NFL Wire News

Zimmer hoping again to prove people wrong

on

The Sports Xchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of the softest part of their schedule and can’t afford a letdown or a mental block to prevent them from beating an inferior Bears team in Chicago for the first time since 2007.

With wins against the Chiefs (2-5), Chargers (2-5) and Lions (1-6) twice, the Vikings are 4-2 but far from having arrived as legitimate contenders to Green Bay (6-0) in the NFC North. Sentences like that are what head coach Mike Zimmer has been looking to feed his players’ minds with this week. And why not? It worked last week in Detroit when the Vikings won a division road game for only the second time since late in the 2009 season.

“I like proving people wrong,” Zimmer said. “People have doubted me for a long, long time. I hope they keep doubting our football team, because that’s the mentality I’m trying to get them (to have). Say what you want and let’s go prove it.”

Players are embracing Zimmer’s words this week. But they’ll need more than that to beat a Bears team that’s coming off a bye week and is coached by John Fox, who is 10-3 in his career in games after the bye week.

The Vikings need to thwart Bears running back Matt Forte’s momentum immediately. If they do that, they’ll be able to turn loose the pass rush that sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford seven times last week. If they don’t do that, then they’ll likely fail against Cutler, who had a 300-yard game against them in last year’s 21-13 win at Chicago.

“Forte is still an integral part of what they’re doing,” Zimmer said. “He still catches a lot of balls out of the backfield, he still catches a lot of screens. He’s obviously the guy in the running game, but they’re relying on (tight end Martellus) Bennett quite a bit, and now that they’ve got 17 (Alshon Jeffery) back, they’re using him quite a bit more. And Cutler is still running the show.”

Offensively, the Vikings would like to run the ball, but they’re also settling into a nice rhythm in the passing game against teams that are selling out with run blitzes to stop Adrian Peterson. Last week, while Peterson was gaining just 14 yards on his first 11 carries, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was taking advantage in the passing game.

Bridgewater was in the process of spreading 25 completions and 316 yards among 11 different players. In the 55-season history of the Vikings, only twice has a team completed passes to more receivers in one game. In 1969 and 1974, quarterbacks completed passes to 12 receivers.

“The offense is starting to work the way it’s supposed to,” said Peterson, whose 12th carry against the Lions went for 75 yards. “It’s pick your poison.”

Zimmer is 11-11 in his first 22 games as an NFL head coach. But he’s yet to beat a team with a winning record. After Chicago, the Vikings return home to face the Rams (3-3) before traveling to Oakland (3-3). Then it gets tough with a four-week stretch against the Packers, at Atlanta (6-1), Seattle (3-4) and a Thursday nighter at Arizona (5-2).

But first things first. Zimmer and the Vikings need to prove people wrong and win at Chicago for the first time since Adrian Peterson ran for 224 yards on just 20 carries (11.2) as a rookie in 2007.

SERIES HISTORY: 108th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 55-50-2. The Vikings lost 21-13 at Soldier Field on Nov. 16, 2014 to fall to 0-7 in Chicago since 2007. They’re 21-30 against the Bears in Chicago. The teams met once in the playoffs. The Bears won that NFC divisional playoff game 35-18 in Minnesota after being swept by the Vikings during the regular season.

GAME PLAN

–To win for the first time in Chicago, the Vikings first must stop the run. To control the game, an inconsistent run defense needs to play as well as it has in two home wins and last week’s win at Detroit. That’s easier said than done considering two of the team’s wins are against a Lions team that essentially abandons the run the moment the game starts. Chicago will lean on running back Matt Forte’s versatility first. If he’s successful, look out. That creates a comfort zone for Jay Cutler, who will be dangerous considering Alshon Jeffery is back healthy again. Stopping Forte makes it more likely that the pass rush will come alive like it did during a seven-sack performance last week in Detroit. And if the defense is taking care of business, then the crowd is quieter. And if the crowd is quieter, the Vikings’ suspect pass protection has a better chance of protecting Teddy Bridgewater. And if Teddy is protected, Adrian Peterson has a better chance of having a big game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks, who has 20 tackles and three sacks in the past two games, vs. Bears RB Matt Forte, who ranks fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage and sixth in rushing.

Kendricks, a rookie, and Anthony Barr, a second-year outside linebacker, have the speed and instincts to give the Vikings a better chance of covering Forte and the tight ends in the passing game. That’s a big difference from games against the Bears in recent years. The front line also will need to control the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can snuff out Forte and the running game. That’s priority No. 1 defensively.

–Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater, who is coming off a 316-yard passing game in which he spread 25 completions to 11 different receivers, vs. Bears S Antrel Rolle, who is expected to return from an ankle injury.

Bridgewater has thrown only four interceptions. Only one of them has led to points for the other team. Meanwhile, the Bears’ defense has only four takeaways. None of those takeaways belongs to the Chicago secondary, so the challenge for Bridgewater will be to challenge that unit without getting too greedy, especially if the Bears get Rolle back on the field as expected.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business