikings' boat first. The Bears didn't get the job done on D using anything fancy. Instead, they leaned heavily on Tampa 2 concepts and simply out-executed the Vikings offense. If the team can repeat their performance two weeks from now, the Bears should be able - Cutler willing - to once again sweep the lowly Vikings back into the divisional basement.
The Vikings' opening possession told the whole story, and in those three downs, the Bears showed exactly what their three priorities in the game were. The Bears' first goal on defense is almost always to generate a pass rush with the front four, and the Vikings tested their luck on their first play from scrimmage.
On this first play, the Vikings were trying something a little different. They motioned Adrian Peterson out of the backfield to the wide left position you see him at above, giving the Vikings five different pass options. There's one small problem with this play call, however: math. With only five blockers, the Vikings could only double one of the four Bears' rush-men. Even more problematic, the Vikings' line couldn't seem to agree on which Bear they wanted to double.
Corey Wootton is out on the island to Christian Ponder's left, leaving Stephen Paea, Henry Melton, and Julius Peppers to the four remaining offensive linesmen. The Vikings' center was somewhat indecisive in choosing whether to block Paea or Melton, neither of whom can be reliably dealt with using only one man. But, with his right guard choosing to look Peppers' way, the center's slight hesitation was all Melton needed. He surged through the gap highlighted above and buried Ponder for an eight yard loss. Nice to finally see a game where the other quarterback is sacked on the first play, right?
The Bears' first worry was not Christian Ponder's arm, though: it was Adrian Peterson's feet. The Bears know what Adrian Peterson can do in the open field better than most. The key to stopping him was keeping him from the open field by maintaining gap control. No fools themselves, the Vikings saw the Bears D get burned by edge run after edge run the last two weeks. Minnesota figured the edge would be soft for yet another week, and headed that way for their first run. Another clever bit of misdirection by the Vikings on this one, but they once again failed to catch the Bears off guard.
To be precise, the Vikings weren't hoping to catch the Bears off guard: they were hoping they could catch the Bears off-tackle. The whole of the offensive line, minus tackle Charlie Johnson (highlighted above), flowed to the left. The obvious read for the Bears would be to flow along with the line and look to make a tackle, but the right side of the defense held their places. Even though the offensive tackle made a decent block off of his pull, Peterson didn't have many good options for a run lane. See for yourself:
Brian Urlacher shot into the first of Peterson's two gap choices, and while #54 wasn't able to make the tackle, he forced Peterson to keep moving to his right. With Charles Tillman doing a great job of holding the edge, Peterson figured his best shot was to cut to Tillman's inside. This gap, however, was Nick Roach's domain, and he led the bevy of Bears that brought Peterson down for a minimal gain. By staying within the "watch your gap, not the line movement" system, the Bears held Peterson in check until the game was well in hand.
The Bears undoing against San Francisco was their insistence on playing more man coverage than usual to defend against the 49ers' many run threats, a game plan that proved disastrous. The Bears took it back to basics against the Vikes, however, and gave them a heavy dose of zone defense that is their bread and butter. Minnesota was in a tough spot on third and eighteen, but the Vikings had yet another good play-call: a "four verticals" play with a slant route underneath it. If the Bears played pure man here, the play might have worked, but short passes rarely get the job done against a zone.
The Bears lined up in what appeared to be a single deep zone (Cover 1), with both Urlacher and Briggs mugging the line in a blitz look. With numbers seemingly on their side, the Vikings' plan was for the two vertical routes on Ponder's left to clear out the two opposing defenders, leaving the far left receiver uncovered on his underneath route. Take a look at how the play evolved, however:
The Bears linebackers did not blitz. Instead, both Urlacher and Briggs dropped back into their normal coverage zones: Briggs covering the seam to the QB's right, and Urlacher backing into center field. The reason Lovie loves him some zone coverage is apparent in this shot if you look at where every defender is looking. Every Bear is keeping one eye on the man across from them, but the other eye is fixed squarely on Christian Ponder. With pressure bearing down on him in the form of Israel Idonije, Ponder had to get the ball out of his hands perhaps a bit too quickly. As such, the vertical routes weren't able to lure away the defense to set up the slant. Sure, Ponder completed his pass, but a whopping seven defenders immediately rallied to the ball. End result?
For the Bears' next game against the Vikings, the offense will face the challenge of playing with a rag-tag line in a tough venue. The defense, however, looked more than up to the task of halting Ponder and Peterson in their tracks. Even with the addition of a healthy Percy Harvin, this Vikings offense doesn't have firepower enough to dictate a game plan to the Bears. So long as the Bears can continue containing Peterson and rally to the ball after the catch, the team will complete yet another sweep of the Vikings and move one win closer to the playoffs.