Recently, we chatted with the head honcho over at Daily Norseman, Christopher Gates, and talked about the upcoming Chicago Bears vs Minnesota Vikings contest. We learned a lot about his team, and why they seem to have stimbled recently.
Big thanks to Gates for taking the time to speak, and make sure you click HERE for their version of this post at Dailt Norseman.
Kev: The Vikings were rolling to start the season, but have now lost three of the last four. What were the speed bumps along that road?
Gates: A lot of it, as sad as it is, probably has a lot to do with the quality of the opponents. The Vikings didn't play a lot of dangerous teams over the early portion of the season, and squeaked out a couple of close wins. This team was expected to be competitive this year, but may be a year ahead of schedule (even though they'll likely make the playoffs this year). They're a good team, but they ran into three teams that are very good in their past four games, and the results were fairly unkind. On the bright side, a lot of us (myself included) were expecting them to get absolutely boat-raced by the Arizona Cardinals last Thursday, and they put together a very solid performance while relying on a lot of young talent, particularly on defense. As good as they've been this season, they aren't quite at the level of the Cardinals, the Seahawks, or even. . .vomits. . .the Packers quite yet.
Kev: The Vikings are on the cusp of their first playoff berth since 2012. What's the one thing you think might hold them back most from a deep playoff run this season?
Gates: It might be their offensive line, which has spent the better part of the year being abysmal. They lost two starters during the preseason, and while Joe Berger has played very well in John Sullivan's place and Matt Kalil has had a bounceback season, players like Brandon Fusco and T.J. Clemmings have been pretty bad. In Clemmings' defense, he's a rookie that was expected to get a year to develop, but got thrown into the fire after Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles in the preseason. Fusco, on the other hand, was completely unexpected. Right now, Pro Football Focus has Fusco ranked as the 58th-best guard in the NFL. Prior to his injury in 2014, he had been playing great football. . .I don't know if shifting him to the left side has messed him up that much or what the problem is. But if there's one position group that's going to hold this team back, it's the offensive line. . .though if Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph, and Harrison Smith don't get back up to speed here pretty soon, "health" is going to be running a close second.
Kev: Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr have been ruled out for this week. Who fills in, and should the Bears attack there early and often?
Gates: While Mike Zimmer hasn't explicitly declared who would be starting at the safety spot for Smith, it wouldn't surprise me to see rookie Anthony Harris to get the opportunity. Harris had been on the Vikings' practice squad until last Tuesday, when the Vikings' injury issues at the position forced them to call him up. He did an outstanding job in run support against Arizona, but did take some bad angles at times as well. (If you saw Michael Floyd's touchdown catch from last Thursday, Harris is the guy getting flattened by Larry Fitzgerald on the way to the end zone.) We might even see some Terence Newman at safety as well, as he got the start next to Harris against Arizona, with the Vikings giving rookie cornerback Trae Waynes a start at Newman's corner spot. As far as Barr is concerned, the Vikings started another rookie in his spot last Thursday, going with seventh-round pick Edmond Robinson. Robinson did a solid job, but he comes off the field in the nickel in favor of Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway. I'm not sure how many chances the Bears will have to take a shot at Robinson, but I'd be surprised if Jay Cutler and company didn't test Harris a bit if he gets the start.
Kev: The Vikings sent extra pressure something like 50+% of the time in the last game. Do you think they try that again? (Hint: I would do it til the Bears stopped it)
Gates: I think that with the situation the Vikings currently find themselves in with Barr and Smith being out, it would be in their best interest to continue sending extra heat after Jay Cutler. Doing so would likely force them to leave Matt Forte in to block more frequently, which is a plus for Minnesota. With the Bears' issues at the wide receiver position and considering that they've had their struggles on the offensive line as well, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Vikings dial up the pressure in much the same way that they did last time. Hopefully the Vikings being at home can give them the advantage that they need to actually get to Cutler more frequently than they did in the game in Chicago, where they only managed to sack Cutler one time.
Kev: Tell us what the brightest spot for the Vikings' long-term plans is, in your opinion?
Gates: Well, the biggest one is the fact that there's a brand new Vikings' stadium opening in Minnesota next year, which means there's no chance of this team relocating until I'm in my 70s. In terms of on-field things, it has to be the defense (as much as I love Teddy Bridgewater). The defense just has so much young, athletic talent that could help this team to be a contender for a very long time if they can keep everyone together. After a couple of seasons where the Vikings were a complete tire fire on the defensive side of the ball, they've become the sort of unit that could be among the elite defenses in the league for a while, if they're not there already.
Kev: Obligatory score prediction?
Gates: I think that the Vikings are going to win this one, but the Bears are going to make them earn it. Both teams are dealing with injuries, but I think the Vikings' performance in Arizona (despite the fact that it was a loss) is going to end up being helpful to them in this one. I've got Vikings 27, Bears 21 to get the Vikings onto the cusp of the post-season.