Monday, October 9, 2017

Notebook: Vikings squeak out a 20-17 road win at Soldier Field


The Vikings used a relief performance by quarterback Case Keenum and a strong night on the defensive line to edge the Bears, 20-17. Minnesota won their first NFC North road game since defeating the Packers to clinch the division in 2015. Daniel House provides his key takeaways from the win.

Updated: October 9, 2017, 11:45 p.m.

By: Daniel House

Despite making his return on Monday Night Football, quarterback Sam Bradford showed he wasn’t ready to return. He struggled to move in the pocket and was unable to drive through his throws. It was clear to see he was uncomfortable on the field and the Vikings’ offense sputtered because of it. Minnesota entered halftime with just 55 yards of total offense and head coach Mike Zimmer left Sam Bradford in the game until the final drive of the first half. The entire offense was invigorated when Case Keenum took over. They were able to run play action and get Keenum outside the pocket. Offensive coordinator Pat Shumur got the offense into a rhythm during the 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive (6:44) to begin the second half. Keenum completed 17 of his 21 passes and extended plays with his legs.

The Vikings had success off play action and used running back Jerick McKinnon out of the backfield. McKinnon had 146 total yards, including a 58-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Nick Easton laid a huge block and wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Michael Floyd helped spark it down the field. Center Pat Elflein had two poor reps in this game, but was in front of a McKinnon swing pass and the long rushing score. He was getting to the second level and helping set up screens, too.

McKinnon added 51 yards as a receiver as the Vikings took advantage of a depleted Chicago linebacker corps. McKinnon was running with excellent vision and toughness, using his jump cuts to create extra yardage after the catch. Kyle Rudolph hauled in a 13-yard touchdown reception and had success in the flat out of the play action looks the Vikings ran. He created yardage after the catch and picked up two critical first downs. The offense struggled with Sam Bradford at the helm, but managed to grind out a win with Case Keenum in the second half. The offense had more life with Keenum and his ability to enter the game and pick up a huge road win should not be discounted.

The Bears stayed in this game by executing several crazy plays. Quarterback Sam Bradford stood too long in the pocket and was sacked for a safety in the first quarter. Chicago later added a touchdown off a fake punt that pulled them within one point. Later in the game, safety Andrew Sendejo had a pass tip off his hand and it deflected into the arms of Bears tight end Zach Miller. He hauled in the throw for a 20-yard touchdown and the Bears executed a unique double lateral two-point conversion play to tie the game at 17. However, a key interception by safety Harrison Smith in the final minutes allowed the Vikings to run clock and kick a game-winning field goal with 16 seconds left. Minnesota needed a big play on defense and Smith tracked the pass beautifully to make a play on the ball.

Minnesota’s defensive line made timely plays tonight. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson had two impressive run stops and a quarterback hurry in the fourth quarter. He was performing well on pass rushing downs and showed up against the run, too. Everson Griffen was again dominant and notched a strip sack in the first half. He and Danielle Hunter were creating pressure all night, which forced Mitchell Trubisky outside the pocket. Anthony Barr also rushed off the edge and is performing much better in this role. The ability to apply enough pressure to rattle Trubisky was key. The team had only one sack, but the unit was picking up hits and hurries throughout the night. More importantly, they managed to keep the Chicago rushing attack bottled up for most of the night. They didn’t allow a big chunk play and the Bears finished with 115 rushing yards. The defense managed to overcome being on the field for 11:19 in the first quarter and didn’t wear down.

They did make things interesting and allowed an 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive, but penalties were a major problem. An offsides infraction by Everson Griffen and a holding call on Trae Waynes were two notable mistakes. Later in the game, Jaleel Johnson picked up a facemask penalty, but it was wiped out due to offsetting penalties. The defense needs to clean up a few of these penalties, but for the most part, their performance kept the Vikings in the game when their offense was struggling.

It certainly wasn’t a pretty game, but this was the type of win last season’s squad wouldn’t have completed. Sam Bradford was not ready to play and it really impacted the entire outlook of the game. Case Keenum managed to enter in relief and led the team to a road win at Solider field. The Vikings won their first NFC North road game since defeating the Packers to clinch the division in 2015. No matter how it’s done, the Vikings survived and won at Solider Field, a venue they were 2-14 at since 2000.